William Faulkner Writing Quotes

William Faulkner is one of the most celebrated American writers and he was considered to be innovative in this approach to writing. He had a big influence in the development of the “stream of consciousness” narrative style and his style was imitated by many.

In this article, we explore his insights and advice on writing through quotes from several of his interviews and his Nobel acceptance speech. Some of the topics covered include:

  • What you need to live a writer’s life
  • His thoughts on making a living through writing
  • How to become a better writer

If you want to learn more about William Faulkner, check out his quick biography.

Quotes on the Writer’s Life

1. The only environment the artist needs is whatever peace, whatever solitude, and whatever pleasure he can get at not too high a cost. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

2. 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. -Nobel Banquet Speech, 1950

3. Writing is a solitary job – that is, no one can help you with it, but there’s nothing lonely about it. I have always been too busy, too immersed in what I was doing, either mad at it or laughing at it to have time to wonder whether I was lonely or not lonely. It’s simply solitary. I think there is a difference between loneliness and solitude. Faulkner in the University, 1959

4. The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

5. If the writer concentrates on what he does need to be interested in, which is the truth and the human heart, he won’t have much time left for anything else, such as ideas and facts like the shape of noses or blood relationships, since in my opinion ideas and facts have very little connection with truth. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

6. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours – all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

7. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. -Nobel Banquet Speech, 1950

Quotes on Success in Writing

8. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

9. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

10. I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. -Nobel Banquet Speech, 1950

11. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

12. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

13. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

14. All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Quotes on Making a Living By Writing

15. There were many things I could do for two or three days and earn enough money to live on for the rest of the month. By temperament I’m a vagabond and a tramp. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

16. I don’t want money badly enough to work for it. In my opinion it’s a shame that there is so much work in the world. One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

17. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Quotes on How to Write Well

18. A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination – any two of which, at times any one of which – can supply the lack of the others. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

19. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

20. That’s a very good way to learn the craft of writing – from reading. Faulkner in the University, 1959

21. The quality an artist must have is objectivity in judging his work, plus the honesty and courage not to kid himself about it. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

22. The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

23. You write a story to tell about people, man in his constant struggle with his own heart, with the hearts of others, or with his environment. It’s man in the ageless, eternal struggles which we inherit and we go through as though they’d never happened before, shown for a moment in a dramatic instant of the furious motion of being alive, that’s all any story is. to be able to see it. Faulkner in the University, 1959

24. I’m convinced that nobody can be taught anything, that you must learn it. Faulkner in the University, 1959

25. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

26. If I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

27. Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Quotes on Criticism

28. The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

29. I myself am too busy to care about the public. I have no time to wonder who is reading me. I don’t care about John Doe’s opinion on my or anyone else’s work. Mine is the standard which has to be met, which is when the work makes me feel the way I do when I read La Tentation de Saint Antoine, or the Old Testament. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

30. The artist is a cut above the critic, for the artist is writing something which will move the critic. The critic is writing something which will move everybody but the artist. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

31. Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish, as the mother loves the child who became the thief or murderer more than the one who became the priest. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Quotes on Inspiration and Getting Ideas

32. I don’t know anything about inspiration because I don’t know what inspiration is -I’ve heard about it, but I never saw it. The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Further Reading

If you loved the quotes by William Faulkner, check out the huge collection of writing quotes below. The collection features the best quotes by some of the most famous writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, Annie Dillard, and R.L Stine among many more.

The quotes are full of valuable advice for any aspiring writer.

If you are struggling to create a business around your writing and need some encouragement, read the quotes below.

  • Sources Cited for William Faulkner’s Quotes

Faulkner in the University (1959) Faulkner in the university: Class conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958 [see on Amazon]

Nobel Banquet Speech (1950) William Faulkner Banquet speech

Paris Review interview (1956) William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12