Words from the Wise…

This section is still under construction, but here are a few quotes about writing, theatre and life to start things off - and if you have any favourites, sent them to me!

"The playwright is almost always held accountable for failure, and that is almost always a just verdict." (Lillian Hellman)

"A writer writes. That's all there is to it." (Edmund Wilson)

"Theatre often does function as therapy, both for its originators and for its recipients, but that isn't what it's for, and to claim otherwise is self-indulgence." (Robert Cushman, The National Post, 2005)

"A good play is a good thought; a great play is a great thought. A great thought is a thrust outward, a daring act. Daring is the essence. Its very nature is incompatible with undue affection for moderation, respectability, even fairness and responsibleness. Those qualities are proper for the inside of the telephone company, not for the creative act." (Arthur Miller)

"Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher…One generation passeth, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and resteth to the place where he arose." (Ecclesiastes.)
A vigilant reader well-versed in Biblical literature has since informed me that no such quote exists. This quote is from a biography of Maxwell Perkins, who is quoting Hemingway. Aas, Hemingway was close but no Havana cigar on this one. But I like the Hemingway rewrite, so I'm keeping it...

"If they believe the critics when they say they are great then they must believe them when they say they are rotten and they lose confidence. At present we have two good writers who cannot write because they have lost confidence through reading critics. If they wrote, sometimes it would be good and sometimes it would be quite bad, but the good would get out. But they have read the critics and they must write masterpieces. The masterpieces the critics said they wrote. They weren't masterpieces, of course. They were just quite good books. So now they can't write at all." (ErnestHemingway, in Green Hills of Africa.)

"An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. Don't ever get to feeling important about yourself, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing." (Maxwell Perkins, on novel-editing, but equally applicable to dramaturgy.)

"There are no happy endings." (Aunt Joan)

And a Little More from Mr. Hemingway, via David Haas...

My friend David Haas of Edmonton sent this to me:

 “The attached submission is from a former writer from the Toronto Star, and while I am no fan of the bloated and extravagant character he became, I think this is a pretty good statement of something writers should keep in mind. For many years I kept a truncated version pinned up in my work space. Now the full schmeer is in my electronic bank after a bit of scanning from the University of Alberta original copy. I first hit it in my first year lo these many decades ago at Royal Roads. I since discovered that post World War II re-issues deleted some of his tarter observations.

I think if I was posting it myself now I would replace that "chaste woman" reference by "..." to avoid having rocks thrown at me.”


In the last war there was no really good true war book during the entire four years of the war. The only true writing that came through during the war was in poetry. One reason for this is that poets are not arrested as quickly as prose writers would be if they wrote critically since the latter’s meaning, if they are good writers, is too uncom­fortably clear. The last war, during the years 1915, 1916, 1917 was the most colossal, murderous, mismanaged butchery that has ever taken place on earth. Any writer who said otherwise lied. So the writers either wrote propaganda, shut up, or fought. Of those who fought many died and we shall never know who were the fine writers who would have come out of the war who died in it instead.

But after the war the good and true books finally started to come out. They were mostly all by writers who had never written or pub­lished anything before the war. The writers who were established before the war had nearly all sold out to write propaganda during it and most of them never recovered their honesty afterwards. All of their reputations steadily slumped because a writer should be of as great probity and honesty as a priest of God. He is either honest or not, as a woman is either chaste or not, and after one piece of dis­honest writing he is never the same again.

A writer’s job is to tell the truth. His standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be. For facts can be observed badly; but when a good writer is creating something, he has time and scope to make it of an absolute truth. If, during a war, conditions are such that a writer cannot publish the truth because its publication would do harm to the State he should write and not publish. If he cannot make a living without publishing he can work at something else. But if he ever writes same-thing which he knows in his inner self is not true, for no matter what patriotic motives, then he is finished. After the war the people will have none of him because he, whose obligation is to tell them truth, has lied to them. And he will never be at peace with himself because he has deserted his one complete obligation

Sometimes this loss of his good name will not show during his lifetime because such critics, as have also sold out in wartime, will keep his reputation bolstered up along with their own, so long as they are functioning. But when such a writer dies, or a new generation of critics comes, the whole thing collapses.

Ernest Hemingway
Introduction to Men At War