Here are my favourite quotes from some of the authors that I used to create my workhops, lectures and tutorials for the creative writing students at Portsmouth University this year. Thanks to all the fantastic students in the Tips, Tricks, Techniques unit, Writing with Publishing unit and the MA students.

‘I was walking through the woods (…) It was there that the idea came to me (…) it would appear that the period of gestation (for the book) was 18 months. This period of exactly 18 months might suggest (…) that I am in reality a female elephant.’ Friedrich Nietzsche Ecco Homo

‘We work to round every scene from beginning to end by turning a value at stake in a character’s life from the positive to the negative or the negative to the positive.’ Robert McKee, Story

All evaluation is made from a definite perspective: that of the preservation of the individual, a community, a race, a state, a church, a faith, a culture – Because we forget that valuation is always from a perspective, a single individual contains within him a vast confusion of contradictory valuations and contradictory drives (…)in contrast to the animals in which all existing instincts answer to quite definite tasks (…) The wisest man would be the one richest in contradictions who has antennae for all types of men (…) The subject as multiplicity. Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche

‘Ah, here is the lucky Hawaiian shirt. It shows up in the first draft, but not until about page thirty. That’s too late for an important prop, so I stuck it up front.’ Stephen King, On Writing

Physicists believe in a ‘true world’: a firm systemization of atoms in necessary motion (…)– so for them the ‘apparent world’ is reduced to the side of universal and universally necessary being which is accessible to every being in its own way (accessible and also already adapted – made ‘subjective’). But they are in error. The atom they posit is inferred according to the logic of the perspectivism of consciousness – and is therefore itself a subjective fiction. This world picture that they sketch differs in no essential way from the subjective world picture: it is only construed with more extended senses, but with our senses nonetheless – and in any case they left something out (…): precisely this necessary perspectivism by virtue of which every centre of force – and not only man – construes all the rest of the world from its own viewpoint (…) They forgot to include this perspective-setting force (…) Perspectivism is only a complex form of specificity. Will to Power by Friedrich Nietzsche

When you drop a coin on a highly patterned carpet. It is hard to see it. But when you see a glint of metal, the coin suddenly stands out, and is clearly visible. What you actually perceived is the difference between the previous state of the carpet and the state with the glint in it. This causes one to recollect similar differences in past experiences, when metal objects caused such glints to appear against a non-metallic background. Now you can see the coin because the pattern of differences between it and the carpet fits into an already known pattern of similar differences. – this is mechanical perception in the sense that the order, pattern and structure of what is perceived come from the recorded of past experiences and thinking. David Bohm On Creativity

When we refer to a woman as ‘housewife’ (…) Using this word is accepting ‘ready-made’ language, the ‘near at hand’. We pick the most convenient term and it stops us thinking and exploring (…) People can be lulled into a cliché-ridden world whereby they are even more easily manipulated by images and slogans from ‘above’. Now it’s clear we can’t all the time stop and replace and undo these reductions of what a person can be. In the practical, utilitarian world we need to use the most convenient, easily accepted terms of reference – for quick identification, for emergency, for commerce. We are busy. Nicki Jackowska Write for Life

There was an article in the newspaper (…) about a yogi in India who ate a car. (…) A man had eaten a car! Right from the beginning there is no logic in it. (…) This is how we should write. (…) You will take leaps naturally if you follow your thoughts, because the mind spontaneously takes great leaps. Natalie Goldberg Writing Down The Bones

Many (World War 2) bombs were given names (…) ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ were the names given to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (…) ‘nuclear warhead’ is replaced by ‘Fat Man’ (…) the death-dealing quality of the weapon is obscured by the familiarity and affection contained in the name of a person or an affectionate nickname (…) our relationship to the weapon, obscured in this way (…) To humanize and personalize the inhuman and devastating is language used for the purpose of maintaining or creating a lie. Nicki Jackowska Write for Life

‘Beginner Weakness. The unnecessary use of ‘begin to’ and ‘start to’ is the sign of a novice writer. Editors who see them on the first page know the submission comes from a novice. This may not be the kind of signal you want to send. Consider removing all ‘begin to’ and ‘start to’ (…) use the ‘Find&Replace’ function to highlight ‘start’, ‘begin’, ‘began’, ‘begun’…’ The Word-Loss Diet, Rayne Hall

A writer might be writing about a restaurant scene but become obsessed with the fly on the napkin and begin to describe, in minute detail, the fly’s back, the fly’s dreams, its early childhood, its technique for flying through the screen windows. The reader or listener becomes lost because right before that the waiter had come to the table in the writing and the listener is waiting for him to serve the food (…) loses the reader’s attention because it makes a little gap, letting the readers’ mind wander away from the work. A responsibility of literature is to make people awake, present, alive. If the writer wanders, then the reader, too, will wander. The fly on the table might be part of the whole description of a restaurant. It might be appropriate to tell precisely the sandwich that it just walked over, but there is a fine line between precision and self-indulgence (…) know your goal and stay present with it. If your mind and writing wander from it, bring them gently back (…) don’t be self-absorbed, which eventually creates vague, muddy writing. We might really get to know the fly but forget where we are: the restaurant, the rain outside, the friend across the table. The fly is important, but it has its place. Don’t ignore the fly; don’t become obsessed with it (…) recognise the fly, even love it if you want, but don’t marry it.’ Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

