Writing quotes

The following is an extensive collection of writing writ, wit and wisdom that I have put together over the years, and found highly informative and inspirational both for myself and for many of the hundreds of writers I have coached and mentored.  Besides posting these quotes here to share with you and other fellow writers, I also plan to gradually create a book around them. So if you revisit this site from time to time, you may, unless I procrastinate on this project as fatally as I have on many previous ones, see a manuscript gradually emerge. But meanwhile, here’s wishing you every enjoyment of what some of the greats have have to say about writing:

I quote others only to better express myself.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.


Why write?

This sickness, to express oneself, what is it?

Jean Cocteau.


I write to discover what I think.

Daniel J. Boorstin.


I write because I hate.  A lot.  Hard.

William Gass.


Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.

Alice Walker.


I revel in the prospect of being able to torture a phrase once more.

S. J. Perelman.


If you ask me why I came into this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud.

Emile Zola.


You’ve got to rattle your cage door.  You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise. Cause trouble.  You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.

Florynce Kennedy.


I love to tell stories.

Irving Wallace.


I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.

Toni Morrison.


I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.

W. B. Yeats.


Do not write to impress people.  Write to be of use.

John Gardner.


I am trying – in a good cause – to crowd people out of their own minds and occupy their space.  I want them to stop being themselves for a moment, I want them to stop thinking, and I want to occupy their heads.

Robert Stone.


The life of the creative person is led, directed and controlled by boredom.  Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.

Saul Steinberg.


Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic and fear which are inherent in the human condition.

Graham Greene.


My task is to make you hear, make you feel, and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything.

Joseph Conrad.


It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.

William Faulkner.


Cats gotta scratch. Dogs gotta bite. I gotta write.

James Elroy.


A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

Maya Angelou.


We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.

Anais Nin.


The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.

Samuel Johnson.


Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote but for money.

Samuel Johnson.


Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.

J. P. Donleavy.



Who for?


Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.

Cyril Connolly.


Every successful creative person creates with an audience of one in mind.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


I write for myself and strangers.  The strangers, dear Readers, are an afterthought.

Gertrude Stein.


The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.

Virginia Woolf.


Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.

Sylvia Plath.



Learning how.


Analyse and imitate; no other school is necessary.

Raymond Chandler.


Read, read, read.  Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a good carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. 

William Faulkner.


A good writer does not write as people write, but as he writes.

Charles Montesquieu.


There ain’t no rules around here!  We’re trying to accomplish something!

Thomas Edison.



Getting started.


Writing is easy.  All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

Gene Fowler.


Violent restlessness, and vague ideas of going I don’t know where….going round and round the idea….walking about the country by day – prowling about into the strangest places in London by night – sitting down to do an immensity – getting up after doing nothing…

Charles Dickens on beginning a new novel.


I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paperwork.

Peter de Vries.


Writing’s hard work and it’s boring, but I like it.

V. S. Pritchett.


Whether you believe you can, or whether you believe you can’t, you’re absolutely right.

Henry Ford.


Everyone has talent.  What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.

Erica Jong.


I know I was writing stories when I was five.  I don’t know what I did before that.  Just loafed, I suppose.

S. J. Perelman.


Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

Edmund Burke.


The hand is the cutting-edge of the mind.

Jacob Bronowski.


Just do it.

Former Nike slogan.



Keeping going.


Practice makes perfect.



The desire to write grows with writing.



We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.



Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Thomas Edison.


I only write when I’m inspired, so I see to it that I’m inspired every morning at nine o’clock.

Peter De Vries.


If you are possessed by an idea, you find it expressed everywhere, you even smell it.

Thomas Mann.


Looking back I imagine I was always writing.  Twaddle it was too.  But better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.

Katherine Mansfield.


Planning to write is not writing.  Outlining a book is not writing.  Researching is not writing.  Talking to people about what you are doing, none of that is writing.  Writing is writing.

E. L. Doctorow.

Write freely and rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.  Rewrite in progress is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.

John Steinbeck.


The faster I write the better my output.  If I’m going slow I’m in trouble.  It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

Raymond Chandler.





