Roald Dahl (1916–1990) is one of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century. His many enchanting and timeless books include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches.
Here are five of his fantastic quotes!
1. A writer of fiction lives in fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not.
Fear is absolutely one of the biggest obstacles you have to face as a writer, particularly when you’re hard at work on the first draft of something, whether it’s a 3,000 word short story or a 90,000 word novel. When you sit down in front of a blank page, there’s always going to be a little bit of fear. I just completed the first draft of my twentieth novel, and I still had to fight through the fear every day of the process of writing that book.
One way I learned throughout the years to push through that fear was to always stop your writing for the day at a place where you know exactly what’s going to happen next in your story, where you know exactly the following scene. Therefore, when you sit back down to write the following day, there’s no confusion about what to do, no need to sit there pondering ideas for an hour or longer. The scene is ready to go. All you need to do is write it.
2. When you’re writing a book, with people in it as opposed to animals, it is no good having people who are ordinary, because they are not going to interest your readers at all. Every writer in the world has to use the characters that have something interesting about them, and this is even more true in children’s books.
If there’s one thing Roald Dahl was supremely good at, it was creating unique and wondrous characters. I think a big reason his stories still resonate for readers today is the characters, more so than the plots, more so than the actual writing. His characters are so incredibly memorable. You hear the name Roald Dahl and immediately thoughts of Mr. Wonka and The Grand High Witch and The Twits and so many others come to mind. He was a master at creating outlandish, funny, freaky, fascinating characters.
Although what I write is a lot more realistic than what Dahl tended to write, I still think it’s necessary to avoid writing characters who are ordinary. Who don’t have something to interest readers they may never have seen before. No matter what genre you write in, no matter if you write for children or for adults, you need to find ways to make your characters stand out somehow.
3. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him.
It’s one of the hardest parts about being a writer, isn’t it? To have nobody actually looking over your shoulder to make sure you get your writing done for the day. There’s nobody to scold you, nobody who’s really going to care that much if you get to your writing or not (well, unless you’re on deadline, I suppose!), and so it’s feasible to just put the laptop away for a week and not write a single sentence.
Such is the reason why I actually create phony deadlines for myself. I pretend the latest draft of my book is due on such and such date. I pretend there’s an editor out there waiting excitedly for my manuscript before it’s soon published and spread across bookshelves all over North America. Even though there is no editor (at least not right now). Even though there isn’t a deadline. I have a literary agent, but she’s never once asked me to submit a new draft to her by a specific date. I can take six months on my latest revision if I want to. But no, I create the fake deadline, and I force myself to work. It’s the only way to get things done in a timely fashion.
4. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people.
This is an aspect of writing that few people who aren’t writers don’t understand and probably will never understand. So many people think we’re just goofing off and having fun when we write our fiction, that it’s just a big game that takes little effort or skill, and while yes it is a lot of fun at times, it’s also completing draining almost all of the time. Especially when it comes to writing a new novel, it truly never gets easier. It’s very hard work, it often gives you a headache by the end of your writing session, and you walk away having no idea if what you put down on the page works or doesn’t work.
Such is the reason why I rarely write fiction for more than three hours a day. Three hours is sort of my maximum before I begin to fade. I’d even go further to say I have about two hours of really good writing in me on the day. Two hours where I can 100% focus on the novel at hand and not be distracted by anything else in my life. If you write fast, if you know what scene or scenes you’ll be working on day after day, you can absolutely do great work and write your books in a timely fashion if you can write non-stop without interruption for just two hours a day. You don’t need to write four hours a day or six hours a day, like I’ve heard some writers do. Two hours can often be all I need, and some days, when I’m really on a roll, it’s often more than enough.
5. If my books can help children become readers, then I feel I have accomplished something important.
I’ve been writing books for children since the beginning, and one of the big reasons why I do it is in the hope that one day one or more of my books will inspire children to become readers. That my stories will delight them to such an extent that they’ll have the desire to seek out even more books like that one, whether the other books are written by me or written by someone else.
Children surrender to the books they adore. They tell their friends about them. They read the books over and over. When I’m struggling in my writing life, which is often, I sometimes quiet down and try to picture a single young reader out there discovering one of my books, falling under its spell, becoming enchanted with my story and my characters. It’s one of the big reasons why I don’t quit. It’s one of the big reasons why I believe with my whole heart I will get there someday, even if it’s still far away in the future.
If you have a belief in yourself as a writer, don’t give up. Find that image of your ideal reader, and keep going always. No matter what!