Seven writers on writing & perfectionism

7 Writers on Writing

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

do, however, believe perfectionism, fear, inferiority, frustration, distraction and/or existentialism can and often do contribute to a writer not writing. But none of these feelings—nor a resulting lack of productivity—are unique to writers. Why give power to the made-up concept of writer’s block?

As writers, when we’re faced with these feelings of inadequacy, we have two options: give up or power through. The latter always feels better.

These seven writers know all too well what it’s like to be plagued by self-doubt, but they also made it to the other side, and with great success. If you’re dealing with some of these feelings, take comfort in these words of geniuses—then get back to work.


 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

“There is neither a proportional relationship, nor an inverse one, between a writer’s estimation of a work in progress and its actual quality. The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

– Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

“It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

– Stephen King, On Writing

“One must be pitiless about this matter of ‘mood.’ In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.”

– Joyce Carol Oates, Paris Review interview

“I believe that the so-called ‘writer’s block’ is a product of some kind of disproportion between your standards and your performance… One should lower his standards until there is no felt threshold to go over in writing. It’s easy to write. You just shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.”

– William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

“The feeling that the work is magnificent, and the feeling that it is abominable, are both mosquitoes to be repelled, ignored, or killed, but not indulged.”

 

“You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel, and it’s not the head of a writer in the thick of it, nor the head of a professional editor who’s read it in twelve different versions. It’s the head of a smart stranger who picks it off a bookshelf and begins to read. You need to get the head of that smart stranger somehow. You need to forget you ever wrote that book.”

– Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays

“The difference between writers and critics is that in order to function in their trade, writers must live in the world, and critics, to survive in the world, must live in literature. That’s why writers in their own work need have nothing to do with criticism, no matter on what level.”

– Grace Paley, Just As I Thought

 

What are your favorite writing quotes? What gets you out of a slump?

 

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Comments

  1. Oh my – what a collection of genius quotes. Thank you! (LOVE Anne Lamott.)

    Because I totally tend toward self-doubt (in writing and in life), I like this from Bukowski (who I also love): “Bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt.” I don’t know how true it is, but I’d like to believe that’s the case 🙂

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