Writer’s Quote Wednesday // E.L. Doctorow

Hello friends! Welcome to Writer’s Quote Wednesday, an event hosted by Colleen at Silver Threading. Every week bloggers share their favorite quotes to motivate and inspire one another to keep writing and working toward our goals. My contribution this week is from American author E.L. Doctorow.

12584Edgar Lawrence “E. L.” Doctorow was born in The Bronx on January 6, 1931 to Rose and David Doctorow, second-generation Americans of Russian Jewish extraction. They named him after Edgar Allan Poe.  He attended The Bronx High School of Science where he enrolled in a journalism class. The school’s literary magazine, Dynamo, published his first writing attempts.

Doctorow attended Kenyon College in Ohio, where he majored in philosophy. After graduating with honors in 1952, he completed a year of graduate work in English drama at Columbia University before being drafted into the United States Army. He served as a corporal in the signal corps, in Germany 1954–55 during the Allied occupation.

He returned to New York after his military service and took a job as a reader for a motion picture company, where he said he had to read so many Westerns that he was inspired to write what became his first novel, Welcome to Hard Times. It started as a parody of western fiction, but became a serious reclamation of the genre before he was finished. It was published to positive reviews in 1960, with Wirt Williams of the New York Times describing it as “taut and dramatic, exciting and successfully symbolic.”

He has written many more books and among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was short listed for the Man Booker International Prize honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN Saul Bellow Award given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American Literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction.

When asked how he decided to become a writer, he said, “I was a child who read everything I could get my hands on. Eventually, I asked of a story not only what was to happen next, but how is this done? How am I made to live from words on a page? And so I became a writer.”

Doctorow, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer on July 21, 2015, aged 84, in Manhattan.

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

― E.L. Doctorow

On first reading this quote I felt like it had a double meaning, both of which I like very much. For one, Doctorow could be talking about the journey of becoming a writer. One thing I find encouraging about writing is that everyone who has become successful in it started out the same way, with no clue what they were doing.

They all start with nothing, no skills, no sense of direction, and they learn as they go. It helps to heed the advice of those that come before you but nothing works like practice for writing. You try a bunch of different things until you find your voice and what works for you. It is definitely an exploration of the self.

Doctorow might also be talking about the act of sitting down to write a specific story. He might mean that before a writer begins there are no characters, there is no setting, the events have not happened. The writer gets an idea and goes about exploring in his own mind and learns what the story is.

In my free time I like to work on my own fictional stories and I find myself asking things like: What does this place look like? How does that person feel? How did those two meet? Or what could have happened along the way? If feels like floating around in a different world and taking note of all that happens there. It’s a fun activity and I can see why writer’s say their stories just come to them. When I ask these questions the answers seem to just pop into my head out of nowhere.

I don’t know yet if I have a good story but I know I have something I enjoy exploring and learning about. I don’t know if I even have a story I will one day write but it feels good to try. I like the process of making something out of nothing.

Or maybe it’s more like discovering something that was once nothing?

Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads


8 Replies to “Writer’s Quote Wednesday // E.L. Doctorow”

  1. Oh, Lisa! I love this quote! This is exactly how I feel about writing my novel. I am learning as I write. I expect to learn even more from the first edit! LOL! Colorado is awesome. We had about a foot of snow in my first blizzard in years. No shovels, no snow blowers in the stores! All sold out. Hopefully we will get what we need before the next hard storm. LOL! <3


    1. I’m glad you like it Colleen! Glad you are enjoying Colorado too. That storm was a big one and we only have the one old shovel. I planned to get another one but I knew from previous years the stores would sell out. I plan to get another one and maybe a blower too :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with this quote completely. I definitely know whenever I first discovered my own passion for writing and pursuing it that I had no clue what I was doing. It definitely takes some dedication because you not only discover how to really write but you are also exploring your inner self during the whole writing process too.


    1. Exactly! I have learned a lot about myself since I decided to give this writing thing a real shot. I swear every time I sit down to type I learn some thing else. It’s an amazing thing!


      1. Oh, definitely. I feel like every time I write, I learn something new about myself that I didn’t know before. Whether it is habits I’m in whenever I write or something completely different. There is always something new about writing that I learn about that I didn’t know before.


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