A painting by Rembrandt is not just an image or symbol of the person who appears in it, but rather by heightening certain features and simplifying others, the artist brings out a typical aspect of character having a broad or even universal human relevance. (…) art need not represent or symbolize anything else at all, but rather that it may involve the creation of something new. David Bohm On Creativity

‘Learn to write about the ordinary. Give homage to old coffee cups, sparrows, city buses, thin ham sandwiches. Make a list of everything ordinary you can think of. Keep adding to it. Promise yourself, before you leave the earth, to mention everything on your list at least once in a poem, a short story, newspaper article.’ Natalie Goldberg Writing Down The Bones

‘Although I have no memory for telephone numbers, addresses, face and where I have put this morning’s correspondence, I have a perfect memory for the sensation for certain experiences which are crystallized for me around certain associations. I could demonstrate this from my own life by the overwhelming nature of associations which (…) carried me back so completely into the past, particularly into my childhood, that I have lost all sense of the present time and place.’ Stephen Spender: The Making of a Poem in The Creative Process Ed. Brewster Ghiselin

‘Sylvia Plath (…) never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the off verse, or a false head or false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy.’ Ted Hughes introduction in Sylvia Plath Collected Poems.

‘When you’re dreaming it up the first time, you are using the side of you that looks out your eyes when you wake up from a nightmare and for an instant don’t remember what species you are. (…) Then when you’ve dreamed it up, you go through it again and again and again, using more and more the side of you that figures out how to open up the gate when you’ve got two bags of groceries in your arms and you don’t want to put them down.’ Off the Page Edited by Carole Burns

‘He has complex thoughts about his use of animals to represent Jews, Germans, Poles and others in his book. (…) Spiegelman convincingly argues (…) that using animals “allowed me to approach otherwise unsayable things.” Garner. nytimes.com

‘That poem is ‘about’ solipsism, a philosophical doctrine which says that we create the world in the act of perceiving it; or about Narcissism, or any other ism that denotes the failure of the human personality to function objectively in nature and society (…) I use Narcissism to mean only preoccupation with self; it may be love or hate.’ Allen Tate, Brewster Ghiselin (Ed.) The Creative Process (1952)

‘I perceived many things during sleep that I recognised in my waking moments as not having been experienced at all (…) What then am I? A thing which thinks. And I have certainly the power of imagining likewise; for although it may happen (as I formerly supposed) that none of the things which I imagine are true, nevertheless this power of imagining does not cease to be really in use, and it forms part of my thought (…) since in truth I see light, I hear noise, I feel heat (…) these phenomena are false and that I am dreaming. Let it be so; still it is at least quite certain that it seems to me that I see light, that I hear noise and that I feel heat. That cannot be false; properly speaking it is what is in me called feeling; and used in this precise sense that is no other thing than thinking (…) Perception is neither an act of vision, nor of touch, nor of imagination (…) but only an intuition of the mind, which may be imperfect and confused (…) or clear and distinct (…) according as my attention is more or less directed to the elements which are found in it, and of which it is composed.’ Rene Descartes Discourse on the Method

‘A scene is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance.’ Robert McKee, Story

‘If the value-charged condition of the character’s life stays unchanged from one end of a scene to the other, nothing meaningful happens. The scene has activity—talking about this, doing that—but nothing changes in value. It is a nonevent. Why then is the scene in the story? The answer is almost certain to be “exposition.” It’s there to convey information about characters, world, or history to the eavesdropping audience. If exposition is a scene’s sole justification, a disciplined writer will trash it and weave its information into the film elsewhere.’ Robert McKee, Story

‘The table that I am writing on exists, that is, I see and feel it; and if I were out of my study I would still say that it existed, meaning that if I were in my study I would perceive it, or that some other spirit actually does perceive it (…) There are those who speak of things that unlike spirits do not think and unlike ideas exist whether or not they are perceived; but that seems to be perfectly unintelligible. For unthinking things, to exist is to be perceived; so they couldn’t possibly exist out of the minds or thinking things that perceive them.’ George Berkeley Of The Principles of Human Knowledge

‘I’m hopeful that you’ll see how raw the first-draft work of even a so-called ‘professional writer’ is once you really examine it. Most of the changes are cuts, intended to speed the story (…) and also to satisfy the formula stated earlier: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%’ Steven King On Writing

‘No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me (…) It is plain that the truth I am seeking lies not in the cup but in myself.’ Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time


 Bohm On CreativityWriting Down The Bones Cover






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