Tag: quotes


“[M]ost of the time I’m blocked and unable to write.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

Anyone else relieved to hear somebody say this? (Well, to hear a widely published author say this.) Kanakia is a gem.


On writing as a holy act

“I always thought of writing as holy. I still do. It’s not something to be approached casually.”

—Deborah Eisenberg (x)

On being a discrete human

“I find it endlessly interesting, endlessly funny, the fact that we’re rather arbitrarily divided up into these discrete humans and that your physical self, your physical attributes, your moment of history and the place where you were born determine who you are as much as all that indefinable stuff that’s inside of you. It seems so ridiculous. Why can’t I just buckle on my sword and leap on my horse and go charging through the forests?”

—Deborah Eisenberg (x)

On what setting can do

“A good setting, like a good paragraph or a good sentence, hits the Trifecta—fleshes out the world, illuminates character, embroiders the larger themes. Like George Costanza, on Seinfeld, when he eats a sandwich, has sex, and watches the Yankees at the same time. One time, back when I had a straight job, I went home on my lunch hour and ate two Katz’s hot dogs, took a bubble bath, and watched a Rhoda rerun at the same time. (I lived in an old tenement where the bathtub was in the living room.) That was a great day, let me tell you.”

—Colson Whitehead (x)

What it may mean when writing is easy or difficult

“You’re looking, as you begin, for what’s going to resist you. You’re looking for trouble. Sometimes in the beginning uncertainty arises not because the writing is difficult, but because it isn’t difficult enough. Fluency can be a sign that nothing is happening; fluency can actually be my signal to stop, while being in the dark from sentence to sentence is what convinces me to go on.”

—Philip Roth in a 1984 interview with The Paris Review, quoted here

On getting a permission slip from another artist

“[W]hen my poetry goddess [Sharon Olds] revealed to Rachel Zucker on Commonplace that she saves Monday nights for The Bachelorette series, I legit squealed and swerved my car. What?! The Sharon Olds watches this trashy, glorious show, too!? [This felt like a] permission slip from her. This idea that one could be erudite and infatuated with pop culture.”

—Tiana Clark (x)

On soul in writing

“I think that the workshop is a place very often […] where the question of soul is not even in the discussion. The great thing here was that I didn’t have to worry about that, everybody that came to this class […] they weren’t worried about that word. They weren’t worried about the word ‘soul.’ Neither was Emerson. Neither was Whitman. Neither was Emily Dickinson. So […] somewhere along the way the word ‘soul’ became one of those words that people didn’t … the only place they would allow it is, you know, maybe in R&B music or something, but they didn’t much allow it otherwise. And so what was that thing people were talking about not so long ago, and where is it in us now? So what I’ve been trying to talk about is, you know, you can write from your persona, you can write from your, you know, by persona I mean your role and interface with society, you can write from your persona as a writer, which is a really solipsistic thing to say. ‘I’m a writer, so I’m writing as a writer,’ you know, […] or ‘I’m a poet, I’m writing as a poet.’ That seems like [it] can be very limiting, but if you say okay below the persona is the ego, below the ego are reactions that you’re trying to contain, and opinions, and formed ideas, and below that are real genuine feelings, and if you get to the level of actual feeling, then you’re closer to soul, so you’re writing from soul. And when you write from soul, it goes to soul. If you write from persona, it goes to persona. […] When you know that you have something to say that’s deep, then naturally the second part, the craft, comes in, because I want to say it in a way that makes other people feel it. […] So we’re starting at the other end I guess.”

—Rodger Kamenetz in an episode of the Kenyon Review Podcast

Another vote for “soul” as a starting place as opposed to craft. Inspiration, emotional truth.

On good prose

“I’m not really happy with my line-level writing, and I think it would generally be improved if I went a little slower, but what can you do? In the bottom of my mind, I just don’t feel like there’s any point in writing good lines when it’s possible that all this stuff is going to be mooted by later revisions to the story. The problem, of course, is that good detail-filled lines generate new possibilities through their denseness.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

On melodrama

“I think Kafka got something essential from that aspect of Dostoevsky; think of “Das Urteil” (“The Judgment”), which starts off in normal bourgeois fashion and ends in wild, melodramatic tragedy. Dostoevsky would have loved it! But it’s very short (less than ten pages in my Sämtliche Erzählungen); if it were extended much longer, it would have become ridiculous, as does The Adolescent.”

—Steve Dodson (languagehat) (x)

Interesting thought; I think it’s true that many things work better short than long.

I wish I could read Dostoyevsky’s thoughts on Kafka.

I rather liked The Adolescent personally, despite having to make a list to keep track of all the damn characters, but I see Dodson’s point; it is indeed messy and melodramatic.

When a story rebels

“[While writing the short story ‘Sea Oak,’] I realized that if you’re writing a good story, it rebels a little bit, and it rebels mostly against your early and too-simplistic version of it. There’s that Einstein thing I always quote, ‘No worthy problem was ever solved on the plane of its original conception.’ The story just locked up until I was willing to stop dictating to it and start listening to it.”

—George Saunders (x, x)