Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Writing: The Complete Collection

flannery oconnor quotes on writing
by CJ McDaniel // March 9 // 0 Comments

For many writers, it’s impossible not to mention Flannery O’Connor’s name when talking about short stories falling under the Southern Gothic genre. As the genre’s name depicts, these stories transpire in the southern United States, often containing flawed characters facing alarming situations. Apart from this depiction, Flannery’s works also explore religion, ethics, and morality—most likely influenced by her experiences growing up as a Catholic. Her writings are also usually brutal and comic, which surprisingly entices her readers to read more. Furthermore, it’s not just her stories that are much sought-after by readers and writers. Flannery O’Connor quotes on writing also enter the list of her fans’ top searches.

Born in Savannah, Georgia, on March 25, 1925, American short story and Southern writer Mary Flannery O’Connor grew up living with a devoutly Catholic family. Hence, this explains the prevalence of morality and religious themes in her writings. Although her health wasn’t at its best, she produced two novels and more than thirty short stories. Her best-known work, which also built her literary fame, was “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Soon enough, she bagged the O. Henry Award in 1957, followed by the National Book Award in 1972, a token of honor for her immense contribution to the world of English literature.

Flannery’s writing career earned her the title “a genius of the grotesque.” Despite living a short-lived life, her deep and dark short fictions strive up to this day. Her writings turned classics of American fiction are enough proof of her literary excellence—many readers and writers look up to her today. Besides her works of fiction, Flannery O’Connor quotes on writing, as well as her words of wisdom on other subjects, live on for future generations to enjoy.

Flannery O’Connor Quotes On Writing

Flannery had an unparalleled love and passion for writing. Although she was only 39 when she died, she produced two novels and two story collections, including essays that many still read today. Her health wasn’t the best, but she enjoyed writing every day, proving how there was nothing she ever wanted to do other than write.

Her iconic stories weren’t the only evidence of her brilliance in the field. She had a lot to say about writing, much of which you’ll see in the selection of Flannery O’Connor quotes on writing below.

A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning.

Flannery O’Connor

I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

Flannery O’Connor

There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored.

Flannery O’Connor

The high-school English teacher will be fulfilling his responsibility if he furnishes the student a guided opportunity, through the best writing of the past, to come, in time, to an understanding of the best writing of the present. He will teach literature, not social studies or little lessons in democracy or the customs of many lands. And if the student finds that this is not to his taste? Well, that is regrettable. Most regrettable. His taste should not be consulted; it is being formed.

Flannery O’Connor

I have found, in short, from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.

Flannery O’Connor

Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.

Flannery O’Connor

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

Flannery O’Connor

I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.

Flannery O’Connor

It’s always wrong of course to say that you can’t do this or you can’t do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.

Flannery O’Connor

Success means being heard and don’t stand there and tell me that you are indifferent to being heard. You may write for the joy of it, but the act of writing is not complete in itself. It has to end in its audience.

Flannery O’Connor

Not-writing is a good deal worse than writing.

Flannery O’Connor

I write any sort of rubbish which will cover the main outlines of the story, then I can begin to see it.

Flannery O’Connor

Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.

Flannery O’Connor

I write to discover what I know.

Flannery O’Connor

I don’t think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of the times.

Flannery O’Connor

When using dialect, use it lightly. A dialect word here and there is enough. All you want to do is suggest. Never let it call attention to itself.

Flannery O’Connor

I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention. I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from.

Flannery O’Connor

There is no excuse for anyone to write fiction for public consumption unless he has been called to do so by the presence of a gift. It is the nature of fiction not to be good for much unless it is good in itself.

Flannery O’Connor

I have enough energy to write with and as that is all I have any business doing anyhow, I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.

Flannery O’Connor

Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.

Flannery O’Connor

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one.

Flannery O’Connor

The less self-conscious you are about what you are about, the better in a way, that is to say technically. You have to get it in your blood, not in the head.

Flannery O’Connor

It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus re-create some object they actually see.

Flannery O’Connor

Technique in the minds of many is something rigid, something like a formula that you impose on the material; but in the best stories it is something organic, something that grows out of the material, and this being the case, it is different for every story of any account that has ever been written.

Flannery O’Connor

I spend three hours a day writing and the rest of my day getting over it.

Flannery O’Connor

So many people can now write competent stories that the short story is in danger of dying of competence.

Flannery O’Connor

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them.

Flannery O’Connor

The only way, I think, to learn to write short stories is to write them, and then try to discover what you have done.

Flannery O’Connor

I have also led you astray by talking of technique as if it were something that could be separated from the rest of the story. Technique can’t operate at all, of course, except on believable material.

Flannery O’Connor

Far be it for me to have worked it out in any abstract way. I don’t know why the bull and Mrs. May have to die, or why Mr. Fortune and Mary Fortune: I just feel in my bones that that is the way it has to be. If I had the abstraction first I don’t suppose I would write the story.

Flannery O’Connor

As for the blood and the head business, the blood and the head work together and what is not first in the blood can sometimes reach it by going first through the head and what is wrong in the blood can sometimes be tempered by the head.

