Fiction Writers on Writing Fiction

There are a few lucky souls for whom the whole process of writing is easy, for whom the smell of fresh paper is better than air, whose minds chuckle over their own agility, who forget to eat, and who consider the world at large an intrusion on their good time at the keyboard. But you and I are not among them. We are in love with words except when we have to face them. We are caught in a guilty paradox in which we grumble over lack of time, and when we have the time, we sharpen pencils, check emails, or clip the hedges.

Of course, there’s also joy. We write for the satisfaction of having wrestled a sentence to the page, for the flush of discovering an image, for the excitement of seeing a character come alive…

[Excerpt from Jane Burroway’s Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft]

I believe the secret of writing is that fiction never exceeds the reach of the writer’s courage. The best fiction comes from the place where the terror hides, the edge of our worst stuff. I believe, absolutely, that if you do not break out in that sweat of fear when you write, then you have not gone far enough. And I know you can fake that courage when you don’t think of yourself as courageous — because I have done it. And that is not a bad thing, to fake it until you can make it. I know that until I started pushing on my own fears, telling the stories that were hardest for me, writing about exactly the things I was most afraid of and unsure about, I wasn’t writing worth a damn.

~ Dorthy Allison (author of Bastard Out of Carolina)

The paradox of writing is that you’re trying to use words to express what words can’t express.

~ Stephen Fischer (screenwriter)

The great Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa said that to be an artist means never to avert your eyes. And that’s the hardest thing, because we want to flinch. The artist must go into the white hot center of himself, and our impulse when we get there is to look away and avert our eyes.

~ Robert Olen Butler

If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.

~ Eudora Welty

I want hard stories, I demand them of myself. Hard stories are worth the difficulty. It seems to me the only way I have forgiven anything, understood anything, is through that process of opening up to my own terror and pain and reexamining it, recreating it in story, and making it something different, making it meaningful — even if the meaning is only in the act of telling.

~ Dorothy Allison

A short story is a writer’s way of thinking through experience…. Journalism aims at accuracy, but fiction’s aim is truth. The writer distorts reality in the interest of a larger truth.

~ John L’Heureux

2 thoughts on “Fiction Writers on Writing Fiction

  1. I love the quote by Dorothy Allison. The story I am currently working on, or sometimes only trying to work on, makes me frighteningly uneasy and scared. It’s a fictional, and exaggerated, depiction of something that really scares me, something that I really worry about but haven’t told anyone about. Both the focusing on the issue itself and the revealing of it, even through the mask of fiction, cause great tremors… but it is also the thing I am most proud of so far.

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