11 Bits of Wisdom From Doris Lessing, On Reading, Writing, and Life

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After I read in the New York Times that The Golden Notebook author Doris Lessing, who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, passed away this morning, I turned to rereading some of her writings and interviews. I hope you'll enjoy these little wisdoms I've collected.

Doris Lessing
Image: Oct 11, 2007 - London, England, UK - Author and Nobel Laureate for literature DORIS LESSING. Veteran British writer Doris Lessing was named winner of the 2007 Nobel prize for literature. Lessing, who turned 88 in Nopvember 2007, was the oldest winner of the prize at the time, and only the 11th woman to have won the prize since it started in 1901. In a career spanned more than 50 years, she has written 25 novels, short stories, plays, autobiography, poetry and opera. Image © Guardian/eyevine/ZUMAPress

  • "You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn't care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing cant be a way of life, the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it." - from A Small, Personal Voice

  • "What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better." - from The Golden Notebook

  • "There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth." - from Under My Skin

  • "[T]he book, the story dictates how I'm going to have to do it. The story dictates the means of telling it..." - from a telephone interview with the Editor-in-Chief of Nobelprize.org, following the announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize, October 11, 2007

  • "I tend to speak my mind, which is not necessarily a good idea." - from a Time Magazine interview

  • "When I was bringing up a child I taught myself to write in very short concentrated bursts. If I had a weekend, or a week, I’d do unbelievable amounts of work. Now those habits tend to be ingrained ... I think I write much better if I’m flowing. You start something off, and at first it’s a bit jagged, awkward, but then there’s a point where there’s a click and you suddenly become quite fluent. That’s when I think I’m writing well. I don’t write well when I’m sitting there sweating about every single phrase." - from a Paris Review interview

  • "It's amazing what you find out about yourself when you write in the first person about someone very different from you."- from a Paris Review interview

  • "I think a writer's job is to provoke questions. I like to think that if someone’s read a book of mine, they’ve had—I don’t know what—the literary equivalent of a shower. Something that would start them thinking in a slightly different way perhaps. That’s what I think writers are for." - from a Paris Review interview

  • "Whether literature accomplishes anything or not, we do keep going." - from a Southern Review interview

  • "There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag -- and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty -- and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you." - from the 1971 introduction to The Golden Notebook


And my favorite quote, although I have not yet found the source of it:

“Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including The Wednesday Sisters and The Wednesday Daughters


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