Harlan Ellison on Writing

The only thing worth writing about is people. People. Human beings. Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight. If you do not do it, the story is a failure.

—Harlan Ellison


There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal’, the obvious. People are reflected in the glass. The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself. And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us. Failing that, you have failed totally.

—Harlan Ellison


The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.

—Harlan Ellison


Get a day job, make your money from that, and write to please yourself.

—Harlan Ellison


It is not merely enough to love literature if one wishes to spend one’s life as a writer. It is a dangerous undertaking on the most primitive level. For, it seems to me, the act of writing with serious intent involves enormous personal risk. It entails the ongoing courage for self-discovery. It means one will walk forever on the tightrope, with each new step presenting the possiblity of learning a truth about oneself that is too terrible to bear.

—Harlan Ellison


I don’t know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.

—Harlan Ellison


When you’re all alone out there, on the end of the typewriter, with each new story a new appraisal by the world of whether you can still get it up or not, arrogance and self-esteem and deep breathing are all you have. It often looks like egomania. I assure you it’s the bold coverup of the absolutely terrified.

—Harlan Ellison


Writing a novel is like going a great distance to take a small shit.

—Harlan Ellison


Because the chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.

—Harlan Ellison


Entertain, yes. That goes without saying. But a good writer does that automatically, it’s built into the machine. Telling a thumpingly good, mesmerizing story is what one does without question. But beyond that, any writer worth his/her hire knows that all writing, one way or another, is subversive. It is guerrilla warfare against the status quo.

—Harlan Ellison


The explanations a writer gives himself for having written any particular book are more often not the real reasons why that book has been written. Honesty is not the issue. Understanding is. A man does not write one novel at a time or even one quatrain at a time. He is engaged in the long process of putting his whole life on paper. He is on a journey and he is reporting in: ‘This is where I think I am and this is what this place looks like today.’

—Harlan Ellison


I intend to keep writing stories that piss people off, that tell the particular kind of truth I think is valid, that will make me feel more and more like a Writer of Stature, Which I honestly think I am, really, I mean it, I don’t doubt it for a second dammit, so stop giggling! Stories that will make Dr Shedd sniff the air and make Lester smile as je thinks, “The kid’s coming along all right.

—Harlan Ellison


The solitary creator, dreaming his or her dream, unaided, seems to me to be the only artist we can trust.

—Harlan Ellison


People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.

—Harlan Ellison


A writer who writes more than he reads is an amateur.

—Harlan Ellison

December 25, 2019


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