Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by John Updike to Make You a Better Writer


John Updike (1932–2009) is the beloved author of the Rabbit Novels, along with The Witches of Eastwick.

Here are four of his fantastic quotes to inspire your writing life!

1. What art offers is space — a certain breathing room for the spirit.

We all have tendencies to want to be doing something super important every minute of the day. We don’t want to waste any time. We have a list of twenty things to get to and so we need to go, go, go. The problem is, even if you do accomplish many of those tasks you set out to complete, you reach the end of your day totally exhausted. And you’re not quite sure if you’re up for doing it all again tomorrow.

What art offers you in your busy life is that precious moment to take a breath… and relax. The trick is to find that hour or two or more in your day to give yourself over to art, to that incredible space where you can bring peace to your mind and body. You can’t just keep going and going without ever taking a break for yourself. Art gives you that break, and then some. What it really does, as John Updike so perfectly states, is bring breathing room to your spirit. And having a little bit of that every day will enrich your life enormously.

2. When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.

Setting is such an important element in fiction writing, and yet I feel it’s something we don’t think about much when we’re getting ready to begin a new writing project. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. I’ll spend hours and hours thinking about my story and characters, but I’ll spend maybe five minutes on the setting. I do change up my setting in every new novel, which is important, but I don’t always spend the necessary time coming up with the absolute perfect place to set my story.

You might think you can only set your story in a place you’ve been to, a place you know well. You know its streets, its layout, its people. It’s more convenient in a sense. But at least occasionally you should take a chance on setting your latest story in a place you don’t know very well. I’ve had friends who wrote novels set in countries and cities they’ve never been to, and those books have been great successes for readers. The key is getting the details right, whether that means doing lots of research reading up on the city and country or going on Google Maps and looking at a few dozen streets to get a feel of the place.

Just remember that setting should be an additional important character in your story. Don’t just pick some random place. Don’t just set every new piece of fiction in the city you live in right now. How is your story different if you set it in Kansas instead of New York? If there is no difference, then you need to work on your story, actually, and not your setting. But no matter what, keep the element of setting in the back of your mind at all times — and use it often throughout the writing of your latest manuscript!

3. Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day’s progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.

Is this not one of the most beautiful and hypnotic quotes about writing you’ve ever read? This one bowled me over with wonder, and I might even write it down on a Post-It and stick it on the corner of my computer screen. I’ve offered so many quotes now that give you great inspiration for your writing, but this is the ones you might remember the most. I certainly will.

When you’re writing a new story, especially a novel, you spend many days and weeks greeting your characters and taking them someplace new every time you sit down at your writing desk. When you’re drafting, you face the scary blank page, and you have about a million options of where you can take the story next. You can introduce new characters, kill off other characters, make a character or two disappear from the rest of the story. You can do whatever you want. Your characters are at your mercy, the astonishing result of your own creation. And what a wonder that is.

4. Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.

It’s impossible not to have dreams of some kind when you’re a writer. Those dreams can be of a smaller scale or a larger scale. It’s up to you, and it can of course change from day to day. Today’s dream might be to just be able to get that next scene written, while tomorrow’s might be to earn a million-dollar advance from your novel.

You’re free to have all the dreams you want, really, as long as you do more than dream and also make sure to sit down every day and do the necessary work. It’s good, healthy even, to dream big as a writer, and I’ve been doing so for ten years now. I’ve written twenty novels and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and have grown so much as a person, but my number one dream remains the exact same one I had in early 2010 as I walked through a Barnes & Noble — I wanted to see a book on one of those shelves with my name on it. And I’ve been working toward that dream ever since.

I haven’t achieved that dream yet. I might never achieve that dream. But it’s important to hold onto it as long as I can because that dream is partly why I sit down every day and keep going instead of giving up and doing something else. You have to keep going to achieve your dreams. You have to push past all that nasty rejection. You have to learn from your failures.

And when you think you’ll never achieve what you want, remember this — lots and lots of writers who’ve come before you have achieved their dreams. So keep going, and keep trying, and it’s possible one day your dreams will come true, too.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

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