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Move the Goalposts or Remove Them Entirely

16 Apr

We read a lot about writers who have a “butt in chair” philosophy, who crank out a minimum of 1,000 words every day rain or shine. If you are one of them, I am genuinely happy for you — and for me, because I get to read your books on a regular basis. But I’m also here to reassure people who don’t work this way that they are not alone. Sometimes it’s impossible to get writing done, especially for those of us who have other work to do, including care work for our children or parents. And sometimes, like now, the world is so in flux that our brains are filled with static and we can’t hear our own thoughts. At these times, surviving daily life is enough to occupy every corner of our consciousness.


“You have no refuge but writing.” ~ Tennessee Williams

18 Jul

My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life. I try to work every day because you have no refuge but writing. When you’re going through a period of unhappiness, a broken love affair, the death of someone you love, or some other disorder in your life, then you have no refuge but writing.


Arianna Huffington (b. July 15): “Most people no longer believe in an afterlife.”

15 Jul


“Our current obsession with creativity is the result of our continued striving for immortality in an era when most people no longer believe in an afterlife.” 

~ Arianna Huffington, b. 15 July 1950

Robert Heinlein (b. July 7th): “Women and cats do as they please.”

7 Jul


“Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.”

~ Robert Heinlein, b. 7 July 1907

Dashiell Hammett (b. May 27) “I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of.”

27 May

Dashiell Hammet

“I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of.”

~ Dashiell Hammett, b. 27 May 1894

Barbara Kingsolver (b. April 8th): “I struggle with confidence, every time.”

8 May


“I struggle with confidence, every time. I’m never completely sure I can write another book.  Maybe my scope is too grand, my questions too hard, surely readers won’t want to follow me here.  A novel is like a cathedral, it knocks you down to size when you enter into it.”

~ Barbara Kingsolver, b. 8 April 1955


Joseph Heller (b. May 1st): “A writer is only discovered once in a lifetime.”

1 May


“I don’t think it’s good to achieve too much at too early an age. What else can the future give you if you’ve already got all that your imagination has dreamed up for you? A writer is only discovered once in a lifetime, and if it happens very early the impossibility of matching that moment again can have a somewhat corrosive effect on his personality and indeed on the work itself.”

~ Joseph Heller, b. 1 May 1923

Annie Dillard (b. April 30): “Many writers do little but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.”

30 Apr

Annie Dillard, born 30 April 1945, is an American poet, essayist, and novelist known for her intensely poetic and precise prose. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for her collection of narrative essays, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

Quotes on writing:

  1. I worked so hard all my life, and all I want to do now is read.
  2. All my books started out as extravagant, and ended up pure and plain.
  3. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.
  4. If you’re going to publish a book, you’re probably going to make a fool of yourself.
  5. Society places the writer so far beyond the pale that society does not regard the writer at all.
  6. I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, like a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.
  7. Every book has an intrinsic impossibility, which its writer discovers as soon as his first excitement dwindles.
  8. At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.
  9. It is no less difficult to write a sentence in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.
  10. One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.


Ian Rankin (b. April 28): “Most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up.”

28 Apr

Ian Rankin, born 28 April 1960, is a Scottish crime writer. His Rebus books have been translated into 22 languages and are bestsellers on several continents. He has won four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards, an Edgar Award, and many others. Rankin is also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Abertay, St Andrews, and Edinburgh.


  1. I still think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games, with our imaginary friends.
  2. I don’t have many friends. It’s not because I’m a misanthrope. It’s because I’m reserved. I’m self-contained. I get all my adventures in my head when I’m writing my books.
  3. I think writers have to be proactive: they’ve got to use new technology and social media. Yes, it’s hard to get noticed by traditional publishers, but there’s a great deal of opportunity out there if you’ve got the right story.
  4. I’ve always written. At the age of six or seven, I would get sheets of A4 paper and fold them in half, cut the edges to make a little eight-page booklet, break it up into squares and put in little stick men with little speech bubbles, and I’d have a spy story, a space story and a football story.
  5. A lot of writers, especially crime writers, have an image that we think we’re trying to keep up with. You’ve got to be seen as dark and slightly dangerous. But I’m not like that and I’ve realised that I don’t need to put that on. People will buy the books whether they see a photo of you dressed in black or not.

On Writing:

I can’t write a novel when I’m travelling, but I can revise or edit, send emails and resolve plot problems. I’m envious of writers who can work on their books when they’re travelling, but I need my home comforts and certitudes – coffee, music, biscuits. I need to be in my office. It’s where I get to play God.

I’ll start with coffee and the papers, then maybe move on to emails. But eventually I’ll knuckle down. I have an office of sorts in my house. There will be music on the hi-fi, and I’ll sit on the sofa (if mulling), or at one desk (if writing longhand notes) or the other (if typing on to my laptop). My writing computer isn’t exactly state of the art – it can’t even access the internet – but I’ve written my last seven or eight novels on it, and it seems to work fine. 

10 Rules:

  1. Read lots.
  2. Write lots.
  3. Learn to be self-critical.
  4. Learn what criticism to accept.
  5. Be persistent.
  6. Have a story worth telling.
  7. Don’t give up.
  8. Know the market.
  9. Get lucky.
  10. Stay lucky.


Mary Wollstonecraft (b. April 27): “It is vain to expect virtue from women until they are independent of men.”

27 Apr

Five Quotes: 

  1. The beginning is always today.
  2. Simplicity and sincerity generally go hand in hand, as both proceed from a love of truth.
  3. It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.
  4. My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone.
  5. It appears to me impossible that I should cease to exist, or that this active, restless spirit, equally alive to joy and sorrow, should only be organised dust – ready to fly abroad the moment the spring snaps, or the spark goes out, which kept it together. Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable – and life is more than a dream.


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