After writing up the short post below about Larry McMurtry’s great memoir, I got to thinking about my favorite quotes on writing — there are plenty — and it occurred to me that a fairly common question in interviews is whether I have any quotes above my desk. The answer is yes, though it varies often, and varies between Indiana and Florida. The only quote that is constantly in both places — framed, and read aloud (I’m not joking) before each writing session — is from Josh Ritter, an incredible songwriter who just happens to have a wonderful new album out.

“I sang in exultation, pulled the stops, you always looked a little bored. But I’m singing for the love of it, have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”

That’s from a song called “Snow is Gone,” and if there’s ever been a better stated sentiment about the sort of mindset you should bring to your art, I haven’t found it.

Additional quotes that are on the desk currently:

1) “Write with your head down.” Michael Connelly. If you were to do a survey of interviews with Michael, you’d hear him repeat this phrase dozens of times. He’s talking about keeping your focus on the book, not on the business, about writing the story you want to write as well as you can write it, and not focusing on the market, the reviews, and all of the other business-related things that can infect the work.

2)”The truth is that when I’m writing, I write every day, workaholic dweeb or not. That includes Christmas, the Fourth, and my birthday…only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” Stephen King. I don’t think I need to expound on the meaning of that one.

3) “He was the first player at every practice and the last to leave, the hardest-working NBA practice player any of them had ever seen. The only problem was the degree to which he dominated everyone else. Early on, Rod Thorn called over to the Bulls’ practice facility, Angel Guardian, to talk to Loughery, only to find that everyone had already gone home. Why was practice over so early?, he asked the next day. “I had to let them off early,” Loughery said. “Michael was wearing them all out.”
David Halberstam, writing about Michael Jordan in “Playing for Keeps.”

4) “This is why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal.” GK Chesterton

Quotes come and go often from my desk (the Ritter line excepted) and when I add a new one, I’ll try to remember to post it here. The quotes themselves may change, simply out of a need for refreshment, but the ideas behind them are the same: they offer me reinforced perspective on what my mindset should be as I approach the page, and on how hard I should work once I arrive at the page.