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Celebrating 135 years of good writing

Timeless craft tips from our archives, featuring Margaret Atwood, Walter Mosley, Isabel Allende, Ursula K. Le Guin, and more.

A lightbulb is illuminated behind an illustrated typewriter, symbolizing a bright idea found while writing.
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On inspiration

“We do not choose our subjects, they choose themselves…They creep so insidiously, these creatures of the imagination, before I am aware, and they fasten themselves upon the hidden places of the mind, and feed there, and take root, and once they are securely lodged, I cannot banish them. They must develop and become little men and women and tell their story, and once their story is told, they can return to the dust from whence they came and be remembered no more. And what is the dust from whence they sprang? I cannot say. Nor can any writer unless his tales are true ones and not things of the imagination.” 

—Daphne Du Maurier, 1938

“I try to keep in mind the delicate relationship between what is unique, perhaps even eccentric, and what is universal. Only in this relationship is there a true subject, worthy of long hours of work.” 

—Joyce Carol Oates, 1973

“The fundamental truth about writing is that you must have something to say before you worry about your method of saying it.” 

—Adela Rogers St. Johns, 1953

“Do not write about Something. Write about Everything. Also: Never try to write about Everyone. Always write about Someone.” 

—Cynthia Ozick, 1967

“Inspiration is like an electric shock – jolting and unexpected, sometimes surprising in its source.” 

 Sue Grafton, 1977


On memory

“I suppose that psychologically, using painful memories fictionally is a way of getting over them. Personally, I think it’s a good way of getting even. And pragmatically, it’s a nifty way of getting published.”

—Lois Lowry, 1987


On writing fiction versus nonfiction

“I find writing fiction to be very pleasurable. It’s generative and creative, and I enjoy it even when I’m writing about sad things. And I don’t find it hard; I’m usually able to write happily and quickly and well. But that’s not true with nonfiction. I find writing nonfiction difficult; it feels like pulling teeth. It’s technically and logistically challenging and emotionally draining, and the whole time you have one hand behind your back.” 

—Carmen Maria Machado, 2020

“Fiction is like listening to someone’s heartbeat through a stethoscope. Memoir is like open-heart surgery and holding someone’s heart in your hands.” 

—Maya Shanbhag Lang, 2020

“Truth is too strange for fiction. The adventures of human experience are almost invariably too amazing, too shocking, too horrible, too apparently exaggerated to be transcribed exactly as they meet us. In sharp black type on any printed page but that of a newspaper, they would appear absurd, the wildest stretch of imagination.” 

—Rita Weiman, 1947