“I dig old books.”
Quotations about Writing
So often is the virgin sheet of paper more real than what one has to say, and so often one regrets having marred it. ~Harold Acton, Memoirs of an Aesthete, 1948
Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains — God composes, why shouldn't we? ~Terri Guillemets
Every great writer is a writer of history, let him treat on almost any subject he may. ~Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversation: Diogenes and Plato
Let me walk through the fields of paper
touching with my wand
dry stems and stunted
~Denise Levertov, "A Walk through the Notebooks"
When we see a natural style we are quite amazed and delighted, because we expected to see an author and find a man. ~Blaise Pascal, Pensées, 1670
Every writer I know has trouble writing. ~Joseph Heller
Writer's block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite. ~Terri Guillemets
A synonym is a word you use when you can't spell the other one. ~Baltasar Gracián, translated from Spanish
When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. ~Enrique Jardiel Poncela
I asked Ring Lardner the other day how he writes his short stories, and he said he wrote a few widely separated words or phrases on a piece of paper and then went back and filled in the spaces. ~Harold Ross
When you are describing,
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don't state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things,
With a sort of mental squint.
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so you can give that to people, then you are a writer. ~Ernest Hemingway, "Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba," in Esquire, December 1934
Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. ~Sholem Asch
The ablest writer is only a gardener first, and then a cook: his tasks are, carefully to select and cultivate his strongest and most nutritive thoughts; and when they are ripe, to dress them, wholesomely, and yet so that they may have a relish. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827
An author plants the alphabet — and harvests flowers, nourishment, and weeds. ~Terri Guillemets
Writers spend three years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet. It's enough to make you lose your mind day by day. ~Richard Price
If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. ~Lord Byron
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it. ~Anaïs Nin
I'd rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer. ~Jack Smith
Is a stolen copyright a copywrong? ~Anonymous
An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many, and grows inveterate in their insane breasts. ~Juvenal, Satires
Writing is a struggle against silence. ~Carlos Fuentes
[W]riting is a product of silence and solitude. ~Comparison, Graduate School of Comparative Literature, University of Warwick, 1979
Don't loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will none the less get something that looks remarkably like it. ~Jack London, "Getting Into Print," 1905
The process of writing has something infinite about it. Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation. ~Elias Canetti
It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don't feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you're wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories. ~Paul Gallico, "Confessions of a Story Writer," 1946
I have no doubt at all the Devil grins,
As seas of ink I spatter.
Ye gods, forgive my "literary" sins—
The other kind don't matter.
~Robert W. Service (1874–1958) [James A. Mackay's biography of Service was titled "Vagabond of Verse" — that phrase was actually first used by Charles Kennett Burrow in an 1896 poem "Blind Mæonides."
All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients. ~Attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson [I think this is someone's paraphrase of Emerson's ideas, which is also quite a clever restating of two actual quotations by Emerson, the first part from "Quotation and Originality" and the second part from "Plato; or, the Philosopher": Our best thought came from others.... every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.
Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
One hates an author that's all author. ~George Gordon, Lord Byron, "Beppo"
What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window. ~Burton Rascoe
[I]t's not a good idea to try to put your wife into a novel. Not your latest wife, anyway. ~Norman Mailer, quoted in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, Third Series, 1967
The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes. ~Agatha Christie
Every word born of an inner necessity — writing must never be anything else. ~Etty Hillesum, quoted in Ten Fun Things to Do Before You Die by Karol Jackowski
A writer's mind seems to be situated partly in the solar plexus and partly in the head. ~Ethel Wilson
Publication – is the auction of the Mind of Man. ~Emily Dickinson
When writers die they become books, which is, after all, not too bad an incarnation. ~Jorge Luis Borges
If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves. ~Don Marquis
There are men that will make you books, and turn them loose into the world, with as much dispatch as they would do a dish of fritters. ~Miguel de Cervantes
Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E.L. Doctorow
It is not my sentence that I polish, but my thought. I pause until the drop of light that I need is formed and falls from my pen. ~Joseph Joubert (1754–1824), translated from French by George H. Calvert, 1866
The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. ~Henry David Thoreau
You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke. ~Arthur Polotnik
An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff. ~Adlai Stevenson, quoted in Ronald D. Fuchs, You Said a Mouthful
The writer who uses weak arguments and strong epithets is like the landlady who gives weak tea and strong butter. ~"Wit and Humor," Gleason's Monthly Companion, March 1879
Let me sometimes dance
Or stand perchance
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.
