16 Quotes from Alice Munro to Inspire Your Craft

When iconic short story writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Canadian woman and the 13th woman to receive the honor, nihilist-chic writer Brett Easton Ellis wasn’t impressed. He took to Twitter to call Munro overrated and the Nobel Prize a joke. The backlash against the American Psycho author was immediate and fierce. Comedian Norm McDonald took Ellis to task and defended Munro in a blistering Twitter takedown. “Brett Easton Ellis saying Alice Munro is overrated=Beatlemania saying The Beatles is overrated. Not only can he not write, he can’t read,” McDonald declared in one of his many epic tweets. Eventually a chagrined Ellis tweeted perhaps he needed to reread Munro. Indeed. Just because Munro looks like a sweet grandmother doesn’t mean her stories are about baking cookies.

Munro is the author of 14 short-story collections. Her first volume, the Governor General award winning Dance of The Happy Shades was released in 1968. What she has said will be her last book Dear Life was published in 2012.  Her stories appeared regularly in the New Yorker and the Paris Review, and received countless accolades. She is frequently referred to as, “Our Chekov.”

The daughter of a fox and mink farmer and a school teacher, Alice Munro sets many of her stories in the regional world of small town Ontario. The specificity of place helps create a universal world of ideas we can all relate to, where we can see reflections of our own lives. Her themes include aging, time, memory, family, and the small moments and decisions that ripple and create lifelong consequences.

Although the master of the short story genre, Alice Munro has in the past expressed insecurity about never having written a novel. She told the Guardian, “I was trying and trying and trying to write a novel – and it never worked. After even my second and third and fourth books my publishers still hoped I would write a novel – I felt I was wasting my time.”

Many readers feel that her stories contain the weight and depth of novels, sometimes even more so. The Nobel Prize website says of her stories, “(they) often accommodate the entire epic complexity of the novel in just a few short pages.” This richness of material has inspired filmmakers to adapt Munro’s stories into feature length movies.  Notably Away from Her, staring Julie Christie, and Hateship, Loveship with Kristen Wiig, and most recently the Spanish language film Julieta based on three Munro stories.

Here are 16 Alice Munro quotations to motivate us as we work on putting the time and effort into honing our own craft.

1.) “Yes, I’m sad that I haven’t written a lot of things, but I’m incredibly happy that I’ve written as much as I have. Because there was a point when I was younger where there was a very good chance that I wouldn’t write anything – I was just too frightened.” – Alice Munro

2.) “The constant happiness is curiosity.” ― Alice Munro

3.) “A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.” ― Alice Munro

4.) “I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.” ― Alice Munro

5.) “Life would be grand if it weren’t for the people.” ― Alice Munro

6.) “They were all in their early thirties. An age at which it is sometimes hard to admit that what you are living is your life.” ― Alice Munro

7.) “Few people, very few, have a treasure, and if you do you must hang onto it. You must not let yourself be waylaid, and have it taken from you.” ― Alice Munro

8.) “Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories – and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.” ― Alice Munro

9.) “The complexity of things – the things within things – just seems to be endless. I mean nothing is easy, nothing is simple.” ― Alice Munro

10.) “That’s something I think is growing on me as I get older: happy endings.” ― Alice Munro

11.) “In my own work, I tend to cover a lot of time and to jump back and forward in time, and sometimes the way I do this is not very straightforward.” ― Alice Munro

12.) “I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens,’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me.” ― Alice Munro

13.) “Sometimes I get the start of a story from a memory, an anecdote, but that gets lost and is usually unrecognizable in the final story.” ― Alice Munro

14.) “The stories are not autobiographical, but they’re personal in that way. I seem to know only the things that I’ve learned. Probably some things through observation, but what I feel I know surely is personal.” ― Alice Munro

15.) “I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn’t that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn’t mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.” ― Alice Munro

16.) “It’s not possible to advise a young writer because every young writer is so different. You might say, “Read,” but a writer can read too much and be paralyzed. Or, “Don’t read, don’t think, just write,” and the result could be a mountain of drivel. If you’re going to be a writer you’ll probably take a lot of wrong turns and then one day just end up writing something you have to write, then getting it better and better just because you want it to be better, and even when you get old and think, “There must be something else people do,” you won’t be able to quit.” ― Alice Munro

Author: Tara Collum

Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun


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