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

“Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.” Virginia Woolf

“Sometimes I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining.” John Steinbeck

“Something out of nothing is the hard bit.” Salman Rushdie

“The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser

“Our creative emotions are not subject to command and do not tolerate force. They can only be coaxed. Once coaxed, they begin to wish, and wishing they begin to yearn for action.” Konstantin Stanislavski

“A book must be a life that lives all of itself.” John Steinbeck

“The illusion that all imaginative writing must create is that the thrown spear finds a hole in the stars and sails serenely through.” Guy Davenport

“When writing goes well, words drop down from clouds and bounce just right.” Ulf Wolf

“As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“The first thing which God created was a pen, and He said to it, ‘Write.’ It said, ‘What shall I write?’ And God said, ‘Write down the quantity of every separate thing to be created.’ And it wrote all that was and all that will be to eternity.” The Koran

“Eyes closed, we listen to inner music, lost in thought and question: our spirits ride to the eight corners of the universe, mind soaring a thousand miles away; only then may the inner voice grow clear as objects become numinous.” Lu Chi’s Wen Fu

“Out of non-being, being is born; out of silence, a writer produces a song.” Lu Chi’s Wen Fu

“Creation is mostly about stating with certainty that it is. Style share the same roots.” Ulf Wolf

“What you write is yours and nobody else’s. Take your talent as far as you can and guard it with your life.” William Zinsser

“Wrest words from silence and ideas from obscurity.” Honoré de Balzac

“No art is truly teachable in its essence. All the knowledge in the world of its techniques can provide in itself no more than imitations or replicas of previous art. What is irreplaceable in any object of art is never, in the final analysis, its technique or craft, but the personality of the artist, the expression of his or her unique and individual feeling.” John Fowles

“Real art creates myths a society can live instead of die by, and clearly our society is in need of such myths.” John Gardner

“Creativity is the most exciting thing in the world. . . . Someone said that a blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” Sidney Sheldon

“Making things is so human that psychology and philosophy have gotten nowhere in trying to account for it.” Guy Davenport

“The novelist always has to create a world and a believable one.” Flannery O’Connor

“It is an art, a craft, a making. To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It’s worth it.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Writing ought to be like running through a field.” Virginia Woolf

“The great artist, whatever form he chooses, breaks through the limited reality around him and makes a new one. He says not ‘It surely can’t be just this!’ but ‘Listen, it’s like this.’ And makes it stick.” John Gardner

“Of course, the ability to create life with words is essentially a gift.” Flannery O’Connor

“The fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion, or thought with thought. He has to provide all these things with a body; he has to create a world with weight and extension.” Flannery O’Connor

“To remind a reader that somebody is telling him the story is to introduce an irrelevant element that destroys the attempt to recreate reality; it is as if a painter were to leave behind his brush in a corner of the canvas to remind you that he painted it. Fiction is an atheistic universe: you are the God who is creating it, but there must not be any God in your writing.” Ayn Rand

“When we speak of energy in a given work we mean, normally, the creative process which brought the work into being.” John Gardner

“He [the writer] writes as God lets him. He writes—if he is good enough!—as Tilden plays tennis or as Dempsey fights, which is to say, he throws himself into it with never a moment of the dilettante’s sitting back and watching himself perform.” Sinclair Lewis

“The judgment that a work is complete—this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it—can come only from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who’s learned to read her own work.” Ursula K. Le Guin

“Art does not imitate reality (hold the mirror up to nature) but creates new reality. This reality may be apposite to the reality we walk through every day—streets and houses, mailmen, trees—and may trigger thoughts and feelings in the same way a newly discovered thing of nature might do—a captured Big Foot or Loch Ness monster—but it is essentially itself, not the mirror reflection of something familiar.” John Gardner

“The novelist is required to create the illusion of a whole world with believable people in it, and the chief difference between a novelist who is an orthodox Christian and the novelist who is merely a naturalist is that the Christian novelist lives in a larger universe. He believes that the natural world contains the supernatural. And this doesn’t mean that his obligation to portray the natural is less; it means it is greater.” Flannery O’Connor