For it is not possible, is it, that language itself is the primary obstacle to communication?

Joyce Carol Oates.


The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

Mark Twain.


What is above all needed is for the meaning to choose the word and not the other way around.

George Orwell.


Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.

Joan Didion.


Word-carpentry is like any other kind of carpentry: you must join your sentences smoothly.

Anatole France.


I believe more in the scissors than the pencil.

Truman Capote.


Good writing is supposed to invoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it’s raining, but the feel of being rained upon.

E. L. Doctorow.



I almost never know (what is going to happen).  I start to make it up and have happen what would have to happen as it goes along.

Ernest Hemingway.


Character is revealed by action.  Action is motivated by character.

Norton Wright.


What we want is a story that starts with an earthquake and builds to a climax.

Samuel L. Goldwyn.


The only rule I have found to have any validity in writing is not to bore yourself.

John Mortimer.


If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.

W. Somerset Maugham.



Truth & honesty.


Write til your ink be dry, and with your tears

Moist it again and frame some feeling line

That may discover such integrity.

William Shakespeare.


To idealise: all writing is a campaign against cliché.  Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.

Martin Amis.


All truth passes through three stages.  First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third it is accepted as self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer.


We are betrayed by what is false within.

George Meredith.


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

George Orwell.


Convictions are more dangerous enemies of the truth than lies.



Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

Philip K. Dick.


The merit of originality is not novelty, it is sincerity.

Thomas Carlyle.


If your head tells you one thing and your heart tells you another, before you do anything, you should first decide whether you have a better head or a better heart.

Marilyn Vos Savant.





The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.



Man’s mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original shape.

Oliver Wendell Holmes.


Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.

Black Elk.


Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Albert Einstein.


Art, the Chinese say, is the training of spontaneity.  For art is nothing other than spontaneity in a cage of order.

Yoram Kaniuk.


To search for truth, one has to be drunk with imagination.

Leonard Bernstein.


Leap before you look.

Peter Lloyd.


Making the simple complicated is commonplace.  Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.

Charles Mingus.


Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.

Charles Baudelaire.


Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no-one else has thought.

Albert Szent-Gyorgi.


Traveller, there is no path.  Paths are made by walking.

Antonio Machado.


Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Every great and original writer in proportion as he is great and original must himself create the taste by which he is relished.

William Wordsworth.


Art gropes.  It stalks like a hunter lost in the woods, listening to itself and everything around it, unsure of itself, waiting to pounce.

John Gardner.


A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.

Frank Capra.


If they give you ruled paper. Write the other way.

e. e. cummings.


I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.

Duke Ellington.


Imagination is a quality given to man to compensate him for what he is not, and a sense of humour was provided to console him for what he is.

Oscar Wilde.


God is really only another artist.  He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style.  He just keeps on trying other things.

Pablo Picasso.


Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep.

Scott Adams.


Art is the result not of calm and tranquility, however much the artist may, on occasion, experience calm in the act of writing.  It springs from tension and passion, from a state of disequilibrium in the artist’s being.

Leon Edel.


We know more than we know we know.

Michael Polanyi.


Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.

Arthur Koestler.


Art must take reality by surprise.

Francoise Sagan.


Trust your demon.

Roger Zelazny.


Fun may be the most important discipline of all.

Sally Ann Farrar.





Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.

Logan Pearsall Smith.


I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.

Noel Coward.


Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs.

Christopher Hampton.


Critic: a louse in the locks of literature.

Samuel Johnson.


No fathers or mothers think their own offspring ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.


A good writer is not, per se, a good book critic, any more than a good drunk is automatically a good bartender.

Jim Bishop.


No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.

H. G. Wells.


In every work of genius we recognise our own rejected thoughts.

Ralph Waldo Emerson.


I had a great idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.

Samuel L. Goldwyn.


Every day we slaughter our finest impulses.

Henry Miller.


Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

Virginia Wolfe.


Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work.  Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like – then cultivate it.  That’s the part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.

Jean Cocteau.





Be isolated, be ignored, be attacked, be in doubt, be frightened, but do not be silenced. 

Bertrand Russell.

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