~Edward Thomas (1878-1917), "Words"
With many readers, brilliancy of style passes for affluence of thought; they mistake buttercups in the grass for immeasurable gold mines under ground. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Kavanagh: A Tale, 1849
The first goal of writing is to have one's words read successfully. ~Robert Brault, rbrault.blogspot.com
Most editors are failed writers — but so are most writers. ~T.S. Eliot
Human language may be polite and powerless in itself, uplifted with difficulty into expression by the high thoughts it utters, or it may in itself become so saturated with warm life and delicious association that every sentence shall palpitate and thrill with the mere fascination of the syllables.... There may be phrases which shall be palaces to dwell in, treasure-houses to explore; a single word may be a window from which one may perceive all the kingdoms of the earth and the glory of them. Oftentimes a word shall speak what accumulated volumes have labored in vain to utter: there may be years of crowded passion in a word, and half a life in a sentence. ~Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Letter to a Young Contributor," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1862
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring...
~Wisława Szymborska (1923–2012), "The Joy of Writing," No End of Fun, 1967, translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh
What would there be in a story of happiness? Only what prepares it, only what destroys it can be told. ~André Gide
Between the two windows stood the writing-table, covered with heaps of newspapers, stacks of letters, mountains of ledgers, bound in canvas or leather, and tipped with brass at the corners; a chaos for every eye and every hand but the master's. ~Franz von Dingelstedt, Die Amazone: Novelle, 1869, translated from German by J.M. Hart
Some authors write with a grave ink, of a dramatic pen dipped into their dark souls. ~Terri Guillemets
Authors and lovers always suffer some infatuation, from which only absence can set them free. ~Samuel Johnson
I confess I seldom commune with my conscience when I write. ~Anton Chekhov
But books there are with nothing fraught,—
Ten thousand words, and ne'er a thought;
Where periods without period crawl,
Like caterpillars on a wall,
That fall to climb, and climb to fall;
While still their efforts only tend
To keep them from their journey's end.
~James Montgomery (1771–1854), "The Pleasures of Imprisonment: In Two Epistles to a Friend"
Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts... ~Betsy Cañas Garmon, www.wildthymecreative.com [And a resounding
A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident. ~W. Somerset Maugham, Summing Up, 1938
They lard their lean books with the fat of others' works. ~Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621
The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King
It is plagiarism when you take something out of a book and use it as your own. If you take it out of several books then it is research. ~Quoted by Ralph Foss, 1932 (Thanks, Garson O'Toole of quoteinvestigator.com!)
