Writers on Writing and Books

Why do writers write? And what’s the value a good story or book?

The answers are as varied as the weather! Writing comes in many forms-fiction, nonfiction, memoir, biography, poetry, plays, techno-babble, bureaucratese, personal letters, and more. And there are almost as many reasons why and how writing and reading impact us as there are writers and readers.

Here what some of the world’s most acclaimed writers have said. After you read them here, consider having your say...

  • “I’m the kind of writer that people think other people are reading.” (V.S. Naipaul, 1932-2018, Trinidad-born British writer of South Asian ancestry)
  • “Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit at a typewriter and open a vein.” (Attributed to Walter Wellesley ‘Red’ Smith, 1905-1982, an American sportswriter)
  • “I am an obsessive rewriter, doing one draft and then another and another, usually five. In a way, I have nothing to say but a great deal to add.” (Gore Vidal, 1925-2012, an American writer)
  • “I write the way women have babies. You don’t know it’s going to be like that. If you did, there’s no way you would go through with it.” (Toni Morrison, 1931-, American novelist)
  • “Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.  (Salman Rushdie, 1946-, Indian-born British novelist)
  • “Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it. A good writer turns fact into truth; a bad writer will, more often than not, accomplish the opposite.” (Edward F. Albee, 1928-2016, American Playwright)
  • “For me the novel is a social vehicle. It reflects society.” (Margaret Atwood, 1939-, Canadian novelist and poet)
  • “Literature is news that stays news.” (Ezra Pound, 1885-1972, expatriate American poet and critic)
  •  “We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection...We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.” (Anais Nin, 1903-19, French-born American diarist and novelist)
  •  “There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” (Joseph Brodsky, 1940-96, Russian-born American poet and essayist)
  • “I never think at all when I write. Nobody can do two things at the same time and do them both well.” (Don Marquis, 1878-1937, American humorist)
  • “Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.” (Norman Mailer, 1923-2007, American novelist and playwright)
  • “Books are, in one sense, the basis of all social progress.” (Karl Marx, 1818-83, German philosopher and political theorist)
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” (E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015, American novelist)
  • “A book is like a man-clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel. (John Steinbeck, 1902-68, American novelist)
  • “It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” (Robert Benchley, 1889-1945, an American humorist)
  • “Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.” (Vladmir Nabokov, 1899-1977, Russian-born American novelist)
  • “[The way to write is for as] long as you can live and there is pencil and paper or ink or any  machine to do it with, or anything you care to write about, and you feel a fool, and you are a fool, to do it in any other way. (Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, American novelist)

Have Your Say

Nepal and South Asia are not well represented in the lines above, neither from well-knowns, nor from relative unknowns like the rest of us. Whichever you are, tell us why you write and the importance of good writing, books, and reading. From your replies (short or long) I’ll weave together a future essay for this column on ‘Why and What Our Readers Write and Read’. If I quote or paraphrase you, you’ll be credited (unless say not to). Write to me at don.editor@gmail.com.