25 Inspiring Alice Munro Quotes on Writing

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Happy birthday to Alice Munro, the acclaimed Canadian short-story writer who won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. “Munro’s stories are short and narrowly drawn that makes them so precise and thus able to cut like a very well-honed knife,” our own Michelle Dean wrote in 2013. “Munro stands, generally, for the idea that just because the ostensible subject of your story is small, that doesn’t mean it’s without big implications, or even big effect.” Over the years, Munro has had a lot to say about her writing process and how her stories have developed over time. Here are 25 quotes from the author about her personal writing habits, obsessions, and more.

“A story is not like a road to follow . . . it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.”

Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story.

“In my own work, I tend to cover a lot of time and to jump back and forward in time, and sometimes the way I do this is not very straightforward.”

“That’s something I think is growing on me as I get older: happy endings.”

“Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories — and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.”

“I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens,’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.”

“The stories are not autobiographical, but they’re personal in that way. I seem to know only the things that I’ve learned. Probably some things through observation, but what I feel I know surely is personal.”

“I don’t show anything in progress to anybody.”

“There has to be an agreement between the editor and me about the kind of thing that can happen.”

“I have never kept diaries. I just remember a lot and am more self-centered than most people.”

“I was writing desperately all the time I was pregnant because I thought I would never be able to write afterwards. Each pregnancy spurred me to get something big done before the baby was born. Actually I didn’t get anything big done.”

“It wasn’t the housework or the children that dragged me down. I’d done housework all my life. It was the sort of open rule that women who tried to do anything so weird as writing were unseemly and possibly neglectful.”

“Any story that’s going to be any good is usually going to change.”

“I have stacks of notebooks that contain this terribly clumsy writing, which is just getting anything down. I often wonder, when I look at these first drafts, if there was any point in doing this at all. I’m the opposite of a writer with a quick gift, you know, someone who gets it piped in. I don’t grasp it very readily at all, the ‘it’ being whatever I’m trying to do. I often get on the wrong track and have to haul myself back.”

“I could be writing away one day and think I’ve done very well; I’ve done more pages than I usually do. Then I get up the next morning and realize I don’t want to work on it anymore. When I have a terrible reluctance to go near it, when I would have to push myself to continue, I generally know that something is badly wrong. Often, in about three quarters of what I do, I reach a point somewhere, fairly early on, when I think I’m going to abandon this story. I get myself through a day or two of bad depression, grouching around. And I think of something else I can write. It’s sort of like a love affair: you’re getting out of all the disappointment and misery by going out with some new man you don’t really like at all, but you haven’t noticed that yet. Then, I will suddenly come up with something about the story that I abandoned; I will see how to do it. But that only seems to happen after I’ve said, No, this isn’t going to work, forget it.”

“I only seem to get a grasp on what I want to write about with the greatest difficulty.”

“I can see the ways a story could go wrong. I see the negative things more easily than the positive things. Some stories don’t work as well as others, and some stories are lighter in conception than others.”

“I never have a problem with finding material. I wait for it to turn up, and it always turns up. It’s dealing with the material I’m inundated with that poses the problem.”

“I am so compulsive that I have a quota of pages. If I know that I am going somewhere on a certain day, I will try to get those extra pages done ahead of time. That’s so compulsive, it’s awful. But I don’t get too far behind, it’s as if I could lose it somehow. This is something about aging. People get compulsive about things like this. I’m also compulsive now about how much I walk every day.”

“I write every morning, seven days a week. I write starting about eight o’clock and finish up around eleven. Then I do other things the rest of the day, unless I do my final draft or something that I want to keep working on then I’ll work all day with little breaks.”

“My routine now is to get up in the morning, have some coffee, start to write. And then a little later on, I might take a break and have something to eat and go on writing. The serious writing is done in the morning. I don’t think I can use a lot of time in the beginning; I maybe can only do about three hours. I do rewrite a lot, and I rewrite and then I think it’s all done, and I send it in. And then I want to rewrite it some more. Sometimes it seems to me that a couple of words are so important that I’ll ask for the book back so that I can put them in.”

“You never know what you’re going to be interested in. You don’t decide beforehand. All of a sudden you realize that this is what you want to write.”

“Naturally my stories are about women — I’m a woman. I don’t know what the term is for men who write mostly about men. I’m not always sure what is meant by ‘feminist.’ In the beginning I used to say, well, of course I’m a feminist. But if it means that I follow a kind of feminist theory, or know anything about it, then I’m not. I think I’m a feminist as far as thinking that the experience of women is important. That is really the basis of feminism.”

“When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people — you’re doing a job that other people don’t know you’re doing and you can’t talk about it, really, and you’re just always finding your way in the secret world and then you’re doing something else in the ‘normal’ world.”

“If you’re a writer, you’re sort of spending your life trying to figure things out, and you put your figurings on paper, and other people read them. It’s a very odd thing, really. You do this your whole life, and yet you know that you fail. You don’t fail all the way, or anything, it’s still worth doing—I think it’s worth doing, anyway. But it’s like this coming to grips with things that you can only partially deal with. This sounds very hopeless. I don’t feel hopeless at all.”