10 scary quotes about the writing life

Here are quotes from authors that reveal some scary things you might encounter along your way down the writing road.

(The links take you to the author and book pages on Goodreads.com)

  1. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction or poetry who has ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent. If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that’s all.”
    Stephen King, On Writing
  2. “Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.”
    Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing (See Update below)
  3. “What do you want? What are you willing to give up to get it? Writing requires you make sacrifices. Be prepared to work hard to be a writer.”
    Sandra Brown
  4. “I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this. [Cormac McCarthy’s Venomous Fiction, New York Times, April 19, 1992]”
    Cormac McCarthy
  5. “The first thing you have to learn when you go into the arts is to learn to cope with rejection. If you can’t, you’re dead.”
    Warren Adler
  6. “There is nothing harder to estimate than a writer’s time, nothing harder to keep track of. There are moments—moments of sustained creation—when his time is fairly valuable; and there are hours and hours when a writer’s time isn’t worth the paper he is not writing anything on.”
    E.B. White, One Man’s Meat
  7. “…nearly everything seems a letdown after a writer has finished writing something.”
    John Irving, The World According to Garp
  8. “If you can’t stand your own company alone in a room for long hours, or, when it gets tough, the feeling of being in a locked cell, or, when it gets tougher still, the vague feeling of being buried alive–then don’t be a writer.”
    Graham Swift
  9. “Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.”
    Logan Pearsall Smith
  10. “Coming up with ideas is the easiest thing on earth. Putting them down is the hardest.”
    Rod Serling
  11. “Literature is the ditch I’m going to die in. It’s still the thing I care most about.”
    Thomas McGuane
  12. “Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
    Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
  13. “There are three certainties in a writer’s life: death, taxes, and rejection letters.”
    T.L. Rese
  14. There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.― Ernest Hemingway


How’s that for scary?

UPDATE: Thanks to George “Bradbury Fan” (see comments below) for pointing out that the Bradbury quote is taken out of context. What’s stated is actually the opposite of what Bradbury believed about writing.

UPDATE: Okay — now it’s 13. That makes the list really scary.



13 thoughts on “10 scary quotes about the writing life

  1. Hi Darla I am a long time fan and reader of Ray Bradbury who just passed away not too long ago. I have also read alot of his nonfiction essays and many books about his life. I wanted to bring your attention to:
    #2 “Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.” –Ray Bradbury

    Number 2 is a quote out of context from what Bradbury was saying (or believed). This quote comes from page 54 of his Zen and the Art of Writing. In that section he talks about how writing is *NOT* dreadful, terrible etc but to be pursued as a fun adventure and a lark! As a matter of fact that whole section reprints a letter from the famous art historian Berenson sent to Ray. Bereson says he agrees with Bradbury and contrasts this view of writing as fun with what many people have come to think of it. later down in page 54 Bradbury is stating how OTHER writers, other intellectuals around you believe that,
    “Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.”

    So it wasn’t his belief that is quoted but other peoples (and a belief that is directly opposite of what Bradbury believes).

    Bradbury believed writing was to be extremely fun. He said: “…if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market, or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself. You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is– excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.”

    You said that writing is a joy filled activity for you, that is the Bradbury way. In my opinion it is the touch of the divine.


    1. Glad to hear from a Bradbury fan, and thank you for explaining that the scary thought does not belong to him! It’s too bad that it’s attributed to him in that way. I rediscovered Bradbury last year, and re-read The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 after ignoring him for decades. What an amazing writer. There is a chapter in The Martian Chronicles that made me cry, it was so beautifully written. And just today I got a notice from the library that the copy of The Illustrated Man that I reserved is in! I appreciate your comment, and I’ll edit the list.


      1. Hi Darla
        Yes many sites have that quote out of context but yours is my favorite so I decided to post only on this site but it always amazes me how we all fall into ‘it must be hard’ myth. Thank you for your greats posts and sites. I will keep reading.


        PS yes the Words & Grammar section here are so great. I loved your post on swearing and swear words. Because I write horror I always felt that I had to indicate alot of swearing say on the part of the main antagonist but I loathed putting in swear words. It disgusted me and I thought there must be a better way. Your post on it reassured me that there is. Thank you so much for writing that!


      2. Writing well takes a lot of work, but it can be a labor of love, as Bradbury seems to be saying. Thanks for your feedback on that profanity post. It can be done, and I’m glad you’re trying!


  2. Your November 7th response to marilyn is a great one. I’m going to write, because I think it needs to be written. If it never gets picked up by a publisher, my wife and mother will pretend to love it, and I’ll be absolutely fine. It’s not the acceptance of others, but the completion of the task that I think will be most important to me.


    1. Thank God for family, yes? Writing is a joy-filled activity for me, but my ultimate goal is for my writing to be read. I would love to warm a heart the way Harper Lee did to mine as I read the ending of To Kill A Mockingbird. But, like you, my life won’t fall to pieces if I don’t.


  3. Oh, these are wonderful. I really tend to get more out of the sarcastic quotes that shake me up a little, get me to really ask myself if this is what I truly want to do with my life. For me, #12 hit home the hardest. It is that fear that stopped me, but it’s the same fear that showed me this is what I’m supposed to do. No matter what.

    Thanks for sharing.


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