William Faulkner? Peter De Vries? Herman Wouk? Somerset Maugham? Jane Yolen? Raymond Chandler? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: As a writer I find the following quotation about motivation both amusing and invigorating:
I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.
I have seen these words attributed to the satiric New Yorker writer Peter De Vries, the Nobelist William Faulkner, and playwright-novelist Somerset Maugham. Who do you think originated this quip?
Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1966 in a “Washington Post” profile of the bestselling author Herman Wouk who was best known for the novels “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Winds of War”, and “War and Remembrance”. Wouk ascribed the remark to William Faulkner. The phrasing differed from the version provided by the questioner, but the underlying joke was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1
For a writer with so many books to his credit, he finds writing an exceedingly difficult process of “gritting one’s teeth and putting down one word after another.” He averages 1500 to 2000 words a day and likes to quote William Faulkner: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”
This Wouk profile was reprinted in several newspapers including the “Des Moines Register” in Iowa 2 and the “Springfield Union” in Massachusetts. 3 Faulkner died in 1962, four years before the story was published, and QI has not yet located any direct support for the attribution.
In 1971 the poet and novelist Reynolds Price was interviewed in “The Raleigh News and Observer” of North Carolina, and he presented a version of the jest credited to William Faulkner: 4
Someone once asked Mr. Faulkner if he wrote by inspiration or habit and he said he wrote by inspiration, but luckily inspiration arrived at 9 every morning. I know what that means. And there is a kind of magic about keeping the stride once you’ve got it going.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1966 November 13, Washington Post, Writing Is Workaday For Herman Wouk: Inspiration Strikes at Nine Every Morning by Meryle Secrest (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page F3, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (Note: ProQuest database gives the incorrect author name of Meryle Secret) ↩
- 1966 November 24, Des Moines Register, The Wouk Formula For Writing Success by Meryle Secrest (Acknowledgement to The Washington Post), Quote Page 16, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1966 December 11, 1966, Springfield Union, Herman Wouk Tells What Literary Success Means by Meryle Secret, (Acknowledgement Washington Post News Service), Quote Page 18C, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1991, Conversations with Reynolds Price, Edited by Jefferson Humphries, (A Glimpse into the Very Private World of a Novelist, Interview of Reynolds Price by Rod Cockshutt, Reprinted from The Raleigh News and Observer, Date: January 24, 1971, Section: 4, 3) Start Page 30, Quote Page 34 and 35, Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, (Verified on paper) ↩