Folks collect everything from hatpins to hubcaps. My brother-in-law collects old bottles and antique trains. My brother collects Disney animated movies. My son used to be a philatelist and a numismatist, which are fancy words for stamp and coin collector. I too am a collector of sorts, though there isn’t a highfalutin’ name for someone who collects quotations.
Why quotations? Well, “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” (Tom Sheppard ) I honestly believe that, so I’m learning how to mix and match words, trying to build glorious sentences. I’m not up to world nudging yet, but magnificent quotations give me hope.
Though I’m typically optimistic, when it comes to my writing I’m prone to self-doubt. Russian storywriter Isaac Babel wrote, “No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” And so it goes with a truly great quotation. The right combination of insight and poignancy can slice through uncertainty, dejection, and even inertia—the tendency of an object at rest (that would be me) to remain at rest. It can set one’s feet on the path towards confidence as effectively as an electric cattle prod.
So I’m building an arsenal crammed with hand-picked quotations ready to destroy—or at least somewhat disable—my writing adversaries. I launch quotation grenades at attacks that try to convince me I have nothing to offer . . . “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” (Ray Bradbury) POW! “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” (William Wordsworth) BAM! Now I can allow myself to believe there are things inside me worth pouring out, that there are thoughts, ideas, stories, and characters in my heart worth breathing onto the page. (Perhaps my 10th-grade teacher was right!)
“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe shine through every sentence you write, every piece you finish.” ZING! I grow half an inch. Not only does John Jakes presume that who and what I am and what I believe are worth writing about and that I can make them “shine,” he also presumes I shall actually finish what I started! Dear John, he has such faith in me.
When I feel like I’m borderline crazy because of all the stories, characters, and voices in my head (who insist on talking at once), F. Scott Fitzgerald himself is there to soothe me . . . “Writers aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole lot of people, trying to be one person.” WHACK! Graycie Harmon convinces me I am not alone, because “Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.” ZAP!
Some of the best missiles are practical and guide the writer on the process from start to finish. “Don’t get it right the first time, just get it written.” (James Thurber) . . . “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” (Robert Cormier) . . . “Everything can be revised. Write passionately. Edit like the frozen tundra.” (Pam Hart) . . .“Never throw up on an editor.” (Ellen Datlow)
When confronted with writer’s block, that age-old nemesis, a frontal attack bellowed with determination—“Blank page, I shall THWART thee!” (Anon)—can be the perfect offensive maneuver. And if you’re ever stumped on subject matter, consider G. K. Chesterton who noted that, “The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”
On my last milestone birthday, in a melancholy funk over still not reaching my goal of publishing my first novel, I almost gave up. My cache of quotation ammo came to the rescue . . . “It’s never too late to become what you might have been.” (George Elliot) I squared my shoulders. “Are you a writer or not?” A bomb from e. e. cummings responded. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
Most days I’m a tangle of wife, daughter, mother . . . passionate, frightened writer. Somewhere in the jumble hides Real Me, Mystery Me—a riddle even to myself. But I have a quotation displayed prominently. Tasting, rolling the words on my tongue, feeling the weight and the truth of them. They are my prayer, filling me with hope, peace. “And now, with God’s help, I shall become myself.” Thank you, Mr. Kierkegaard.
Among my heady aspirations, there is the hope to write something that so strikes a heart that I too may be quoted—to make a difference in a life (or perhaps simply in a day) by putting that period in just the right place. “To be occasionally quoted is the only fame I hope for.” (Alexander Smith) Mr. Smith, I feel you! (And congratulations—you have your wish!)
And who knows? Perhaps at some point I’ll write something brilliant or beautiful about cheddar, Gouda, or brie—something that would have made Mr. Chesterton proud. Until then, I’ll work at becoming myself—whoever she may be, and I’ll watch my language. Who knows who might be taking notes.
A bonus quote for my writer friends: “Remember to use positive affirmations. ‘I am not a dork’ is not one of them.” (Brian Andreas)