Got some time?
For more info (and a few tempting rabbit holes) about sources referred to in my book FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers, here are live links to almost all my sources.
(A few books have eluded linking from what I can tell.)
I’ve included the links to writing prompts from the “Line, Please” chapter, plus all those famous writers and smart people I quoted at the end of the book in Expert Advice and More Expert Advice.
Links to writing prompts
Expert Advice – Habits
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. — Hilary Mantel in The Guardian
Stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it. — Ernest Hemingway in Esquire (subscription required); available here
Poet Amy Lowell said “she used to ‘drop’ ideas into her subconscious, ‘much as one drops a letter into the mail-box. Six months later, the words of the poem began to come into my head. . . . The words seem to be pronounced in my head, but with nobody speaking them.’ ” — Diane Ackerman O Muse! You Do Make Things Difficult! in the New York Times
I think it’s a pretty good rule not to tell what a thing is about until it’s finished. If you do you always seem to lose some of it. It never quite belongs to you so much again. — F Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his daughter, quoted in Open Culture
I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning. — William Faulkner. Attribution to Faulkner here
When you’re finished writing for the day, take five minutes to clean your desk and workspace and to prepare your writing room for the following day’s work. This habit primes your subconscious to work on your project even when you’re resting. — Bryan Collins in Write to Done
Expert Advice – Exhortations
I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career, that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee quoted in Writers Digest
Writer’s block is a refusal to let yourself get lost in the woods. — Joe Fassler I Don’t Believe in Writer’s Block in The Atlantic
Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. — Henry Miller, Henry Miller on Writing, New Directions (1964). Excerpted at Google Books
Many years ago, I met John Steinbeck at a party in Sag Harbor…. And he said something which I’ve always remembered, and which works. He said, “Pretend that you’re writing not to your editor or to an audience or to a readership, but to someone close, like your sister, or your mother, or someone that you like.” — George Plimpton Lonesome Animals quoted at Pen.org
You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone. — Erica Jong The New Writer’s Handbook (2007)
Just don’t give a damn. Many writers learn to lower their expectations and not care about the first draft. Just getting something down is crucial to getting over the block. With no expectations and the assumption that your first draft won’t be any good, you’ll begin writing. You’ll soon realize that what you’ve produced actually isn’t half bad. — Stephen Bennett in Bookbaby blog
Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. — Anne Lamott Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1995)
You’ve probably heard that it’s hard to make writing pay—or even that the best writing, the most artful writing, is at odds with commercial success. This is the persistent and dangerous myth of the starving artist, that “real art” doesn’t earn money, and it’s not possible for art and business to dance. … Such attitudes don’t serve anyone. — Jane Friedman If You Seek a Full-Time Writing and Publishing Career in AWP Writing Magazine
Dreams remain dreams, nothing more, when we insist on their being fulfilled instantly and perfectly. — Julia Cameron in her blog
Expert Advice – Writing
Everyone is a keeper and a teller of stories. Before we can even speak, we delight in recognizing our own experience and learning about those unlike ours through the stories we are told. This affinity for story is ordinary as a lullaby and it anchors us firmly to people everywhere, throughout time. — Sage Cohen What It Means to Be Fierce on the Page, on Jane Friedman’s blog
Toni Morrison: I take control of my characters. 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. I have read books in which I know that has happened—when a novelist has been totally taken over by a character. I want to say, You can’t do that. If those people could write books they would, but they can’t. You can. So, you have to say, Shut up. Leave me alone. I am doing this. — Toni Morrison interviewed in The Paris Review
Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand. — Anne Enright quoted in The Guardian
Writing is a job. Basically you’re just sitting in a room by yourself doing homework for the rest of your life. But I do have nightmares about having to get a regular job that you go to and put on shoes for. That is my biggest fear, that I would have to do that again. — Sarah Vowell as told to Erin McCarthy in Mental Floss
List ten things you love, and ten things you hate. Then write about the former, and “kill” the latter — also by writing about them. Do the same with your fears. — Ray Bradbury quoted in Open Culture
You’re going to hit moments when you think, really? Is this it? Because this doesn’t feel great. Isn’t it supposed to feel great when I actually hit my writing goals? Does this mean I have no talent? Should I just give up? … The good news is, the projects where you find yourself lost … are really only the big, important ones. This kind of stuck doesn’t happen with little things, with easy, non-challenging work. If you can get through this one, it will be creatively life-changing. — Jessica Abel Are you waiting for proof that you’re really an artist? on her blog
Writing is telepathy, of course. … All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation. — Stephen King On Writing, Simon and Schuster (2002, Reissued 2020) Excerpt available at Google Books
