Great Quotes from Fiction Writers on the Writing Process

As a fiction teacher, I look for new ways to explain what it is that makes one a writer, what it is that a writer should know, and how one should look at their own work and the work of others. It is continually inspiring to me to read quotes from other authors, also attempting to convey these ideas. 

I've compiled a number of quotes that seem especially true. I hope they make you stop and think, or else feel less alone. Or both. Enjoy!

Sam Lipsyte

Writer Sam Lipsyte
Andrew Toth/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"One of my big revelations was that nobody cares whether you write your novel or not. They want you to be happy. Your parents want you to have health insurance. Your friends want you to be a good friend. But everyone’s thinking about their own problems and nobody wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘Boy, I sure hope Sam finishes that chapter and gets one step closer to his dream of being a working writer.’ Nobody does that. If you want to write, it has to come from you. If you don’t want to write, that’s great. Go do something else. That was a very liberating moment for me." More

Erica Jong


"I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged." More

E. L. Doctorow


"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Alice Munro

Illustration by Jody Hewgill.

"Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about." More

Mary Gaitskill

Illustration by Miriam Tourn.

"There is a difference between the literal truth and the emotional truth."

Karen Russell


"Whether you are building Kansas or Oz, you use the terrestrial bedrock of the reality you occupy." More

Lydia Davis

"Take the familiar and make it strange."

Chad Harbach

"The writer is always working, working, working, trying both to pay her rent and to put the way the world feels into words." More

Flannery O'Connor

"I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."

Dani Shapiro

"If we are artists- hell, whether or not we're artists- it is our job, our responsibility, perhaps even our sacred calling, to take whatever life has handed us and make something new, something that wouldn't have existed if not for the fire, the genetic mutation, the sick baby, the accident."

Ernest Hemingway

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

Sylvia Plath

"Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."

Richard Price

"You don't write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid's burnt socks lying in the road."

Anne Lamott

"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.”