Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by Tennessee Williams to Make You a Better Writer


Tennessee Williams (1911–1983) is the celebrated author of the plays, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

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

1. When I stop working the rest of the day is posthumous. I’m only really alive when I’m writing.

You learn you’re a writer when you find yourself yearning to go back to the writing desk because that’s the time of your day you feel the most alive. I mean, think about it. You go about your day cooking food and doing laundry and running errands and cleaning the house and all those things we human beings need to do. Some of those activities are more fun than others, but what’s the one thing we’re able to do that truly make us feel alive?

It’s writing, of course. It’s creating something out of nothing. It’s taking something that exists only in your imagination and putting it on the page. It’s introducing readers from all over the world to a dynamic story and three-dimensional characters and compelling relationships and emotionally resonant themes. Sure, there are real-life adventures that can be an absolute blast, but there’s little like having the adventure of writing your latest manuscript. And when the writing is going really, really well? When you enter that beautiful thing called the Zone? Then that’s absolutely when you feel the most alive, always.

2. Success is blocked by concentrating on it and planning for it… Success is shy — it won’t come out while you’re watching.

Tennessee Williams is one of the most celebrated and famous playwrights of all time. If all he’d ever written was A Streetcar Named Desire, the man would be beyond iconic, but he also wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Night of the Iguana, among many others. The man had lots of success, so pay attention to what he says about it.

We all want success, of course. We work hard on our writing and hope that one day we find success both monetarily and with readers. Here’s the thing, though — if you want to be success, you can’t ever concentrate on success. Seems like the two go hand in hand, right? Wrong? You can’t think about success as you’re writing. You have to concentrate on the work. You have to focus on the story, the characters. You have to look at the big picture of your latest work and also pay close attention to the smaller details.

Success won’t come out when you’re watching or waiting for it. It will eventually strike after you’ve put in months and years of hard work and doing the best job you can as a writer. It will be due to your creative growth and your incredible work ethic. So keep going after that success throughout your writing life. Just avoid thinking about it whenever you can.

3. I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.

Williams is most famous for his vulnerable characters who verge upon hysteria and who were frightened of life, most especially Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, a character many people know about even if they haven’t read the play or seen the classic 1951 movie. Many might consider characters like Blanche to be weak and uninteresting. Many might think a more confident and robust person has more to offer an emotionally rich and cinematic story than a fragile person.

But Williams was right in that these fragile people like Blanche are the strong people really. Because they have more to fight for. They have more ways to change as a character. They have more ways to strive for something better. And those are the characters we end up rooting for on the page and on the screen because there’s that chance for redemption. You don’t want to write about happy, healthy, confident people all the time in your writing, that will get boring for the reader. It’s when you explore desperate, fragile people on the page that drama and conflicts become naturally embedded in the storytelling.

4. If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.

No matter what you end up writing — fiction or plays or essays or poems — there’s always going to be a little bit of yourself in there. Even if you’re coming up with characters totally unlike yourself, and even if you’re exploring a world wholly unlike our own, a little bit of your personality and your worldview and your eccentricities and your passions will feature somewhere in your storytelling, sometimes when you’re not even trying to.

You might think the writing you’re doing is separated from you, the writer, but if the work you’re doing is honest, Williams is right in that it can be hard to separate the artist from the painting, so to speak. The short film I made that was the most successful and honest was the one that was most personal to me, the one that I never could have been separated from. Similarly, the best short stories and novels I’ve written that are the honest ones that can’t really be separated from the person I am.

This is not to say that everything you write has been autobiographical. This doesn’t mean that honesty comes from you telling a story that you have to know every detail of from experience. Honesty can come from the characters you create on the page, from the situations you explore that are completely different from your own.

Whatever you do, try at all times to be honest in your work, the same way Williams always was, and success will follow.

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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