Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s 20 Quotes on Writing

Kurt Vonnegut Jr

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1922 – 2007)

1. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

2. “Novelists have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetic consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr 1


3. “Once I understood what was making America such a dangerous, unhappy nation of people who had nothing to do with real life, I resolved to shun storytelling. I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, instead, which I think I have done. If all writers would do that, then perhaps citizens not in the literary trades will understand that there is no order in the world around us, that we must adapt ourselves to the requirements of chaos instead.”

4. “I think I succeeded as a writer because I did not come out of an English department. I used to write in the chemistry department. And I wrote some good stuff. If I had been in the English department, the prof would have looked at my short stories, congratulated me on my talent, and then showed me how Joyce or Hemingway handled the same elements of the short story. The prof would have placed me in competition with the greatest writers of all time, and that would have ended my writing career.”

5. “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr 2

6. “Don’t you think that’s the main reason people find [writing] so difficult? If they can write complete sentences and can use a dictionary, isn’t that the only reason they find writing hard: they don’t know or care about anything?”

7. “If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”Kurt Vonnegut Jr 3

8. “There is this thing called the university, and everybody goes there now. And there are these things called teachers who make students read this book with good ideas or that book with good ideas until that’s where we get our ideas. We don’t think them; we read them in books.
I like Utopian talk, speculation about what our planet should be, anger about what our planet is.
I think writers are the most important members of society, not just potentially but actually. Good writers must have and stand by their own ideas.”

9. “I’m simply interested in what is going to happen next. I don’t think I can control my life or my writing. Every other writer I know feels he is steering himself, and I don’t have that feeling. I don’t have that sort of control. I’m simply becoming. I’m startled that I became a writer.”Kurt Vonnegut Jr

10. “I have been a writer since 1949. I am self-taught. I have no theories about writing that might help others. When I write, I simply become what I seemingly must become. I am six feet two and weigh nearly two hundred pounds and am badly coordinated, except when I swim. All that borrowed meat does the writing.
In the water I am beautiful. ”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr

11. “The proper ending for any story about people it seems to me, since life is now a polymer in which the Earth is wrapped so tightly, should be the same abbreviation, which I now write large because I feel like it, which is this one:

12. “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”Kurt Vonnegut Jr 4

13. “Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer.”

14. “When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away.”

15. “I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”

Kurt Vonnegut Jr 416. “I’m not a drug salesman. I’m a writer.”

“What makes you think a writer isn’t a drug salesman?”

17. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

18. “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”Kurt Vonnegut Jr 6

Kurt Vonnegut Jr 519. “Somebody gets into trouble, then gets out of it again. People love that story. They never get tired of it.”

20. “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

Next: J.K. Rowling’s 20 Quotes on Writing

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