Don’t be precious—that’s a lesson I continue to struggle with. While word choice is certainly important, in a novel they serve so many functions—muscles, joints, connective tissue. Not every sentence needs to smack the reader in the face. The editing stage is where you can deliberate the merits of whether mahogany or merlot is a more appropriate color description for the puddle of congealed blood on the floor. The first draft should be about keeping things moving. — Tyler Moss There Are No Rules on Writers Digest
There are some things you can do to create something artificial to write about. One thing I do is take the Tube to the end of the line, then walk back into the centre of London. It’s hard not to find anything to write about doing that. — Philip Hensher, novelist quoted in The Independent (UK)
One day, Roald Dahl was stuck in traffic. Suddenly, he thought of a breakthrough for a story he was working on. Having no notepad or pen, he grew afraid he’d forget his idea before getting home. Dahl got out of the car and with his finger, he wrote the word “chocolate” into the dirt on his vehicle. This act was enough for Dahl to remember his idea, and later it became Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. — Bryan Collins in Write to Done
Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ — Jhumpa Lahiri quoted in Poets & Writers
Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. — E. B. White in a letter quoted in Brain Pickings
Emily Dickinson’s “only writing desk was… a table, 18-inches square, with a drawer deep enough to take in her ink bottle, paper and pen. It was placed in the corner by the window facing west.” — The poet’s (unnamed) niece, quoted in Amherst Magazine
All the Feelings
Expert Advice – All the Feelings
Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied. — Zadie Smith in The Guardian
About “the Dark Forest”: …If I didn’t get at least a little bit stuck in those brambles, I’d worry that I wasn’t stretching enough. That feeling of being lost is what happens when your brain is working the hardest to make connections, to understand what this morass of work you’ve produced actually means. And if I’m not stretching? Maybe I’m not doing my best work. — Jessica Abel in her blog
What I’ve found to be more true, is that the time I’ve spent away from my desk is at least as important as the time I’ve spent with it. — Nell Boeschenstein Why Writers Should Consider the Habits of the Flâneur on Jane Friedman’s blog
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. — Stephen King, quoted in openculture
See writing as a mindfulness practice. I see writing as a form of meditation, where I can let everything else fall away for a few moments and just stay with this one activity. It means I need to get my mind into the writing space, notice when the urge to go to distraction comes up, and not just automatically follow the urge. I can look within myself and let feelings flow out through the written word, or see the truths within me and try to channel those onto the page. — Leo Baubauta at Zen Habits
Do you remember how that life yearned out of childhood toward the “great thing”? I see that it is now yearning forth beyond the great thing toward the greater one. That is why it does not cease to be difficult, but that is also why it will not cease to grow. — Rainer Maria Rilke Letters to a Young Poet (1904)
Particularly for writers who aren’t straight, cis, able-bodied, white men, shame and the sense that we don’t belong, don’t deserve to sit at this table, have our voices heard, can permeate the process. Nothing will hinder a writer more than this. Anaïs Nin called shame the lie someone told you about yourself. Don’t let a lie jack up your flow. — Daniel José Older Writing Begins with Forgiveness, in Seven Scribes
Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. — Martin Luther King Jr. in Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices on Resistance, Reform, and Renewal an African American Anthology
Some people feel the call to write; yet they struggle to give themselves the permission to do so. Writers know who they are, even if they’re not writing much yet. My hope is that everyone who is attracted to this mode of transportation will take the risk to ride. You never know what landscape awaits you until you turn beyond what is known and start traveling toward what is possible. — Sage Cohen What It Means to Be Fierce on the Page, on Jane Friedman’s blog
To succeed you may first need to grieve, to feel bereft for everything that’s lost. To succeed, maybe you must admit what wasn’t good and in that is the goodness. — Gigi Rosenberg in her blog
Taking small steps forward, we find optimism. — Julia Cameron tweet, 21 Aug 2016 @J_CameronLive
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need. — Tao Te Ching
Expert Advice – For Love
You don’t give up on love just because you might get hurt some time. And you shouldn’t give up on something you love. Keep writing. It takes a lot of work, and some of it might be terrible, but if you stop, no one will ever get a chance to see the good stuff. — Jim Dempsey Overcome Your Inner Critic on Bookbaby blog
That’s why it’s important to keep finding our way back to that wonderful openness a child has, seeing a cricket or toothbrush or mushroom for the very first time: child mind, beginner’s mind. . . don’t know mind. For a few minutes, or for a day, a week – or a lifetime – let yourself not know. — Rick Hanson in his newsletter
Revision is an act of love in progress. — George Saunders transcribed from video at The Atlantic at 5:24
Remember, with writing, what you’re looking for is just one person to come up and tell you, “I love you for what you do.” Or, failing that, you’re looking for someone to come up and tell you, “You’re not nuts like people say.” — Ray Bradbury quoted in Open Culture
More Expert Advice – Links to Additional Resources
Looking for more? All the quotations in the Expert Advice chapter (above) are from interesting sources, so check them out as well.
Here are a few final links for ideas or inspiration. Please enjoy.
What Overthinking Looks Like a short GIF looping for your enlightenment (If you only click one link in this whole page, make it this link).
- Ron Hogan – Finding a Little Spark When Your Writing Has Lost Its Heat on LitHub
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