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.
This sickness, to express oneself, what is it?
I write to discover what I think.
Daniel J. Boorstin.
I write because I hate. A lot. Hard.
Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.
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.
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.
I love to tell stories.
I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.
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.
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.
The life of the creative person is led, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.
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.
My task is to make you hear, make you feel, and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything.
It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.
Cats gotta scratch. Dogs gotta bite. I gotta write.
A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.
The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.
Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote but for money.
Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.
J. P. Donleavy.
Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.
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.
The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.
Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.
Analyse and imitate; no other school is necessary.
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.
A good writer does not write as people write, but as he writes.
There ain’t no rules around here! We’re trying to accomplish something!
Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.
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.
Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.
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.
The hand is the cutting-edge of the mind.
Just do it.
Former Nike slogan.
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.
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.
Looking back I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.
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.
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.
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.
What is above all needed is for the meaning to choose the word and not the other way around.
Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.
Word-carpentry is like any other kind of carpentry: you must join your sentences smoothly.
I believe more in the scissors than the pencil.
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.
Character is revealed by action. Action is motivated by character.
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.
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.
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.
All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed, second it is violently opposed, and third it is accepted as self-evident.
We are betrayed by what is false within.
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.
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.
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.
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
Art, the Chinese say, is the training of spontaneity. For art is nothing other than spontaneity in a cage of order.
To search for truth, one has to be drunk with imagination.
Leap before you look.
Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.
Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will.
Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no-one else has thought.
Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
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.
Art gropes. It stalks like a hunter lost in the woods, listening to itself and everything around it, unsure of itself, waiting to pounce.
A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.
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.
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.
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.
Creativity is allowing oneself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
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.
We know more than we know we know.
Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.
Art must take reality by surprise.
Trust your demon.
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.
Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs.
Critic: a louse in the locks of literature.
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.
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.
Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.
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.
Be isolated, be ignored, be attacked, be in doubt, be frightened, but do not be silenced.