Toni Morrison's take on writing

At a time when I am desperately seeking guidance and inspiration, I look to those who came before me…

In a Guardian (UK) interview, writer Toni Morrison says:

“My books are always questions for me. What if? How does it feel to…? Or what would it look like if you took racism out? Or what does it look like if you have the perfect town, everything you ever wanted? And so you ask a question, put it in a time when it would be theatrical to ask, and find the people who can articulate it for you and try to make them interesting. The rest of it is all structure, how to put it together.”

Before that, she told Time magazine:

My 15-year-old daughter lives to write. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?Darren Wethers, St. Louis, Mo.

The work is in the work itself. If she writes a lot, that’s good. If she revises a lot, that’s even better. She should not only write about what she knows but about what she doesn’t know. It extends the imagination.

This is, I think, the same thing Zadie Smith was getting at: it’s okay to write what you “don’t know.” Because you’ll learn it. Plus as writers, we should have strong enough imaginations to fill in the blanks. Isn’t that why a lot of us are in this in the first place? Imaginations that never rest.

Questions, speculation, imagination. Those are definitely the things that fuel my dream of writing for a living.

I also thought it was really interesting to read about Toni Morrison’s daily writing habits/routine. This site has a number of other famous people’s daily routines, not just writers.

Like this:



Foto Friday: The extraordinary story of a woman and her coyote


Childhood dreams


  1. These are some awesome quotes… and so true. By the way I just saw the info about the writer’s workshop you’re going to, so congratulations!

  2. A question that always hounds me, particularly in fantasy, is “would I want to live in this world?” Or, “what kind of life would I lead here?” With these things in mind, I can better shape the attitudes of the characters.

    Questions are important in writing, and not just as the premise.

    • Todd Newton’s recent blog post: Sleep is my Enemy

  3. SassyGinger-

    I agree completely. My boyfriend is always like, “Why do you ask so many (random) questions??” And I’m like, “… I’m a writer?” It’s the most natural thing in the world to us, I suppose.

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