Quotes to live by? Being a mystery writer, I do better with “quotes to die by”, grim little reminders of human darkness from my favorite cheery authors like Ecclesiastes, the Greek tragedians, and Shakespeare with a major hangover. But I’ll try. The weather has cooled to recognizable temperatures (any more “non” global warming and I may fry), my favorite gladiator sport will surely get me through the upcoming election bloodbath, and a cat just rubbed by my leg. So I don’t feel murderous today. Maybe writing quotes would be fun.
How often have we heard that we must “kill our darlings”? If you thought that was a new idea, think again. According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson quoted one of his tutors thus: “Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” No wonder quill pens dulled so fast.
Editing is another part of the craft which may be pleasurable or dreaded but is not a modern concept. I found one quote from Nicolas Boileau in the mid-1600s: “Of every four words I write, I strike out three.” Alexandre Dumas never read that one.
And we thought the Bible was just about religion? In II Maccabees, I found: “It is a foolish thing to make a long prologue, and to be short in the story itself.” That book never made it to the Protestant version of the Bible, although Catholic, Coptic, and Orthodox Christians included it. Now I understand why one Episcopalian priest gave us such long sermons in high school.
Suffer from the dreaded middle? We are not alone. According to Moliere: “I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others.” Hurrah! I can usually get through three chapters! But then Moliere is a classic playwright…maybe I better rethink those chapters.
For those of us who get discouraged because our work does not find an agent or fails to get a big audience quickly, I think the following quote by Horace gives wise comfort. He may have been talking about Roman poetry, but the same holds true for any form of writing: “Poetry is like painting: one piece takes your fancy when you stand close to it, another if you keep at some distance.”
Finally, there is this quote from Alfred Kazin about the value of writers which we should all take to heart when others in this era call our concern with the craft of writing a paltry thing: “We never know how much has been missing from our lives until a true writer comes along.”