My language is the common prostitute that I turn into a virgin. ~Karl Kraus
As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out. ~Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894
We write to remember our nows later. ~Terri Guillemets
As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing it till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall. ~Virginia Woolf
Caress your phrase tenderly: it will end by smiling at you. ~Anatole France
I think it's bad to talk about one's present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. ~Norman Mailer
...the wonderful poems interpreting with equal magic the romance of strange lands and times, or the modern soul, naked and unashamed, as if clothed in its own complexity; the humorous-tragic questionings of the universe; the delicious travel-pictures and fantasies; the lucid criticisms of art, and politics, and philosophy, informed with malicious wisdom, shimmering with poetry and wit. ~Israel Zangwill, Dreamers of the Ghetto, "From a Mattress Grave," 1897 [of the magic pen of Heinrich Heine
An author, behind his words, is naked. ~Terri Guillemets
My prose style at this time was a stomach-twisting blend of the Bible, Carl Sandburg, H.L. Mencken, Jeffrey Farnol, Christopher Morley, Samuel Pepys, and Franklin Pierce Adams imitating Samuel Pepys. I was quite apt to throw in a "bless the mark" at any spot, and to begin a sentence with "Lord" comma. ~E.B. White (1899–1985)
When I don't make any progress, it is because I have bumped into the wall of language. Then I draw back with a bloody head. And would like to go on. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn
The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
A well-disposed research librarian is a writer's best friend, as essential as ink. ~Barbara Rogan, Suspicion, 1999
To withdraw myself from myself has ever been my sole, my entire, my sincere motive in scribbling at all. ~Lord Byron
Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes. ~Theodore Dreiser
There is a zone to writing. It takes some effort, some hours of struggle to reach, but once you're there, the words flow as if from a spigot. Thoughts fill up the page. Your fingers function independently of your body and brain as you tap out the poetry. It's the groove that baseball hitters speak of. The hot hand that basketball players relish. It is that sweet moment in a race car when everything slows down despite the speedometer reading 175 miles per hour. Everything doable in life has a zone like this. Find it and get into it. ~Joe Kita, "What I Know" (Heaven on Earth), Wisdom of Our Fathers, 1999
It is the little writer rather than the great writer who seems never to quote, and the reason is that he is never really doing anything else. ~Havelock Ellis
Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason. They made no such demand upon those who wrote them. ~Charles Caleb Colton
You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write. ~Saul Bellow
Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. ~Author unknown, commonly misattributed to Samuel Johnson (www.samueljohnson.com/apocryph.html) (Thanks, Frank Lynch!)
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! ~Henry David Thoreau, journal, 1851 August 19th
The land of literature is a fairy land to those who view it at a distance, but, like all other landscapes, the charm fades on a nearer approach, and the thorns and briars become visible. ~Washington Irving
Ink surrounds me all the time
On my bed sheets, recorded in rhyme
Quills 'ever scribbling in my head
Sometimes damnit I forget what they said.
Ink has settled into my fingerprints
But to keep the words I fear to rinse...
~Terri Guillemets, Inkwells & Teapots
As is invariably noted at the beginning of positively all literary biographies, the little boy was a glutton for books.... For his first writing exercise he painstakingly reproduced: "Obey your sovereign, honor him and submit to his laws," and the compressed ball of his index finger thus remained ink-stained forever. Now the thirties are over and the forties have begun. ~Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift, 1963, translated from Russian by Michael Scammell
Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. ~From the movie Finding Forrester
It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis
Being an author is being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Terri Guillemets
[T]he author writes as a race-horse runs, for the sake of it. He feels like it, and kindles just because he enjoys burning. ~The Living Way, edited and published by S.D. Simonds, Volume III, 1872, referring to Joaquin Miller and his poem "Isles of the Amazons"
True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.
~Alexander Pope, "An Essay on Criticism"
Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen? ~Friedrich Nietzsche
A good author dances on typewriter keys. ~Terri Guillemets
It is indeed certain, that whoever attempts any common topick, will find unexpected coincidences of his thoughts with those of other writers; nor can the nicest judgment always distinguish accidental similitude from artful imitation. ~Samuel Johnson, 1751
Writing is both mask and unveiling. ~E.B. White
So Friar Jerome began his Book.
From break of dawn till curfew-chime
He bent above the lengthening page,
Like some rapt poet o'er his rhyme.
~T.B. Aldrich (1836–1907), "Friar Jerome's Beautiful Book," A.D. 1200
As children, some of us liked magic and fantasy, more than reality. So, we became writers. ~Dr. SunWolf, professorsunwolf.com
I have succeeded in arresting some casual wing of thought as it flew, some transient wave of emotion as it subsided... ~William Watson, "A Note on Epigram," 1883
Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs. ~Jerome Stern, Making Shapely Fiction, 1991
How can a man freshen and enrich his style? Read and reread the Bible and Shakespeare and Defoe and Swift and Bunyan and Tennyson, for all of these have a genius for pouring the water of life into the clay jugs of Saxon speech. ~Charles Edward Jefferson, "Thy Speech Bewrayeth Thee," Quiet Hints to Growing Preachers in My Study, 1901
Let’s hope the institution of marriage survives its detractors, for without it there would be no more adultery and without adultery two thirds of our novelists would stand in line for unemployment checks. ~Peter S. Prescott
Writing did not save my life... but it has continued to do what it always has done: it makes my life a brighter and more pleasant place.
Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.... Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up. ~Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000
The author, as a rule, dearly loves every line of his work, from the first stroke down to the dotlet on the i, and certainly has a right to it. ~Gustav Boehm, "A Discourse on Title Page Composition," in The Inland Printer (Chicago), March 1886
I write to mend
those places that got
snagged, ripped or frayed
while being human,
with other humans....
~Erika Harris, "Why I Write," 2014, empathicwriter.com
Writing is a trade, and writers who do not avail themselves of the best tools obtaining for their purpose, must always work at a disadvantage. Few of them try to get along without paper, pen, and ink; but many seem to think that no other tools are necessary. For shears and mucilage, particularly, some writers seem to have an unconquerable aversion. Pinned manuscripts are a common cause of vigorous comment in editorial offices. Along with rolled manuscripts they are the detestation of every editor. Women pin together the paley-written sheets of their scented manuscript when sending a poem to the printer. Men are often guilty of diverting pins from their proper use in the place of missing suspender buttons to their improper use where what the children call "gum-stickum" would be so much more appropriate.
There is no prejudice against the use of paste and shears. When you want to fasten two bits of paper together, stick the two pieces permanently together with the mucilage-brush. By trimming and pasting you can make the separate sheets of your copy all the same size, and that editors regard as a desideratum. For example, if you want to insert ten lines in the middle of page 19 of your closely-written manuscript, cut the page in two at the place in question, write the addition on a new sheet and paste it on, cutting off the lower portion so as to make the sheet of uniform size with the rest. Then paste the rest of the original sheet 19 on a blank sheet of your copy paper and number it "19½," or "19A," then "19B," "19C," &c. All this is a very simple matter, of course, but it is just what every editor wishes every one of his contributors would do every time in such a case.
Pencils with red and blue leads, and a bottle of red ink are cheap and handy tools that are seldom found on writers' desks. A blotter, a large pad of blotting-paper, box of rubber bands, a foot rule with bevelled edges, all save time, are always a convenience, and will be constantly appreciated. Scrap-books, pigeon-hole cases, reference books, envelope files, and such helps to writers deserve more special attention.
Stylographic pens, fountain pens, type-writers, manifold books, and such inventions are extremely desirable, of course; but they cost a good deal of money.
~William H. Hills, "Tools for Writers," in The Writer: A Monthly Magazine for Literary Workers, August 1887, wording slightly altered [Oh, how we take for granted our Ctrl+X and Ctrl+V!
It’s not plagiarism — I’m recycling words, as any good environmentally conscious writer would do. ~Uniek Swain
I really would like to stop working forever—never work again, never do anything like the kind of work I’m doing now—and do nothing but write poetry and have leisure to spend the day outdoors and go to museums and see friends.... Just a literary and quiet city-hermit existence. ~Allen Ginsberg
Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself. ~Franz Kafka
Kafka became a model for me, a continuing inspiration. Not only did he exhibit an irrepressible originality—who else would think of things like this!—he seemed to say that only in one's most personal language can the crucial tales of a writer be told. Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly. Only if you do that can you hope to make the reader feel a particle of what you, the writer, have known and feel compelled to share. ~Anne Rice, 1995
There is but one element that is constant in the flux of fashions. No matter what cut or what cloth the style of the day imposes, flesh and blood must wear the garment. So with fiction. Now flowery and flowing, now tailor-made and unadorned, words and their weaving follow many models. ~J.B. Kerfoot, "A Row of Books," Everybody's Magazine, July 1909 [review of Eden Phillpotts' "The Three Brothers"
An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. ~Gustave Flaubert
If I fall asleep with a pen in my hand, don't remove it — I might be writing in my dreams. ~Terri Guillemets
There's only one person who needs a glass of water oftener than a small child tucked in for the night, and that's a writer sitting down to write. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one's pen. ~Leo Tolstoy
The greatest part of a writer's time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book. ~Samuel Johnson
Those who have had experience with type are aware of its satanic persistence towards error. ~Author unknown
Authors are magpies, echoing each other's words and seizing avidly on anything that glitters. ~Bergen Evans
But words are finer tools; they give
A meaning, hid in form and hue;
In them a subtler truth may live
Than brush or pencil ever drew.