“The fact would seem to be that for many writers it is easier to assume universal responsibility for souls than it is to produce a work of art, and it is considered better to save the world than to save the work.” Flannery O’Connor

“The limitations that any writer imposes on his work will grow out of the necessities that lie in the material itself, and these will generally be more rigorous than any that religion could impose.” Flannery O’Connor

“What interests the serious writer is not external habits but what Maritain calls, ‘the habit of art’; and he explains that ‘habit’ in this sense means a certain quality of mind. The scientist has the habit of science; the artist, the habit of art.” Flannery O’Connor

“Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit, over a long period of time, by experience; and teaching of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art. I think this is more than just a discipline, although it is that; I think it is a way of looking at the created world and of using the senses so as to make them find as much meaning as possible in things.” Flannery O’Connor

“No art is sunk in the self, but rather, in art the self becomes self-forgetful in order to meet the demands of the thing seen and the thing being made.” Flannery O’Connor

“Much of my fiction takes its character from a reasonable use of the unreasonable, though the reasonableness of my use of it may not always be apparent.” Flannery O’Connor

“Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.” Flannery O’Connor

“Omensetter [a William Gass character] is not described as much as made.” Donald Guttenplan

“Philosophers make their living the same way writers make their worlds: with words, words, words.” Donald Guttenplan

“There are no descriptions in fiction, there are only constructions, and the principles which govern these constructions are persistently philosophical.” William Gass

“One has to be just a little crazy to write a great novel. One must be capable of allowing the darkest, most ancient and shrewd parts of one’s being to take over the work from time to time.” John Gardner

“In some apparently inexplicable way the mind opens up; one steps out of the world. One knows one has been away because of the words one finds on the page when one comes back, a scene or a few lines more vivid and curious than anything one is capable of writing—though there they stand.” John Gardner

“All writing requires at least some measure of trancelike state.” John Gardner

“A the time I wrote the passage, I made all these connections without consciously thinking: the mystical oneness, the calmly accepted paradox, were inherent in the entrancement.” John Gardner

“If one is lucky the lightning strikes, and the madness at the core of the fictional idea for a moment glows on the page.” John Gardner

“When I write I’m merely a sensibility.” Virginia Woolf

“Suppose one can keep the quality of a sketch in a finished and composed work? That is my endeavor.” Virginia Woolf

“The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.” Virginia Woolf

“I have a great and astonishing sense of something there, which is ‘it.’ It is not exactly beauty that I mean. It is that the thing is in itself enough: satisfactory; achieved.” Virginia Woolf

“I shall be off again, feeling that extraordinary exhilaration, that ardor and lust of creation.” Virginia Woolf

“It’s the writing, not the being read, that excites me.” Virginia Woolf

“I can write and write and write now: the happiest feeling in the world.” Virginia Woolf

“The exalted sense of being above time and death which comes from being again in a writing mood.” Virginia Woolf

“The pleasure of illusion is small beside the pleasure of creation.” Percy Lubbock

“Just as with fiction, there are in this sense good and bad tree congregations—some that tempt the visitor to turn the page, to explore further, others that do not. But even the most ‘unreadable’ woods and forests are in fact subtler than any conceivable fiction, which can never represent the actual multiplicity of choice and paths in a wood, but only one particular path through it. Yet that multiplicity of choice, though it cannot be conveyed in the frozen medium of the printed text, is very characteristic of the actual writing; of the constant dilemma—pain or pleasure, according to circumstances—its actual practice represents, from the formation of the basic sentence to the larger matters of narrative line, character development, ending. Behind every path and every form of expression one does finally choose, lie the ghosts of all those that one did not.” John Fowles

“It’s silly to say the novelist isn’t God, cannot pretend to be God, because the fact is that when you write a book you are potentially a tyrant, you are the total dictator, and there’s nothing in the book that has to be there if you want to knock it out or change it. Then you have a comparatively free choice about it, and it’s very difficult for a character in the book to stand up and say, you cannot do that, or, I demand that that line be changed. . . . But this does happen: people in the book do suddenly seem to do things which one hadn’t imagined or couldn’t have predicted in any way.” John Fowles

