Octavia Butler? Apocryphal?
Dear Quote Investigator: Recently, a publisher in Silicon Valley tweeted an illustration of the prominent science fiction author Octavia Butler together with a quotation that offered intriguing advice about writing. The quote began:
First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable.
When were these words written or said by Butler?
Quote Investigator: Octavia Butler penned an essay addressed to aspiring writers titled “Furor Scribendi” that appeared in the ninth anthology of the series “L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future”. The piece was reprinted in the 1995 collection “Bloodchild: And Other Stories”. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.
Butler also presented a refreshingly provocative viewpoint about talent:
Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
The 2005 compilation “Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk” included the following streamlined instance of the quotation: 2
First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not … Habit is persistence in practice.
~ Octavia Butler, 1947-2006 ~
Bloodchild and Other Stories, 1995
The 2013 compilation “Essential Knowledge for Personal Coaches” also included an instance ascribed to Butler: 3
First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not…Habit is persistence in practice.
In June 2016 the influential publisher and venture capitalist Tim O’Reilly tweeted an illustrated instance of the Butler quotation with the following introductory words: 4
In Aristotelian philosophy, virtue itself was defined as a habit. This is life advice, not just writing advice.
In conclusion, Octavia Butler published an essay containing the quotation under investigation in 1993. It was reprinted in her 1995 collection “Bloodchild and Other Stories”.
Image Notes: Reduced-size low-resolution image of book cover for “Writers of the Future”. Photo of Octavia Butler by Nikolas Coukouma; Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 Generic License
(Great thanks to Z whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)
- 1995, Bloodchild: And Other Stories by Octavia E. Butler, Furor Scribendi, Start Page 137, Quote Page 141, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 2007, Wisdom for the Soul of Black Folk, Compiled and edited by Larry Chang, Contributing editor Roderick Terry, Section: Habit, Quote Page 175, Gnosophia Publishers, Washington, D.C. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 2012, Essential Knowledge for Personal Coaches, Compiled by Dean Amory, Quote Page 388, Published by Edgard Adriaens, Belgium (Lulu.com). (Google Books Preview) ↩
- Tweet, From: Tim O’Reilly @timoreilly, Time: 9:10 PM, Date: June 5 2016, Text: In Aristotelian philosophy, virtue itself was defined as a habit. This is life advice, not just writing advice, Link: Link a picture of the Octavia Butler quotation. (Accessed on twitter.com on June 7, 2016) link ↩