If I’m ever lucky enough to have an office, these three quotes will go on the wall.
1) “If your job is to write every day, you learn to do it like any other job.”
On Writing Well is a guide to writing non-fiction, but I think this statement applies to any kind of writing. It's part of a story Zinsser tells in the first chapter, in which he and another writer, for whom writing is more of a hobby than a vocation, are speaking to a group of students. One student asks what they do when their writing isn’t going well. The other writer says he simply stops and returns to his work another day, when things are easier. Zinsser replies that that’s a good way to go broke.
I’m not saying breaks aren’t important, but I find Zinsser's outlook remarkably freeing. If you’re a writer, you write, even when it’s a struggle.
2) “Don’t spend it all at once.”
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love
Shakespeare in Love is one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the quick summary: Will Shakespeare is writing Romeo and Juliet. Viola is a young noblewoman who wants to act. She dresses up as a man (Thomas) and gets the part of Romeo in Shakespeare’s play. Of course, Will finds out, and they fall in love, but before he knows who his bright young actor is, we get the following scene: The actors are reading through the first act of Romeo and Juliet, and Romeo (played by Thomas, played by Viola, played by Gwenyth Paltrow) is mooning over Rosalind. She does a bit too good a job of it, and Will (played by Joseph Fiennes) steps in and says “Don’t spend it all at once…. Do you catch my meaning?” She doesn’t. He explains: “You’re speaking abut a baggage we never even meet…What will you do in Act Two, when he meets the love of his life?”
I think this is the best advice I’ve ever heard about tension. It doesn’t matter how high the drama is at the beginning; if it doesn’t escalate as the story progresses, the ride is going to be boring. I’m all for high-impact opening incidents, but the stakes--emotional, sexual, physical, whatever—still have to go generally upward as the plot progresses.
3) “If you’re lost in the woods, let the horse find the way home.”
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Bird by Bird is part writing advice book, part memoir, and this sentence crops up in a chapter about intuition. I like it because I had a horse as a kid (don’t hate me—we lived in the country), and it’s true: the horse always knows the way back to the barn. In fact, the horse will try to show you the way back to the barn even when you’re trying to go farther down the trail.
Sometimes the best way out of a plot hole isn’t something my rational mind can figure out. When the words aren’t flowing, when I’m tempted to force my characters to go places they don’t want to go for the sake of the plot, I remind myself to let my intuition guide me.
What’s your favorite inspirational one-liner?