The important thing in writing is the capacity to astonish. Not shock—shock is a worn-out word—but astonish. The world has no grounds whatever for complacency. The Titanic couldn’t sink, but it did. Where you find smugness, you find something worth blasting. I want to blast it.
Most of us live in a condition of secrecy: secret desires, secret appetites, secret hatreds and relationship with the institutions which is extremely intense and uncomfortable. These are, to me, a part of the ordinary human condition. So I don't think I'm writing about abnormal things. ... Artists, in my experience, have very little center. They fake. They are not the real thing. They are spies. I am no exception.
The curse of all successful writers is the dream of all Americans: owning a house. Houses have ruined a lot of literary artists, more so than drugs or drink. Jack London built himself a palace and then committed suicide. Mark Twain almost went bust maintaining his Connecticut digs. …If I had one piece of advice to give to aspirant writers it would be: Don’t—don’t, don’t, don’t—under any circumstances buy a house you could not afford if you were a plumber’s assistant. Or, as a veteran Hollywood agent told me not long ago: Put your money in the bank; if you buy anything, pay cash, and if you can’t pay cash, don’t buy it.
Most books about writing are filled with bullshit. Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do—not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.
It is harrowing for me to try to teach 20-year-old students, who earnestly want to improve their writing. The best I can think to tell them is: Quit smoking, and observe posted speed limits. This will improve your odds of getting old enough to be wise.
The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.