Monday, January 4, 2010

Quotes to Inspire Writers

A writing friend, Jean Sands, author of the newly released book of poems, Gandy Dancing, sent round a lovely collection of quotes from writers and others to inspire us as we begin our new year. Jean gave me permission to share them.
(Check out her new poetry book at

This week's writing exercise is to choose one of the quotes below and write for 15-20 minutes about what it means to you. If you're writing a novel, have one of your characters discuss it or think about it.

Quotes to Inspire Writers

“Out of the artist’s imagination, as out of nature’s inexhaustible well, pours one thing after another. The artist composes, writes or paints just as he dreams, seizing whatever swims close to his net.” John Gardner

“The novelist’s imagination has a power of its own. It does not merely invent, it perceives. It intensifies, therefore it gives power, extra importance, greater truth, and greater inner reality to what well may be ordinary and everyday things.” Elizabeth Bowen

“Before you begin to write a sentence, imagine the scene you want to paint with your words. Imagine that you are the character and feel what the character feels. Smell what the character smells, and hear with that character’s ears. For an instant, before you begin to write, see and feel what you want the reader to see and feel.” Othello Bach

“Poetic value is an intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge. It is not the value of faith. It is the value of the imagination.” Wallace Stevens

“The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them. If this is true, then reason is simply the methodizer of the imagination.” Wallace Stevens

“In literature, you know only what you imagine.” Carlos Fuentes

“You put yourself apart from yourself, and you enter the imaginary world.” Andrew Lytle

“The realm where the narrative you are working with becomes true and alive for you.” Madison Smartt Bell

“The composition of fiction can, at least theoretically, be broken into two stages. First, and most important, comes imagination. Next is rendering. Imagination is no more or less than a highly structured form of daydreaming. Daydreaming is fun, a form of play. Once the people, the places, the events you are imagining become fully present to your senses, then it’s time for rendering. . . . to express your vision in language.” Madison Smartt Bell

“I do find something distressingly amoral in the very nature of film and TV—possibly because the photographic image denies the spectator virtually all use of his own imaginative powers. Whereas reading requires a constant use of the reader’s imagination.” John Fowles

“The artist’s imagination, or the world it builds, is the laboratory of the unexperienced, both the heroic and the unspeakable.” John Gardner

“It [imagination] is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more truly he can imagine. If he gets so he can imagine truly enough people will think the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting.” Ernest Hemingway

“The real man, the imagination.” William Blake

“There is something in the nature of nature, in its presentness, its seeming transience, its creative ferment and hidden potential, that corresponds very closely with the wild, or green man, in our psyches.” John Fowles

“The writer’s sole authority is his imagination. He works out in his imagination what would happen and why, acting out every part himself, making his characters say what he would say himself if he were a young second-generation Italian, then an old Irish policeman, and so on. When the writer accepts unquestioningly someone else’s formulation of how and why people behave, he is not thinking but dramatizing some other man’s theory: that of Freud, Adler, Laing, or whomever. Needless to say, one may make some theory of motivation one’s premise—an idea to be tested. But the final judgment must come from the writer’s imagination.” John Gardner

“A strong imagination makes characters do what they would do in real life. A subtler work of the imagination—a subtler way in which the writing of fiction is a morally serious mode of thought—is symbolic association.” John Gardner

“The bad writer may not intend to manipulate; he simply does not know what his characters would do because he has not been watching them closely enough in his mind’s eye—has not been catching the subtle emotional signals that, for the more careful writer, show where the action must go next.” John Gardner

“The imagination sees with the eyes of the spirit; the maker, finished with his making, must then see what he has done, like the reader, with corporeal eyes.” Guy Davenport

“Romantic theory: the imagination, wellspring of compassion, is an innate faculty but one which requires exercise and training.” John Gardner

“The intellect has withdrawn its watchers from the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does [the creative mind] review and inspect the multitude.” Schiller

“Ridiculous little parakeet faced woman; but not quite sufficiently ridiculous. I kept wishing for superlatives; could not get the illusion to flap its wings.” Virginia Woolf

“I began the making up of scenes—unconsciously: saying phrases to myself; and so, for a week, I’ve sat here, staring at the typewriter and speaking aloud phrases of The Pargiters.” Virginia Woolf

“Elvira and George, or John, talking in her room. I’m still miles outside them, but I think I got into the right tone of voice this morning.” Virginia Woolf

“A novel, as we say, opens a new world to the imagination.” Percy Lubbock

“All literary and dramatic enjoyment, whether of nursery tales in childhood or of moving pictures later on or of ‘great literature,’ appears to involve to some degree the reader’s imaginative identification of himself with the roles portrayed and his projection of himself into the situations described in the story. (At what age does the capacity for imaginative identification of oneself with the roles portrayed in a story begin? The writer would suggest, on the basis of very limited observation, that it begins around the age of two or earlier. An interesting test case is to read the story of the Three Bears to a very small child to see when he begins to identify himself with Baby Bear.)” S.I. Hayakawa

“The first conception of the work needs intuition and imagination more than the craftsman’s toolbox, and so does the final consummation.” Madison Smartt Bell

“The landscape that opens before the critic is whole and single; it has passed through an imagination, it has shed its irrelevancy and is compact with its own meaning. Such is the world of the book.” Percy Lubbock

“Safety is a crime writers should never commit unless they are after tenure or praise.” Pat Conroy

“Don Quixote does not invite us into ‘reality’ but into an act of the imagination where all things are real.” Carlos Fuentes

“If the writing is any good, it struggles free of you, and the feeling of being inside it just as it moves away is so brief; a sensual visitation, the brush of His hand.” Jayne Anne Phillips

“Throughout time great writers have always been able to transpose themselves imaginatively into not just the racial other, but the sexual other and also into other historical periods.” Philip Gerard

“I think you will agree that the good lasting stuff comes out of one individual’s imagination and sensitivity to and comprehension of the suffering of Everyman, Anyman, not out of the memory of his own grief.” William Faulkner - written in a letter to Richard Wright

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