~Hannah R. Hudson, "Word-Painting," Poems, 1874 [alternatively published as "Poet and Painter"
What things there are to write, if one could only write them! My mind is full of gleaming thought; gay moods and mysterious, moth-like meditations hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. But always the rarest, those streaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach. ~Logan Pearsall Smith
No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. ~Russell Lynes
Papa is a literary person—he will do it, although so many people have told him that it is not the profession of a gentleman—and I do not see why I should not write for publication also. He is gone down to the beach for the afternoon; and here are his pens, ink, and foolscap paper, and his big slanting stand-up desk—which he would drag down with him to the sea-side, in spite of mama's protestations—and here is his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases without which, he was owned to me in private, he could never write a line. I stand upon the footstool, to give me the requisite height; I tap my forehead with my forefinger, in the most approved literary manner; I frown a frown of concentrated intellect, and become a 'We'—an authoress—for the first time. ~Lucy Penfeather, "Friends of the Swellingtons," in Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, 1864 November 26th
A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end... but not necessarily in that order. ~Jean Luc Godard
Loafing is the most productive part of a writer's life. ~James Norman Hall
Writing while awake is hard it seems
Go to sleep and write in your dreams
Then you can speak truly from the heart
When inhibition and pen do part.
If I lose the light of the sun, I will write by candlelight, moonlight, no light. If I lose paper and ink, I will write in blood on forgotten walls. I will write always. ~Henry Rollins
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler
Our live experiences fixed in aphorisms stiffen into cold epigram. Our heart's blood, as we write with it, darkens into ink. ~F.H. Bradley (1846–1924)
For with me writing is not a means of livelihood, not an occupation or trade, but a disease. I was born not with blood, but with printer's ink in my veins. To me, to write is an imperative necessity which may not be denied. ~Time and Tide, 1955 March 12th
You're not going into the I'm- a-born-newspaperman-with-ink-in-my-veins-instead-of-blood speech, are you? ~Whit Masterson, The Death of Me Yet, 1970
This work shop had a grim look, as if the laborer within it would sacrifice everything to the demands of his toil; changing his life blood into ink if necessary; and his soul into a pen. ~Anna McClure Sholl, "His Heartache," National Magazine, October 1904
It has been said, time and time repeated, that once you get ink in your blood, running strong in your veins, you can never get it out.... You never grow too old to write when the ink is in your blood. Your fingers still itch to record the ideas you have. Your eye is still proud to read a bit of work that you have created. Your mind is still capable of being astonished at the power it holds. No, you are never too old to see a new adventure and get it down, quick. Men have left writing for other positions and they have always been restless until they are back at the desk, with their pens, their typewriters, and their inky hands. Their desire for creation and their pride in their product can find no outlet, and you know what happens to things that are bottled up too long. They can't be satisfied until they can hear that scratch or that tap, and feel that they are once again in the inner circle of those with ink in their blood. ~Elizabeth R. Hartman, "Ink in the Blood," in The Modern Writer's Art, edited by Theodore J. Gates and Robert E. Galbraith, 1936
The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their own purpose whilst he really means them to do it for his. He steals the mother's milk and blackens it to make printer's ink to scoff at her and glorify ideal women with.... Since marriage began, the great artist has been known as a bad husband. ~G. Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy, 1903 (Tanner) ["Shaw is unquestionably an artist, and I think that the foregoing is an accurate description of the artistic instinct.... Shaw's life is the best proof of his sincerity. He has sacrificed everything for his plays. He gives the impression of a man who long since parted with every temptation, except that of turning his blood into ink, in order to reveal his soul.... His sincerity and moral courage are tremendous." ~Robert Loraine, "Where Does Shaw Leave You?", Cosmopolitan Magazine, January 1906
When she could no longer have Maurice within the bound of vibrating speech, she would gladly have converted her life-blood into ink, that she might send to him the whole course of her life as it flowed. ~"Eugénie de Guérin," The Catholic World, August 1886
Writing can wreck your body. You sit there on the chair hour after hour and sweat your guts out to get a few words. ~Norman Mailer, 1998
Whatever an author puts between the two covers of his book is public property; whatever of himself he does not put there is his private property, as much as if he had never written a word. ~Gail Hamilton
With scraps of paper, scribbled o'er,
Strew'd are the table, desk, and floor,
And one else vacant chair.