Flannery O’Connor

…I have to write to discover what I am doing. Like the old lady, I don’t know so well what I think until I see what I say; then I have to say it again.

Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor Quotes About Writers

Like most writers, O’Connor found her love for writing early on. It all started in high school, where she became an editor for her school paper. She pursued her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and English Literature in the Georgia State College for Women, then studied creative writing at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. With such background, talent, and passion, Flannery solidified her position as one of the best Southern writers.

If you’re a writer looking forward to seeing some of Flannery O’Connor’s quotes on writing about writers, here’s the list for you.

Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

Flannery O’Connor

The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.

Flannery O’Connor

…the writer is initially set going by literature more than by life.

Flannery O’Connor

The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.

Flannery O’Connor

Manners are of such great consequence to the novelist that any kind will do. Bad manners are better than no manners at all, and because we are losing our customary manners, we are probably overly conscious of them; this seems to be a condition that produces writers.

Flannery O’Connor

The writer can choose what he writes about but he cannot choose what he is able to make live.

Flannery O’Connor

It is always difficult to get across to people who are not professional writers that a talent to write does not mean a talent to write anything at all.

Flannery O’Connor

I am a writer because writing is the thing I do best.

Flannery O’Connor

There’s a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world.

Flannery O’Connor

It seems that the fiction writer has a revolting attachment to the poor, for even when he writes about the rich, he is more concerned with what they lack than with what they have.

Flannery O’Connor

I know well enough that very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a “killing.” They are interested in being a writer not in writing. . . If this is what you are interested in, I am not going to be much use to you.

Flannery O’Connor

In my travels I am often asked if college stifles young writers. In my opinion, it doesn’t stifle them enough.

Flannery O’Connor

When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic…. Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.

Flannery O’Connor

The fiction writer has to engage in a continual examination of conscience. He has to be aware of the freak in himself.

Flannery O’Connor

It is popular to believe that in order to see clearly one must believe nothing. This may work well enough if you are observing cells under a microscope. It will not work if you are writing fiction. For the fiction writer, to believe nothing is to see nothing.

Flannery O’Connor

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one.

Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor Quotes on Literature

O’Connor’s most known contribution to literature was her short fiction. She produced two collections of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1995), followed by Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). Her writings are unconventional, often emphasizing themes on faith and morality, with violent and unsympathetic characters. To learn about Flannery O’Connor’s quotes on literature, check the collection below.

I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.

Flannery O’Connor

I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else’s. But behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there’s no truth.

Flannery O’Connor

I don’t think literature would be possible in a determined world. We might go through the motions but the heart would be out of it. Nobody could then ‘smile darkly and ignore the howls.’ Even if there were no Church to teach me this, writing two novels would do it. I think the more you write, the less inclined you will be to rely on theories like determinism. Mystery isn’t something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge.

Flannery O’Connor

At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.

Flannery O’Connor

Most of us have learned to be dispassionate about evil, to look it in the face and find, as often as not, our own grinning reflections with which we do not argue, but good is another matter. Few have stared at that long enough to accept that its face too is grotesque, that in us the good is something under construction.

Flannery O’Connor

The modes of evil usually receive worthy expression. The modes of good have to be satisfied with a cliche or a smoothing down that will soften their real look.

Flannery O’Connor

A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.

Flannery O’Connor

I don’t deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.

Flannery O’Connor

If you don’t hunt it down and kill it, it will hunt you down and kill you.

Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O’Connor Quotes About Character

Considering Flannery’s preferred genre, one can expect her characters to appear violent, flawed, disturbed, or deprived economically or emotionally. She used her characters to depict stories of redemption, preparing them to get in touch with reality again. It also helped cement her name in the literature world, and many find themselves writing on the same path because of her.

Apart from writing, see Flannery O’Connor’s quotes about the character on the following list.

I feel that discussing story-writing in terms of plot, character, and theme is like trying to describe the expression on a face by saying where the eyes, nose, and mouth are.

Flannery O’Connor

If there is no possibility for change in a character, we have no interest in him.

Flannery O’Connor

All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.

Flannery O’Connor

Remember that you don’t write a story because you have an idea but because you have a believable character.

Flannery O’Connor

Poorly written novels–no matter how pious and edifying the behavior of the characters–are not good in themselves and are therefore not really edifying.

Flannery O’Connor

I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one. Then they find themselves writing a sketch with an essay woven through it, or an essay with a sketch woven through it, or an editorial with a character in it, or a case history with a moral, or some other mongrel thing.

Flannery O’Connor

In most good stories, it is the character’s personality that creates the action of the story. If you start with real personality, a real character, then something is bound to happen.

Flannery O’Connor

Deemed as one of the best American Southern writers, Flannery O’Connor’s influence in American literature remains. Although her works involve grotesque twists and dark themes, they managed to captivate the public’s attention even in today’s time. She may have a short-lived life, but the legacy she left will continue to inspire generations to come. Not only that: Flannery O’Connor quotes on writing and other topics are also valuable for readers and writers alike.

Need more inspiration on writing other than these quotes of Flannery O’Connor? Check out our collection of quotes on writing from other authors here.

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!