Work:

(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

“I don’t suppose writing consists in anything more than doing it.” John Steinbeck

“Inspiration is to work every day.” Charles Baudelaire

“The only secret I have got is damned hard work.” J.M.W. Turner

“The professional guts a book through . . . in full knowledge that what he is doing is not very good. Not to work is to exhibit a failure of nerve, and a failure of nerve is the best definition I know for writer’s block.” John Gregory Dunne

“If there is no wind, row.” Latin Proverb

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

“Writing isn’t hard work; writing is hard play.” Rick Demarinis

“Just a matter of doing the daily stint.” John Steinbeck

“Any artist must expect to work amid the total, rational indifference of everybody else to their work.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.” John Steinbeck

“In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. . . . I must get the words down every day whether they are any good or not.” John Steinbeck

“The failure of will even for one day has a devastating effect on the whole, far more important than just the loss of time and wordage. The whole physical basis of the novel is discipline of the writer, of his material, of the language.” John Steinbeck

“I can do it and I will do it, by God. It is just the discipline that is all.” John Steinbeck

“The main difference between an experienced and an inexperienced writer is the ability to work on a bad day.” Norman Mailer

“It’s axiomatic but worth remembering: Nobody writes a book. What you write every day is a piece of a book, a fragment, a scene.” Philip Gerard

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.” William Zinsser

“Practice, for the writer as for the concert pianist, is the heart of the matter.” John Gardner

“I can’t think of any work which requires concentration for so long a time as a big novel.” John Steinbeck

“Every book seems the struggle of a whole life. And then, when it’s done—pouf. Never happened. Best thing is to get the words down every day.” John Steinbeck

“Anyone who tries to write clearly and deeply about what he finds some part of the human experience to be like, in thought and in feeling, soon finds out that writing is hard, frustrating work.” William Sloane

“Writing is both hard labor and one of the most pleasant forms that fanaticism can take.” Pat Conroy

“Since the good old days when Charles Baudelaire led a purple lobster on a leash through the same old Latin Quarter, there has not been much good poetry written in cafes. Even then I suspect that Baudelaire parked the lobster with the concierge down on the first floor, put the chloroform bottle corked on the washstand and sweated and carved at the Fleurs du Mal alone with his ideas and his paper as all artists have worked before and since.” Ernest Hemingway

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Ernest Hemingway

“Honest effort for its own sake is beauty.” William Vollmann

“You learn to write by writing. It’s a truism, but what makes it a truism is that it’s true. The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.” William Zinsser

“I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic success, being good to your broke friends etc. is merely a form of quitting.” Ernest Hemingway

“Altogether, the sentence took almost an hour. But I didn’t begrudge a minute of it. On the contrary, seeing it fall into place gave me great pleasure. No writing decision is too small to be worth a large expenditure of time. Both you and your reader know it when your finicky labor is rewarded by a sentence coming out right.” William Zinsser

“Writers should work alone. They should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then. Otherwise they become like writers in New York. All angleworms in a bottle, trying to derive knowledge and nourishment from their own contact and from the bottle. Sometimes the bottle is shaped art, sometimes economics, sometimes economic-religion. But once they are in the bottle they stay there. They are lonesome outside the bottle. The do not want to be lonesome. They are afraid to be alone in their beliefs.” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” Ernest Hemingway

“I think perhaps I am one of those lucky mortals whose work and whose life are the same thing. It is rare and fortunate.” John Steinbeck

“The arts too can be taught, up to a point; but except for certain matters of technique, one does not learn the arts, one simply catches on. If my own experience is representative, what one mainly catches on to is the value of painstaking—almost ridiculously painstaking—work.” John Gardner

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcuts.” Stephen King

“‘Somehow’ is a weasel word; it means the author didn’t want to bother thinking out the story.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“The strength it takes to transform the crude rough draft into a polished work of art.” John Gardner

“Originality is normally a quality achieved by diligence, not a natural condition.” John Gardner

“Art is a virtue of the practical intellect, and the practice of any virtue demands a certain asceticism and a very definite leaving-behind of the niggardly part of the ego.” Flannery O’Connor

“Don’t do other things. Sit at yr machine.” Flannery O’Connor

“It is my considered opinion that one reason you are not writing is that you are allowing yourself to read in the time set aside to write. You ought to set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there. If you write all right and if you don’t all right, but you do not read; whether you start something different every day and finish nothing makes no difference; you sit there. It’s the only way, I’m telling you. If inspiration comes you are there to receive it, you are not reading. And don’t write letters during that time. If you don’t write, don’t do anything else. And get in a room by yourself. If there are two rooms in that house, get in the one where nobody else is . . . I will not tell you anything interesting to read as you have no bidnis throwing away your time in that fashion.” Flannery O’Connor

“I’m a full-time believer in writing habits, pedestrian as it all may sound. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away.” Flannery O’Connor

“Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing . . . Not having something under way is worse than having something under way.” Flannery O’Connor

“I am an absolute monk about my work. I believe it’s like being an athlete, you’ve got to find which are the best hours of the day. I am a morning person. . . . I’ll start at four-thirty, five in the morning and go through to lunchtime.” John le Carre

“The creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in the beginning of a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of impending shape keep one at it more than anything.” Virginia Woolf

“What is essential is to write fast and not break the mood—no holiday, no interval if possible, till it is done. Then rest. Then re-write.” Virginia Woolf

“Year after year he [Flaubert] worked upon his subject without finding anything in it, apparently, to disturb or distract him in his continuous effort to treat it, to write it out to his satisfaction.” Percy Lubbock

“It is not very presumptuous in a critic, as things are, to declare that a story will never yield its best to a writer who takes the easiest way with it. . . . The easy way is no way at all; the only way is that by which the most is made of the story to be told, and the most was never made of any story except by a choice and disciplined method. . . . The advantages that it gains are not nameless, indefinable graces, pleasing to a critic but impossible to fix in words; they are solid, we can describe and recount them.” Percy Lubbock

“I don’t write if I don’t want to, if I don’t feel like it. Sometimes it can be very difficult. Other writers call it a block, but I hate that word. I simply wait till the muse comes.” John Fowles

“Usually when I’m into a narrative the problem becomes physical. The story begins to pour out of me. I wrote a novel two years ago in eighteen days, working sixteen to eighteen hours a day. It can be done. . . . On this narrative, first draft stretch, I work just as long as I want and can.” John Fowles

“First of all, I put the ‘spine’ draft away and try to forget completely about it. The longer you leave it the better. On the revision draft, though, I work hard. And more or less with discipline.” John Fowles

“You ought to climb up through it [an orchard] at noon every fine day, if only in memory of me. The work would flow more freely afterward and more than make up for lost time.” George Sand [in letter to Gustave Flaubert]

“Will work again on the novel today. Writing is a hard business Max but nothing makes you feel better.” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is something that you never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done—so I do it. And it makes me happy when I do it well.” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is such lonely work that I try to keep myself cheered up. If something strikes me as funny in the act of writing, I throw it in to amuse myself.” William Zinsser

“Treat a short passage of description as a complete unit and make that one small unit as perfect as you can; then turn to the next unit—a passage of dialogue, say—and make that as perfect as you can. Move to larger units, the individual scenes that together make up the plot, and work each scene until it sparkles. Polish each element of the total fiction so that the story is not only good as a whole but arresting from moment to moment.” John Gardner

“Down in the jungles of actual composition, where you must take your objective one bloody word at a time.” Stephen King

“Writing an essay is like pulling teeth, compared to writing fiction. It is an intellectual exercise rather than a sensory experience.” Lee Smith

“Other than recommending quantities of red wine and garlic, I am without advice. The closest I can come is, Don’t do it [write] unless you’re willing to give up your entire life. Despite the human-potential movement, there is no room for much else.” Jim Harrison

“I work in the morning at a manual typewriter. I do about four hours and then go running. This helps me shake off one world and enter another. Trees, birds, drizzle—it’s a nice kind of interlude. Then I work again, later afternoon, for two or three hours.” Don DeLillo

“Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; the world is full of unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Calvin Coolidge

“I go to work about eight and it’s a rare day when I am not finished by one.” John Steinbeck

“I feel that sometimes when I am writing I am very near to a kind of unconsciousness. Then time does change its manner and minutes disappear into the cloud of time which is one thing, having only one duration.” John Steinbeck

“It’s amazing how much work rhythm you can lose by being off even for two days.” John Steinbeck

“It’s a strange thing how one can become so obsessed that there is always the double thing—the book and whatever else is going on both running parallel. I guess it has to be that way.” John Steinbeck

“It is a nice thing to be working and believing in my work again. . . . I only feel whole and well when it is this way.” John Steinbeck

“Here is a strange thing—almost like a secret. You start out putting words down and there are three things—you, the pen, and the page. Then gradually the three things merge until they are all one and you feel about the page as you do about your arm. Only you love it more than you love your arm.” John Steinbeck

 “This is the uphill fight with no end but clarity and no reward except the feeling that a decent job has been done.” John Steinbeck

“There are so many things to go into this book. An astonishing number of things. But I’ll get them all in if I just relax and get them in day by day and only worry about the 2000 words of each day’s work. That’s the only way to do it, I have found.” John Steinbeck

“I’ve discovered that it’s fairly stupid to try to write for more than about four hours, or a maximum of five hours a day. If I do, then I find I throw away the stuff I do towards the end because it just stops being any good.” Salman Rushdie

“It [writing advertising copy] did teach me the discipline of sitting down in the morning and writing—not pacing around waiting for the muse to descend, but just sitting down and doing a day’s work and then stopping.” Salman Rushdie

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