The Mystery Quote

“Write as if everyone you ever loved was dead.”

It’s great advice for writers. Right up there with “Murder your Darlings” (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, apparently) and “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” (Kurt Vonnegut).

But who said it?

I must have the phrasing off, since Googling yielded nothing, but I’m sure that was the essential meaning of the advice. McEwan said something similar regarding parents, and there’s a jumbled similarity to something by Lynn Freed (both via Twitter), but otherwise I’m drawing a blank, so I’m turning to you.

Does anyone recognize this advice?

Discussion (12)¬

  1. Scott says:

    OK, wait wait!

    Maybe it was Freed.

    “What I am saying, I suppose, is that you write as if everyone is dead. Then you face the music. I don’t know any other way to keep the teeth sharp and the spirit alive.” — Lynn Freed

    Misunderstood one of the Tweets that cited this.

  2. Ben Ivey says:

    May I use your “misquote” as a quote from you?

  3. roodieboodie says:

    Here’s a similar quote from http://www.johnmorganwilson.com/writingcraft.htm :

    “(Or, as Anne Lamott put it in Bird by Bird: Learn to write as if your parents are dead.)”

    On Google I found quite a lot of other advice on how to write, some of it is interesting:

    Write as if you were dying.
    Write as if you’re talking to your ideal customer.
    Write as if you had no time left to live.
    Write as if your audience is intelligent but uninformed.
    Write as if it’s your last draft.
    Write as if you were actually speaking to the person face-to-face.
    Write as if it were true.
    Write as if you were talking to a class of sixth grade students.
    Write as if money were no object and time were not a factor.
    Write as if you were talking to your friend one on one.
    Write as if you had to put all your thoughts on paper in the next five minutes or lose them forever.

  4. I’ve got this lead:
    What do you think of this perspective from the South African writer and Nobel laureate, Nadine Gordimer: “You must write as though your parents are dead. You cannot afford to wait.”
    …but I would trace it to a real source before counting on its accuracy. Good luck…

  5. Jesse Haller says:

    Sorry about breaking up the Freed quote, with the 140 character limit on twitter I had to. Glad you were able to piece it together.

  6. Theo Macdonald says:

    I’ve been trying to see this for a while, and I naturally assumed this is the best place for it. I read a while back that Scott Mccloud did a pin-up of Morpheus in Ramadan but I haven’t been able to see it, as it was not reprinted in the tpb. Does anyone have a link to it or anything to that effect.?

  7. Theo Macdonald says:

    Thanks, I’m hoping to find one, but I live in New Zealand, and they’re are only four comic shops full of back issues to look through. It’s incredibly cool!

  8. Will Curwin says:

    This is an awsome quote!

  9. Brian B says:

    Try Og Mandino: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.”