“I’m totally against what I understand is the creative writing approach. You know, planning . . . structure, symbolism. I rely absolutely on . . . it would be an exaggeration to say I write first drafts in a trance-like state. It’s not that. Although I’m very sympathetic to that aspect of Indian and Japanese mysticism.” John Fowles

“I think writing is plant-growing; a very, very similar activity. . . . It’s not clock-making. This is for me an American fallacy, that book-writing is clock-making. . . . Fitting machinery together. You know, I get these extraordinary letters from American academics who obviously think that everything in my books was analyzed before I wrote it. . . . They expect from me a little . . . I don’t know what they expect; I mean literally like, How did you put the clock together? It’s like asking a plant how it grows. Of course you can tell them all sorts of things, but you can’t actually tell them the basic mystery, how it took its final form.” John Fowles

“In fiction there is a certain first-draft mood which comes upon you, which is marvelous and is the nicest of all literary experiences. When you’re into a narrative and it seems so full of forks and possibilities, and you’re full of ideas, that is marvelous. That’s the best of all literary experiences.” John Fowles”

“I have to ease off on making love when writing hard as the two things are run by the same motor.” Ernest Hemingway

“Moment I stopped work the drive became sexual.” John Steinbeck

“Steinbeck apparently subscribed to the theory that sexual intercourse dissipated the creative drive.” Robert Demott

“ ‘Fool!’ said my Muse to me, ‘look in thy heart and write.’ “ Sir Philip Sidney

“Grand effects are achieved only by simple things and clear-cut passion.” Gustave Flaubert

“Invention is the finest thing but you cannot invent anything that would not actually happen. That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.” Ernest Hemingway

“I strongly recommend writing ahead at full tilt, not stopping to correct.” Jacques Barzun

“Believe in your own identity and your own opinions. Writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use its energy to keep yourself going.” William Zinsser

“Ultimately the product that any writer has to sell is not the subject being written about, but who he or she is.” William Zinsser

“The race in writing is not to the swift but to the original.” William Zinsser

“Every writer is starting from a different point and is bound for a different destination. . . . Forget the competition and go at your own pace. Your only contest is with yourself.” William Zinsser

“In this world she really does have magical powers because it is a world of her own creation.” Madison Smartt Bell

“Writing fiction is—I won’t say this too loudly, because some writers may feel I’ll jinx things by admitting it—a form of happiness.” Will Blythe

“In the end, writing is like a prison, an island from which you will never be released but which is a kind of paradise: the solitude, the thoughts, the incredible joy of putting into words the essence of what you for the moment understand and with your whole heart want to believe.” James Salter

“A novel is the greatest act of passion and intellect, carpentry and largess, that a human being can pull off in one lifetime.” Pat Conroy

“Writing is an intense joy, as faithful as pain, as beautiful as love; making beauty is love, is making love; and that is what writing is.” William Vollmann

“Writing is a physical joy. It is almost sexual—not the moment of fulfillment, but the moment when you open the door to the room where your lover is waiting, and everything else falls away.” Lee Smith

“I found power in words. I discovered I could call things into being with words.” Darius James

“While you are writing, you are listening to your story. Listen closely and you’ll discover astonishing things—things you never dreamed of when you started. That’s the mystery of writing: We don’t know what we know until we try to say it in words.” Philip Gerard

“While you’re inside the novel working on it, day after day, month and year after month and year, it seems more real than the world beyond the page. Scenes and characters take on a vividness that is almost painful, often exciting, and quite beguiling. . . . When it’s working.” Philip Gerard

