What's the best quote you've heard about writing and why do you like it?
by Paul D. Marks
Well, bringing up the rear here on a Friday, let’s see what I can come up with:
I think I’d have to say I have two favorite quotes about writing.
The first is by William Goldman, screenwriter extraordinaire, and is about screenwriting, but I think it can apply to novel and short story writing as well:
NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.
―William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
Many people have heard this quote, but of course they forget everything he said except for the first three words. They’ve been interpreted different ways, so I’ll put my own spin on them. And that is that everybody has a different idea about what works and what doesn’t. One hears often that agents or editors will say don’t have a prologue. Then you see books with prologues. Don’t use flashbacks. There was a producer who was famous for saying that if he saw ellipses in scripts he’d close it immediately. So F all of them. And do what works for your story. A prologue might turn some people off, but it might work for others. The other thing is, you send out a story/novel and are “lucky” enough to get notes back with your rejection, so you change the story to fit those notes. You send it out to someone else and they have notes that counteract the first person’s notes. So write it your way. You can’t please everybody and sometimes it seems you can’t please anybody.
My other favorite writing quote would be this from Jules Renard: “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”
I mean be honest, haven’t you felt this many times? We are the artist, we have the artist’s vision and true, sometimes it’s messy, but sometimes it’s also more real, more authentic (to use a hackneyed phrase). A lot of times editors will want to clean up your manuscript to the point of taking your voice out of it. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. But unless they’re paying you don’t pay attention because the next person might not like their suggestions. When I was doing script doctoring I’d often get a writer’s draft of a script. Then besides tightening, which is always a good thing, there would be notes or conversations with directors, producers, etc., about how they wanted to change it. And often, they would, of course, want more sex and violence, yes it’s a cliché but it’s true. But also often they would tear the heart out of it. Whatever good things were in the writer’s draft they’d want to trash. And often the writer’s draft, while needing some work was better than the final draft, whether it was my draft or another person who came on to rewrite after me. I was friends with a fairly well known writer-director. And I remember reading the first draft of one of his early scripts. And it was pretty good. And then the studio and a big name producer got involved and they made changes to his script and diluted it to the point where it was mediocre at best. Maybe it was more commercial, and it did get made. But I don’t think it was a better script. And I don’t think it did particularly well at the box office.
Some other quotes I like:
The next two are on the same page, so to speak:
“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”―Gene Fowler
“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”―Red Smith
Having been around the block a time or two, as a writer and a lecturer on writing, I constantly come across people who want to write, who have an idea and want someone to help finish it, gratis, of course, because “it will be the biggest money maker in the history of all time.” Lucas and Spielberg and Grisham and J.K. Rowling will be jealous. But more often than not they don’t put in the time and effort, blood, sweat and tears required because t
o do that is to do metaphorically what these two quotes suggest: stare at a blank piece of paper (computer screen) and open up a vein until the blood starts dripping off your forehead. People think it’s easy to write. Because they don’t know how hard it is and they don’t really want to know.
“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”―John Steinbeck
I think this one speaks for itself. And with the book and publishing worlds in the turmoil they’re in today, this quote is more prescient than ever. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the track to try to earn a steady living.