28 January 2014

Flannery O'Connor on Writing

by Terence Faherty

Flannery O'Connor
Some time back I wrote a post inspired by a haunting quote from Flannery O'Conner, the great southern novelist and short story writer.  Here's that quote.

"The writer can chose what he writes about, but he cannot chose what he is able to bring to life."

In the course of researching that article, I ran into a few other things Flannery had to say about writing and about mystery.  What follows amounts to a guest column, typed (and commented upon) by me but "ghost written" by Ms. O'Connor.

"Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay.  I'm always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality.  It is a plunge into reality and it is very shocking to the system." (Amen.)

"The writer should never be ashamed of staring.  There is nothing that does not require his attention."

"Art never responds to the wish to make it more democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those willing to undertake the effort to understand it."

"Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do."  (Ouch.)

"People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them."

"I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."  (Nancy Pelosi may have lifted this.)

"Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and it you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn't try to write fiction.  It's not grand enough for you."

"Not writing is a good deal worse than writing."

"Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating.  It grows along with knowledge."  (My amateur sleuth, Owen Keane, is now nodding his head.)

"Remember that you don't write a story because you have an idea but because you have a character."

"There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells."

"I am a writer because writing is the best thing I do."



  1. What wonderful quotes!

  2. Had not heard most of them, thank you very much. Have you read her novel WISE BLOOD? Talk about Southern Gothic. All about the founder of the Church Without Christ, where "the deaf don't hear, the blind don't see, the lame don't walk, the dumb don't talk, and the dead stay that way."

  3. She was a brilliant woman, and an amazing writer. imho, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" trumps "The Killers" any day.

  4. I too love "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." A textbook example of a great short story.

    Interesting quotes!

  5. She is one of the reasons I started writing.

    Thanks for the quotes, Terry.

  6. Thanks for the comments, folks. I have read WISE BLOOD, Rob, and it is very gothic. But I prefer O'Connor's short stories, the one Eve mentioned, "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and "Good Country People," which is the cautionary tale to end all cautionary tales.

    Congratulations, David, on your story in the new ELLERY QUEEN.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>