Its master in the other sits;
Ransacks his memory, racks his wits,
For simile, or rhyme;
Now writes a line, now rubs it out;
Now o'er another hangs in doubt;
Nor heeds, nor thinks of time....
'Tis past the noon of night, and yet
He seems, while writing, to forget
The silent lapse of hours;
And that a tenement of clay,
Prone to derangement and decay,
Contains his mental powers.
But he is happy, for the time,
Thus bodying forth in simple rhyme...
~Bernard Barton, "Stanzas on the Approach of Winter" (from stanzas XIV, XV, XVII, and XVIII), Napoleon and Other Poems, 1822 [Barton (1784–1849) was known as The Quaker Poet.
Words were the only net to catch a mood, the only sure weapon against oblivion. ~Jan Struther, Mrs. Miniver, 1930s
It's the professional deformation of many writers, and has ruined not a few. (I remember Kingsley Amis, himself no slouch, saying that he could tell on what page of the novel Paul Scott had reached for the bottle and thrown caution to the winds.) ~Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: Some Confessions and Contradictions, 2010, about alcohol
Love letters and poems aren't the least bit difficult to write, if you write directly from your heart into the ink and don't channel through your brain first. ~Terri Guillemets
Some books come to you.... They are bonuses, gifts. You do not have to kill some little part of your flesh to dredge them up. This is a fatal shade mystical, but it is almost as if you are serving as agent for a book which wants to get itself written. So the author never knows what to think of such books when he is done. His real fondness — since writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing — is more for those books he delivered out of his own flesh, torn and deadened by the process, but able at least to use all art and craft, all accumulated lore. ~Norman Mailer, "Mr. Mailer Interviews Himself," in The New York Times Book Review, 1967 September 17th
Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought? ~Joan Didion
I could give you a number of examples to show how widespread has been this practice of mutual pilfering among the authors of our old literature.... by transferring something of theirs to his own immortal work he [Virgil] has ensured that the memory of these old writers—whom, as the tastes of today show, we are already beginning to deride as well as to neglect—should not wholly perish. ~Macrobius, Saturnalia
I write because I'm afraid to say some things out loud. ~Gordon Atkinson, reallivepreacher.com
I'm a singer-songwriter.... If I'm not doing it, I'm like a flower without water. When I'm doing it, I'm a sunflower six feet tall.... Writing songs is like free therapy. Instead of paying a guy 125 bucks an hour to pull stuff out of me, I pull it out of myself and put it on paper. And then I own it, but it doesn't own me. ~Rob from Tucson, Arizona, Intervention, season 8, episode 4, original airdate 2009 December 21st
Journal: fitting your heart and soul into ruled lines. ~Terri Guillemets, "Inside the lines, outside the box," 1998
A journal is a journey — our own personal passages of self. ~Terri Guillemets, "Voyages," 1993
[G]usto thrives on freedom, and freedom in art, as in life, is the result of a discipline imposed by ourselves. Moreover, any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others. ~Marianne Moore (1887–1972), lecture, 1948
Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially. ~A. Bronson Alcott
The artist's only responsibility is his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one.... If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: The "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies. ~William Faulkner, quoted in M. Cowley, Writers at Work, 1958
A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947
The reason why many people are so fond of using superlatives, is, they are so positive that the poor positive is not half positive enough for them. ~Augustus William Hare and Julius Charles Hare, Guesses at Truth, by Two Brothers, 1827
A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay
[A] great writer creates his precursors. ~Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952, translated from Spanish
The only cure for writer's block is insomnia. ~Terri Guillemets
Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. ~Colette, Casual Chance, 1964
Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted. ~Jules Renard, Journal, 1895 April 10th
The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. ~Ray Bradbury
Being an author is having angels whisper in your ear — and devils, too. ~Terri Guillemets
Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all. ~Franklin P. Adams, Half a Loaf, 1927
You could compile the worst book in the world entirely out of selected passages from the best writers in the world. ~G.K. Chesterton
Interviewer: You are suffering from pre-publication schizophrenia with accompanying megalomania on the manic side of the moon.
