June 2018

Vox

Advice for writing

By Ryan O’Neill
The great authors offer words of wisdom

The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going.
Ray Bradbury

If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first.
Katherine Anne Porter

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Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project.
Geoff Dyer

No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.
Samuel Johnson

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Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
Kurt Vonnegut

With educated people, I suppose, punctuation is a matter of rule; with me it is a matter of feeling. But I must say that I have a great respect for the semicolon; it’s a very useful little chap.
Abraham Lincoln

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In writing as in sex, the best advice is to relax and let nature take her course.
Stephen King

Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s only good when it’s over.
Hunter S. Thompson

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You have to simply love writing, and you have to remind yourself often that you love it.
Susan Orlean

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.
George Orwell

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What you don’t know would make a great book.
Sydney Smith

I write to discover what I know.
Flannery O’Connor

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Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible. An excellent habit to cultivate is the analytical study of the King James Bible.
H.P. Lovecraft

Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read!
William Faulkner

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My perfect day is sitting in a room with some blank paper. That’s heaven. That’s gold and anything else is just a waste of time.
Cormac McCarthy

You must not come lightly to the blank page.
Stephen King

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Everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly where I think it should in most cases remain.
Christopher Hitchens

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Maya Angelou

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Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
Zadie Smith

Writing, like life itself, is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become that path himself.
Henry Miller

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Don’t save anything.
James Salter

I had learnt already never to empty the well of my writing.
Ernest Hemingway

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One forges one’s style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines.
Émile Zola

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
Douglas Adams

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You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.
Saul Bellow

I don’t believe in writing at night because it comes too easily.
Günter Grass

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The public wants work which flatters its illusions.
Gustave Flaubert

No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronising.
E.B. White

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Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly.
Colm Tóibín

Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the backyard and shot it.
Truman Capote

Ryan O’Neill

Ryan O’Neill is the author of The Weight of a Human Heart and Their Brilliant Careers.

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