“Why would I want to tell people made-up stories? I can’t stand made-up stories. It makes me sick to hear a made-up story. Look, if your story is a made-up story, then do me a favor and keep it to yourself. Me, I would never tell a made-up story about anything, let alone about myself. I respect myself much too much for me ever to stoop to just making something up about myself. I don’t get it why anybody would want to tell a made-up story about himself. But the even bigger mystery to me is why, when you tell them the truth, people go ahead and look at you and say, ‘Oh, come on, quit it—nooooooooooooo.’ “ – Gordon Lish, “Wouldn’t a Title Just Make it Worse?”

“People are just sickening. Plain and simple, people are really just plain sickening. Where is the rhyme or reason to it? There is no rhyme or reason to it. You know what? Let me tell you what. I pity you if you think the day will ever come when you can count on people. You cannot count on people. You cannot expect anything from people. You know what you can expect from people? You want for me to explain to you what you can expect from people? Because the answer is nothing. That’s it, that’s right—nothing. Go ahead and expect nothing from people. All you have in this world is your own, but you cannot expect anything from them, either. Your own are the only ones you have a right to expect anything from, but do not waste your breath expecting anything from them either. Who isn’t scum? They are all scum. The whole gang of them, forget it, they’re scum. I would not give you two cents for the best of them—whoever they are.” – Gordon Lish, Zimzum

“Mrs. Smith runs out into the street shrieking and screaming, ‘Spare the children, spare the children, dear God in heaven, couldn’t you at least do something to make them stop and spare the children!’ Suddenly there is all of a sudden a bolt of lightning and thundering and here is what God answers the woman. He says to her, ‘Show business is show business.’ “ – Gordon Lish, Extravaganza

“Tell the truth. Tell it, knowing that no matter how hard you try, you’re still not telling it truly. The very act, the very elapsing of time between the concept and the utterance already allows one to shield or protect oneself. Musicians, painters, sculptors and the like are given much more room to tell the truth; to give themselves away. In writing, one has to struggle.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“Everything wants your failure. The body that you inhabit, the time that is yours, the circumstances of your life, every particularity that can be summoned to the general spectacle of your enterprise through space and time, can be seen as an interference to doing great art—nothing more efficiently than the mortality that is your due. And to exert ceaselessly in the face of such circumstances is to require an exorbitant desire. One must want so greatly that every reason to succumb is dismissed.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“Writing isn’t lonely in the most important sense, because when you do it, you are in touch with your best friend, so the loneliness can be abridged in those terms. Also, a writer can suppose to himself that by doing his work, he is fashioning a bridge to other lone souls in space and time—that he is in conversation with the most secret place in himself and others.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)

“To be a writer, one has to tell the truth, and one has to tell the hardest truth that is available to one. One has to tell one’s own truth. One has to risk everything to capture that truth; one has to reach down inside of oneself to the zone of most crucial danger, to the zone where, in fact, one may even be unsettling one’s notion of oneself and therefore destabilizing one’s personality. Through means of acoustic pressure, through means of thematic pressure, one must extrude that acuity and get it onto the page so that it can be seen. I think that this task is accomplished chiefly as a function of courage, of the will, and then of an absolutely unrelenting industry.” – Gordon Lish, Conversations with Gordon Lish (eds. David Winters and Jason Lucarelli)