Remembering Gore Vidal: 10 Quotes on Writing

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The legendary Gore Vidal died yesterday at age 86.

Remembering Gore Vidal: 10 Quotes on Writing

Here, we remember him with some stirring quotes from an interview we printed in 1975, showcasing him at his most “prolific, elegant and acerbic” (as The New York Times aptly described him earlier today).

Rest in peace, Gore.

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“You can improve your talent, but your talent is a given, a mysterious constant. You must make it the best of its kind.”

“I’ve always said, ‘I have nothing to say, only to add.’ And it’s with each addition that the writing gets done. The first draft of anything is really just a track.”

“The reason my early books are so bad is because I never had the time or the money to afford constant revisions.”

“That famous writer’s block is a myth as far as I’m concerned. I think bad writers must have a great difficulty writing. They don’t want to do it. They have become writers out of reasons of ambition. It must be a great strain to them to make marks on a page when they really have nothing much to say, and don’t enjoy doing it. I’m not so sure what I have to say but I certainly enjoy making sentences.”

“Constant work, constant writing and constant revision. The real writer learns nothing from life. He is more like an oyster or a sponge. What he takes in he takes in normally the way any person takes in experience. But it is what is done with it in his mind, if he is a real writer, that makes his art.”

“I’ll tell you exactly what I would do if I were 20 and wanted to be a good writer. I would study maintenance, preferably plumbing. … So that I could command my own hours and make a good living on my own time.”

“If a writer has any sense of what journalism is all about he does not get into the minds of the characters he is writing about. That is something, shall we say, Capote-esque—who thought he had discovered a new art form but, as I pointed out, all he had discovered was lying.”

“A book exists on many different levels. Half the work of a book is done by the reader—the more he can bring to it the better the book will be for him, the better it will be in its own terms.”

[When asked which genre he enjoys the most, and which genre comes easiest:]
“Are you happier eating a potato than a bowl of rice? I don’t know. It’s all the same. … Writing is writing. Writing is order in sentences and order in sentences is always the same in that it is always different, which is why it is so interesting to do it. I never get bored with writing sentences, and you never master it and it is always a surprise—you never know what’s going to come next.”

[When asked how he would like to be remembered:]
“I suppose as the person who wrote the best sentences in his time.”

—All quotes from “The Complete Works on Gore Vidal” by Russell Halley, Joseph Pilcher and Michael S. Lasky, Writer’s Digest, March 1975

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Zachary Petit is an award-winning journalist, the managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, and the co-author of A Year of Writing Prompts: 366 Story Ideas for Honing Your Craft and Eliminating Writer’s Block.

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