“Work as joy, inaccessible to the psychologists.”


Okay, I have to admit it, I haven’t put a lot of thought into this week’s post, but damn it, I’m going to post something of value!

I’ve just been super swamped with multiple deadlines collapsing onto the end of the year—multiple projects all spinning above my head at the same time… some health stuff, some other stuff, the holidays… etc. So this week I thought I’d kinda give Fantasy Author’s Handbook over to some quotes about writing and the writer’s life that I’ve collected and throw them at you with no more context than that.

Here we go!

The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers.

Raymond Chandler

I take control of them. They are very carefully imagined. I feel as though I know all there is to know about them, even things I don’t write—like how they part their hair. They are like ghosts. They have nothing on their minds but themselves and aren’t interested in anything but themselves. So you can’t let them write your book for you.

Toni Morrison

In general, about a third of my life is devoted to reading, a third is devoted to writing novels, and a third is devoted to living with [his son] Hikari.

Kenzaburo Oe

Hey…Instead of telling us exactly how tall someone is, how much they weigh, and what color hair and eyes they have, do this sort of thing instead:

Then I saw her. She had been out back, in the kitchen, but she came in to gather up my dishes. Except for the shape, she really wasn’t any raving beauty, but she had a sulky look to her, and her lips stuck out in a way that made me want to mash them in for her.

—James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

When I’m writing novels, reality and unreality just naturally get mixed together. It’s not as if that was my plan and I’m following it as I write, but the more I try to write about reality in a realistic way, the more the unreal world invariably emerges.

Haruki Murakami

A good writer should know near to everything as possible. Naturally, he will not. But he should be capable of learning so fast and remembering so much that he seems to have been born with knowledge nonetheless.

—Ernest Hemingway

Much is said to disparage authors who write outside of their expertise, and worse still, who appropriate the experience of others about whom they cannot know—a white man appropriating the experience of a Bangladeshi woman, a childless woman that of a mother—but nobody took the pen from my hand when I, well slept, found a notion in my brain of sleeplessness. To write fiction you have to engage in organized fraud, the laundering of experience into the offshore haven of words.

—Samantha Harvey, The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping

My favorite failure is every time I ever ate it onstage as a comedian. Because I woke up the next day and the world hadn’t ended. I was free to keep fucking up and getting better. I wish at least one catastrophic failure on everyone pursuing the arts. It’s where you’ll get your superpowers from.

—Patton Oswalt from Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferris

When I was much younger, when I was just starting to write, I had a lot of respect for writers who could get it in on time, and then suddenly I realized, “Wait a minute, what the hell is this, ‘Get it in on time?’ ” I owe no allegiance to publishers or producers or networks. Even if they paid me staggering sums of money, I owe allegiance only to the work. Only to the work. And if I give them shit on time, then I have cheated them. If I take six months longer than they expected, or five years, or 10 years longer, and give them something that no one else could have given them, then I’ve honored the obligation to them. Whether they see it that way or not, that’s the way I see it. I’ve become totally irresponsible in that respect.

—Harlan Ellison, 1979 The Comics Journal interview

Every book is like Japanese flowers that go into your head and they sink down through the water inside your head, and then open out.

Ray Bradbury

I think it can be tremendously refreshing if a creator of literature has something on his mind other than the history of literature so far. Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak.

Kurt Vonnegut

I never write—indeed, am physically incapable of writing—anything that I don’t think will be paid for.

Truman Capote

“Writing is all a lottery—I have been a loser by the works of the greatest men of the age.”

—Tobias Smollet, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Writing a novel is one of those modern rites of passage, I think, that lead us from an innocent world of contentment, drunkenness, and good humor, to a state of chronic edginess and the perpetual scanning of bank statements. By the eighteenth book, one has a sense of having bricked oneself into a niche, a roosting place for other people’s pigeons. I wouldn’t recommend it.

J.G. Ballard

See you next week.


—Philip Athans

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In Writing Monsters, best-selling author Philip Athans uses classic examples from books, films, and the world around us to explore what makes monsters memorable—and terrifying.

You’ll learn what monsters can (and should) represent in your story and how to create monsters from the ground up.

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Janetta Maclean says:

    Thanks for all the great stuff Phil. Best wishes for the holidays to you and your tribe.

    On Tue, Dec 14, 2021 at 1:42 PM Fantasy Author’s Handbook wrote:

    > Philip Athans posted: ” “Work as joy, inaccessible to the psychologists.” > —Kafka Okay, I have to admit it, I haven’t put a lot of thought into this > week’s post, but damn it, I’m going to post something of value! I’ve just > been super swamped with multiple dead” >

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