On Writing

I had discovered that writing—with whatever instrument—was a powerful aid to thinking, and thinking was what I now resolved to do. You can think without writing, of course, … but if you can condense today’s thought into a few symbols preserved on a surface of some kind—paper or silicon—you don’t have to rethink it tomorrow. … The reason I eventually became a writer is that writing makes thinking easier …
- Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God

It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing.
- Oliver Sacks, On the Move: A Life

Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice ...
- E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

Personally, I’m not much for symbolism. I never get it. Why can’t things be just as they are?
- Patti Smith, M Train

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
- James Michener, in his introduction to Ernest Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer

And it all boiled down to this: honesty, sincerity, no compromise with truth—those were the essentials of any art—and a writer, no matter what else he had, was just a hack without them.
- Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

Baseball's a dull game, really; that's the reason that it is so good. We do not love the game so much as we love the sprawl and drowse and shirt-sleeved apathy of it.
- Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

        Psyche, hush. This is me, James,
               Writing lest he think
        Of the reasons why he writes—
Boredom, fear, mixed vanities and shames;
                     Also love.
        From my phosphorescent ink
        Trickle faint unworldly lights

- James Merrill, “From the Cupola”

We discussed everything we knew, during the first fifteen or twenty minutes, that morning, and then branched out into the glad, free, boundless realm of the things we were not certain about.
- Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad

The next three are from Number Our Days by Barbara Myerhoff.
In their stories … they witnessed themselves, and thus knew who they were, serving as subject and object at once. They narrated themselves perpetually, in the form of keeping notes, journals, writing poems and reflections spontaneously, and also telling their stories to whoever would listen. …

If none listen, nevertheless the tale is told aloud, to oneself, to prove that there is existence, to tame the chaos of the world, to give meaning. The tale certifies the fact of being and gives sense at the same time. Perhaps these are the same, because people everywhere have always needed to narrate their lives and worlds, as surely as they have needed food, love, sex, and safety.

All writing has something of holiness. (Quoting the man Myerhoff calls Jacob Koved.)
As a reader, I have never felt more respected by a writer than I felt throughout Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road. At the end of the Introduction she writes:
If I could, I would leave an open space for your story on every page.
And if we need a quote on thinking:
… What do you do when confronted with an inexplicable and alarming situation? Well, you can panic or give into some other tyrannical emotion, like dread. Or you can escape into a book or a puzzle or, judging from the adults around me, a bottle of gin. But here is another possible response to the unknown and potentially menacing, and that is thinking. …
- Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God


Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy.
- Willa Cather, My Ántonia