Clare B. Dunkle

The Business of Novel Writing

Clare B. Dunkle's favorite quotations about writing for publication

Tiger in Frankfurt Zoo

"What is he?" murmurs one grey shadow of my forefathers to the other. "A writer of story books! What kind of business in life—what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation—may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!"
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

It is not the being paid money in advance that jars the sensitive artist: it is the having to work.
—P.G. Wodehouse, "Best Seller"

Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day.
—Norman Mailer

When the cartoonist is trying to talk honestly and seriously about life, then I believe he has a responsibility to think beyond satisfying the market's every whim and desire.
—Bill Watterson

I have always subscribed to Kurt Vonnegut's famous canary-in-the-coal-mine theory of a writer's sensibilities and contribution to social justice. As you know, he thinks that writers and poets are more sensitive to invisible noxious gases in a culture or era than the average joe and—like the canaries the miners use to hold ahead of them in a cage on a 9-foot-pole—will keel over and go belly-up at the slightest whiff of injustice. ... To that end, perhaps we writers do have a certain healthy role in any society at any given time—i.e. sniffing, chirping wildly, and dying before the important people do.
—Dan Simmons

Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.
—John LeCarre

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; ... who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
—Theodore Roosevelt

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.
—Kurt Vonnegut

"Look, Msabu," he said, "this is a good book. It hangs together from the one end to the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly, it does not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But what you write," he went on, both with scorn and a sort of friendly compassion, "is some here and some there. When the people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the floor and you are angry. It will not be a good book."
—Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

And let me say this about editors in general: Not having a good one is like doing brain surgery with a butter knife—you can do it, but you're always paranoid the other surgeons are rolling their eyes when you're not looking. What a relief to have someone standing next to you hand you a sharp scalpel and just say, "Cut that thing, Gary! Right there! Cut it, damn you!"
—Gary Larson, The Complete Far Side

I really don't want to be boring, and so many books are so boring!
—Nick Hornby (on being a "middle-brow" author)

On the whole, audiences prefer that art be not a mirror held up to life, but a Disneyland of the soul, containing Romanceland, Spyland, Pornoland and all the other escapelands which are so much more agreeable than the complex truth.
—Geoffrey Wiseman

A long time ago Francis Bacon said that "Knowledge is Power". Not quite as long ago PT Barnum said, "There is a sucker born every minute." At least with Barnum, you got to see a circus.
Ron Pramschufer (on the dangers of signing vanity press contracts)

Fear your admirers!
—Constantin Stanislavski

There is a difference between writing and being an author. Authors talk. I'm standing here talking now. This has nothing to do with writing.
—T.R. Pearson

We have carried editing to a very high degree of fussiness here, probably to a point approaching the ultimate. I don't know how to get it under control.
—Harold Ross

Children's authors generally write in one of two ways, either to please children or to please themselves. The more numerous of them, those who write to please children, have traditionally been the purveyors of ephemera and dreck; those who write to please themselves have given us most of the best children's books we have. ...
—John Goldthwaite

Somewhere between Little Rock and Newtonville you'll get tired of your book tour, and eventually the money will run out, and after a few years you'll forget all the readings and all the interviews and all the reviews. But you will remember the day you finally figured out how to open that chapter you wrestled with for half a year, that time when the words just came, and you'll remember what time it was and how high the sun was in the window and how the floor was cold on your bare feet. You'll one day realize that you miss writing that book, and that you'll never get to write it again.
—Duncan Murrell

Sic transit gloria midlist.
—Naomi Novik

All webpage text copyright 2003-2014 by Clare B. Dunkle, unless attributed otherwise. All photos copyright 2003-2014 by Joseph R. Dunkle, unless attributed otherwise. You may make one print copy of any page on this site for private or educational use. You may quote the author using short excerpts from this website, provided you attribute the quote. You may use the photos in both print and virtual media to promote the author's books or events. All other copying or use of this website material, either photos or text, is forbidden without the express written consent of the author.