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I think the most important part of storytelling is tension. It's the constant tension of suspense that in a sense mirrors life, because nobody knows what's going to happen three hours from now.

RICHARD CONDON

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When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly—with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow. In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear you the way you want to be heard. Careful use of those little marks emphasizes the sound of your distinctive voice and keeps the reader from becoming bored or confused. . . . [Punctuation] exists to serve you. Don’t be bullied into serving it.

RUSSELL BAKER

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Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

WILLIAM FAULKNER

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The author of the style-book of the Oxford University Press of New York (quoted in Perrin’s Writer’s Guide) says “If you take hyphens seriously you will surely go mad.” You should not take hyphens seriously.

SIR ERNEST GOWERS

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Writing is only one word at a time. It’s not a whole bunch of things happening at once. Various things can present themselves, but when you face the page, it’s a couple of words, and then a couple more words, and, if you’re lucky, a sentence or a paragraph. Because writing is linear, it must organize itself into this thin little stream that moves forward, which, if your mind is full of chaos, is quite reassuring. When I listen to music, especially symphonic music, there’s a huge number of sounds and resonances that come to me at the same time, and they must organize themselves and go into my head in an orderly way. For me to pick them apart is to turn them back into chaos. But when I look at writing, it’s all just one word at a time.

JANE SMILEY

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If you’re going to be a writer you’ll probably take a lot of wrong turns and then one day just end up writing something you have to write, then getting it better and better just because you want it to be better, and even when you get old and think “There must be something else people do,” you won’t be able to quit.

ALICE MUNRO

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Everybody who writes is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really.

GERTRUDE STEIN

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It takes time. This means that you need to find that time. Don’t be too social. Live below your means and keep the means modest (people with trust funds and other cushions: I’m not talking to you, though money makes many, many things easy, and often, vocation and passion harder). You probably have to do something else for a living at the outset or all along, but don’t develop expensive habits or consuming hobbies. I knew a waitress once who thought fate was keeping her from her painting but taste was: if she’d given up always being the person who turned going out for a burrito into ordering the expensive wine at the bistro she would’ve had one more free day a week for art.

REBECCA SOLNIT

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Letter writing is the best writing of all, because it’s the purest. It’s like writing to yourself, but you’ve got an excuse to do it because this other person will dig it. And you can transmit information in a strange way, you can sort of mix things up, so they wonder, Well, is this true?

TERRY SOUTHERN

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I don’t write very much nonfiction, and, to be honest, when I do I have the sense that I’m tricking somebody because I don’t entirely understand the distinction. A piece of writing is either good or not. The good is true, the not good is false. Everything a person writes should be infused with her opinions, thoughts, feelings, moods, dreams. Basically, the goal is to have a really good infusion mechanism worked out.

YELENA AKHTIORSKAYA

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