“Of all books, novels, which the Muses should love, make a serious claim on our compassion. The art of the novelist is simple. At the same time it is the most elusive of all creative arts, the most liable to be obscured by the scruples of its servants and votaries, the one pre-eminently destined to bring trouble to the mind and the heart of the artist. After all, the creation of a world is not a small undertaking except perhaps to the divinely gifted. In truth every novelist must begin by creating for himself a world, great or little, in which he can honestly believe. This world cannot be made otherwise than in his own image: it is fated to remain individual and a little mysterious, and yet it must resemble something already familiar to the experience, the thoughts and the sensations of his readers.” Joseph Conrad

“All I know, is that for twenty months, neglecting the common joys of life that fall to the lot of the humblest on this earth, I had, like the prophet of old, ‘wrestled with the Lord’ for my creation, for the headlands of the coast, for the darkness of the Placid Gulf, the light on the snows, the clouds on the sky, and for the breath of life that had to be blown into the shapes of men and women, of Latin and Saxon, of Jew and Gentile. These are, perhaps, strong words, but it is difficult to characterise otherwise the intimacy and the strain of a creative effort in which mind and will and conscience are engaged to the full, hour after hour, day after day, away from the world, and to the exclusion of all that makes life really lovable and gentle—something for which a material parallel can only be found in the everlasting sombre stress of the westward winter passage round Cape Horn. For that too is the wrestling of men with the might of their Creator, in a great isolation from the world, without the amenities and consolations of life, a lonely struggle under a sense of overmatched littleness, for no reward that could be adequate, but for the mere winning of a longitude. Yet, a certain longitude, once won, cannot be disputed. The sun and the stars and the shape of your earth are the witnesses of your gain; whereas a handful of pages, no matter how much you have made them your own, are at best but an obscure and questionable spoil. Here they are. ‘Failure’—’Astonishing’: take your choice; or perhaps both, or neither—a mere rustle and flutter of pieces of paper settling down in the night, and undistinguishable, like the snowflakes of a great drift destined to melt away in sunshine.” Joseph Conrad

“There she is, waiting for me. I pull off the cover, and stare at her dusty, cold shape. I clean off the dust and caress her with my hand, delicately. I wipe clean her back, her base and her sides. In front of her, I feel desperately happy. I run my fingers over her keyboard and suddenly it all starts up. With a tinkling sound the music begins, little by little, then faster. Now full speed. Walls, trees, streets, cathedrals, faces and beaches, cells, mini-cells, huge cells. Starry nights, bare feet, pines, clouds. Hundreds, thousands, a million parrots, a stool, a climbing plant. They all answer to my call, all come to me. The walls recede, the roof vanishes and you float quite naturally. You float uprooted, dragged off, lifted high transported, immortalized, saved, thanks to that subtle, continuous rhythm, that music, that incessant tap-tap.” Reinaldo Arenas

“This is the time when I am glad I am or try to be a writer—the growth and flowering of something I seem only to plant and nurture for a while.” John Steinbeck

“I am not the book. It is much more than I am. The pictures have come to me out of some hugeness and sometimes they have startled me. But I am glad of them.” John Steinbeck

“I think, like most writers, that I am most completely myself when I write, and not the rest of the time. I have a social self, and my full self can’t be released except in the writing.” Salman Rushdie

“Books are interim reports from the consciousness of the writer.” Salman Rushdie

“The book has to make a world of its own. Whether or not you know anything about Pakistan shouldn’t be a factor in reading a fiction, because the book has to tell you what you need to know, and if it doesn’t it fails. You make a world, and you try to make it cohere and mean something about the world that you don’t make, the actual world.” Salman Rushdie

“Literature is self-validating. That is to say, a book is not justified by its author’s worthiness to write it, but by the quality of what has been written.” Salman Rushdie.

“And as for risk: the real risks of any artist are taken in the work, in pushing the work to the limits of what is possible, in the attempt to increase the sum of what it is possible to think.” Salman Rushdie

“Get black on white used to be Maupassant’s advice—that’s what I always do. I don’t give a hoot what the writing’s like, I write any sort of rubbish which will cover the main outline of the story, then I can begin to see it.” Frank O’Connor

“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” Vincent Van Gogh

“God made everything out of nothing, but the nothingness shows through.” Paul Valéry

“Writers create themselves.” Marie Arana