Literary Quotes: Harlan Ellison

Reading. Writing. Literature. Quotes. Harlan Ellison.

I thought I would start sharing quotes from famous authors because there are often profound things said by masters of the craft (and sometimes awful things, too). So, let’s start this new venture with Harlan Ellison, author of the iconic stories “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” A Boy and His Dog, “’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” and more. In life, he was hard-headed, cantankerous, and extremely insightful.

Quote and interpretation

This quote appeared in Ellison’s Stalking the Nightmare, a collection of stories and essay. I wanted to share this particular one because I think it demonstrates the writers’ dilemma in that you have a job to do, but you also realize that it’s a really hard job, and that’s true even when you want to be productive.


“The ability to dream is all I have to give. That is my responsibility; that is my burden. And even I grow tired.”

(Harlan Ellison | Stalking the Nightmare)

In breaking it down, I think the first part of the quote suggests that our own creativity as writers is something to behold, but we have to acknowledge that it’s a personal and limited view. It’s all we have to give. Additionally, it’s a precious resource, so we can’t just give it away all willy-nilly.

As such, this creates a responsibility and a burden for the writer because dreams are things that we think of as valuable and then we give them away to other readers and writers to consume. Considering this, we can’t irresponsibly give those dreams away either, because, I think, we need to share ones that merit attention and discussion. Lastly, “And even I grow tired” tells me that while the act of writing and producing is wonderful, it is an exhausting venture.

However, if it is all we have to give then we have to find the energy to keep going somehow because it’s all we’ve got at the end of the day. It’s a burden, but, boy, it’s the best burden!