Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Quote File: Sentences

"I'm probably more interested in sentences than anything else in life." -- Tom Robbins

"My sentences are all I have. My life has always been an engagement with words. I do not have very much of a physical life. I write, I edit, I teach. And in all of these activities the focus of my attention is sentences. Sentences are continuous with my inmost being." -- Gordon Lish

"The sentence is my primary element, my tool, goal, bliss. Each new sentence is a heart-in-the mouth experiment." -- Cynthia Ozick

"My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

"You must convince yourself that you are working in clay and not marble, on paper and not eternal bronze; let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands. Just put it down; then another." -- Jacques Barzun

"All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." -- Ernest Hemingway

"To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself. . . . Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph." -- Mark Twain

"It is my aim, and every effort bent, that the sum and history of my life, which in the same sentence is my obit and epitaph too, shall be them both: He made the books and he died." -- William Faulkner


  1. Great collection of quotes, Cheryl. I especially like the Lish.

  2. Wonderful quotes! I love the Mark Twain one... oh, to write that glittering paragraph!

  3. I love them all, but it's the Jacques Barzun one that gives me hope. I never think I can write a glittering paragraph, and even a true sentence strains my abilities some days, but I can just put the words down. Whew.

  4. Hemingway is right..and it's probably the hardest thing to do. Maybe the harder you try, the harder it gets. It will come to everyone-one sentence that is so honest, so defining-and it will come in the most unexpected moments, or so effortlessly that if it isn't caught, it's gone. Maybe when that lonely farmer in Iowa is trying to hitchhike a ride in the pouring rain. Or after an 80-year old blows out the candles on her cake. There's a sentence for everyone.

    ps-Excuse the rant, Cheryl, sometimes people say such amazing things, the thread of thought leaves it's trails everywhere..

  5. Nice stuff, thanks! I, too, like the Twain quote especially.

    Stephen King said that the primary unit of English prose is the not the sentence, but the paragraph. I think there's some truth there.

    Cynthia Ozick's quote convinces me never to read Cynthia Ozick.