As a maritime writer, I must confess that I have, more than once, suffered from self-doubt and a gnawing sense of futility. What does it matter if I write about the rights of seafarers or not? Or about marine art and culture? Will it make a bloody difference? The questions sometimes come like arrows to pierce the soul. Yet, I have managed to continue writing (Marine Café Blog will mark its 11th anniversary this August). I draw courage and inspiration from what famous writers have said about the pain and joy of writing. The folowing are some quotes which I hope will provide the same to literary writers, journalists, historians and others who have chosen to write as a vocation.

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.

Roald Dahl, 'Boy: Tales of Childhood' (1984)

I like to write when I feel spiteful. It is like having a good sneeze.

D.H. Lawrence, Letter to Lady Cynthia Asquith (November 1913)

I have written the history of my life, and I have a perfect right to do so; but am I wise in throwing it before a public of which I know nothing but evil? No, I am aware it is sheer folly, but I want to be busy, I want to laugh, and why should I deny myself this gratification?

Giacomo Casanova, ‘Memoirs of J. Casanova de Seingalt’ (1894)

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.

William Faulkner, Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech (1950)

Writing sustains me. But wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that it sustains this kind of life? Which does not, of course, mean that my life is any better when I don’t write. On the contrary, at such times it is far worse, wholly unbearable, and inevitably ends in madness. This is, of course, only on the assumption that I am a writer even when I don’t write – which is indeed the case; and a non-writing writer is, in fact, a monster courting insanity.

Franz Kafka, Letter to Max Brod (July 1922)

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

Graham Greene, 'Ways of Escape' (1980)

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.

John Steinbeck, ‘In Awe of Words’ The Exonian, Exeter University (1930)

It is a poor thing for the writer to take on that which he doesn’t understand.

Anton Chekhov, Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 1888)

Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.

Hermann Hesse, 'Siddhartha' (1922)

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell, "Why I Write", Gangrel, British literary magazine (1946)

Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to your self whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ (1929)

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.

Virginia Woolf, 'A Room of One's Own' (1929)

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