Mailer: Not the first author to be so afflicted.
~Norman Mailer, "Mr. Mailer Interviews Himself," in The New York Times Book Review, 1967 September 17th
I start with the idea of constructing a treehouse and end with a skyscraper made of wood. ~Norman Mailer
It is possible to regard Norman Mailer as one of the prices we pay for widespread literacy. ~Richard Gilman, "Why Mailer Wants to be President," in The New Republic, 1964 February 8th
The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. ~André Gide, Journals, 1894
Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death — fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant. ~Edna Ferber, A Kind of Magic, 1963
Each book written hardens the author a little more. The best are concrete — but cracked, with a flower growing through. ~Terri Guillemets
The writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratification, is a curious anticlimax. ~Alfred Kazin, Think, February 1963
i never think at all when i write
nobody can do two things at the same time
and do them both well
~Don Marquis, archys life of mehitabel, 1933
A typical Mailer bon mot: an impeccable thought and an elegant formulation, preceded by seven words of needless mush. ~Jim Lewis, "The Pugilist at Rest: Norman Mailer's Performance Comes to a Close," 2007 November 12th [And not just Mailer!
Our passions shape our books; repose writes them in the intervals. ~Proust, The Past Recaptured, 1927
Read over your compositions, and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. ~Samuel Johnson, "Recalling the Advice of a College Tutor," Boswell, Life of Johnson, 1791
I am tempted to call this section Economics, for it concerns the loss and gain (economically, psychically, physically) of living as a writer. Let's settle, however, for a term that may be closer to the everyday reality: Lit Biz. Spend your working life as a writer and depend on it—your income, your spirit, and your liver are all on close terms with Lit Biz. ~Norman Mailer, "Lit Biz," The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, 2003
An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate. ~François-René de Chateaubriand, Le Génie du Christianisme, 1802
If I'm trying to sleep, the ideas won't stop. If I'm trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Terri Guillemets
Why write: It's the only place in my head that's quiet enough to breathe and loud enough to break things.... Waking up at 2am to vomit up poetry and then going back to sleep.... A writer is the closest thing to a human thunderstorm. ~Author Unknown [obel.xo, is it you?
My trouble is insomnia. If I had always slept properly, I'd never have written a line. ~Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894–1961), Death on the Installment Plan, 1936, translated from French by Ralph Manheim, 1966 [This title — Mort à crédit — has also been published in English as "Death on Credit."
The universe will do the writing for you, if you just listen close enough. ~Terri Guillemets
The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone's neurosis, and we'd have a mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a bunch of happy chuckleheads. ~William Styron, interview, Writers at Work, 1958
There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as do exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft. ~Jessamyn West, Saturday Review, 1957 September 21st
Writers are just people who have a whole lot on the inside that they need to get to the outside, with pen and paper as their preferred method of transport. Same with dancers, artists, and singers — all the same urges with differing transportation. ~Terri Guillemets
I write with great difficulty.... Don't like to write, but like having written. Hate the effort of driving pen from line to line, work only three hours a day, but work every day. ~Frank Norris [Thanks, Garson O'Toole, Quote Investigator!
Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. ~George Orwell, "Why I Write," 1947 (Thanks, Jennifer)
One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper pattern at the right moment. ~Hart Crane
He that uses many words for the explaining any subject doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink. ~John Ray
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. ~G.K. Chesterton
The idea could even be advanced that style comes to young authors about the time they recognize that life is out there ready to kill them, kill them quickly or slowly, but something out there is not fooling. It would explain why authors who were ill in their childhood almost always arrive early in their career as developed stylists: Proust, Capote, and Alberto Moravia give three examples. Gide offers another. This notion would certainly account for the early and complete development of Hemingway's style. He had the unmistakable sensation of being wounded so near to death that he felt his soul slide out of him, then slip back. The average young author is not that ill in childhood or that harshly used by early life. ~Norman Mailer, preface to 1976 reissue of Advertisements for Myself
But he, sad-eyed and ashy-cheeked,
When slips the pen from grasping,
Sees, as he struggles, gasping,
With fame the far horizon streaked
Behind Death's raven gory-beaked.
~J.J. Britton, "A Bookworm"
Novelists... fashioning nets to sustain and support the reader as he falls helplessly through the chaos of his own existence. ~Fay Weldon
Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. ~Rainer Maria Rilke
Books want to be born: I never make them. They come to me and insist on being written, and on being such and such. ~Samuel Butler
Poetry wrapped around my heart
like a cozy blanket
Quills in my brain
ink running through
gray matter rivulets
Dead authors ghosting
through my soul...
It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous. ~Robert Benchley
No man should ever publish a book until he has first read it to a woman. ~Van Wyck Brooks
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof [$h¡t] detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it. ~Ernest Hemingway, interview in Paris Review, Spring 1958
I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of [$h¡t]. I try to put the [$h¡t] in the wastebasket. ~Ernest Hemingway
The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new. ~Samuel Johnson
For, to speak my private Opinion, I am for every Man's working upon his own Materials, and producing only what he can find within himself, which is commonly a better Stock than the Owner knows it to be. I think Flowers of Wit ought to spring, as those in a Garden do, from their own Root and Stem, without Foreign Assistance. I would have a Man's Wit rather like a Fountain, that feeds it self invisibly, than a River, that is supply'd by several Streams from abroad.
Or if it be necessary, as the Case is with some barren Wits, to take in the Thoughts of others, in order to draw forth their own, as dry Pumps will not play till Water is thrown into them; in that Necessity, I would recommend some of the approv'd Standard-Authors of Antiquity for your Perusal, as a Poet and a Wit; because Maggots being what you look for, as Monkeys do for Vermin in their Keepers Heads, you will find they abound in good old Authors, as in rich old Cheese, not in the new; and for that Reason you must have the Classicks, especially the most Worm-eaten of them, often in your Hands.
But with this Caution, that you are not to use those Ancients as unlucky Lads do their old Fathers, and make no Conscience of picking their Pockets and pillaging them. Your Business is not to steal from them, but to improve upon them, and make their Sentiments your own; which is an Effect of the great Judgment; and tho difficult, yet very possible, without the scurvy Imputation of Filching: For I humbly conceive, tho' I light my Candle at my Neighbour's Fire, that does not alter the Property, or make the Wyck, the Wax, or the Flame, or the whole Candle, less my own.
Possibly you may think it a very severe Task, to arrive at a competent Knowledge of so many of the Ancients, as excel in their Way; and indeed it would be really so, but for the short and easie Method lately found out of Abstracts, Abridgments, Summaries, &c. which are admirable Expedients for being very learned with little or no Reading; and have the same Use with Burning-Glasses, to collect the diffus'd Rays of Wit and Learning in Authors, and make them point with Warmth and Quickness upon the Reader's Imagination. And to this is nearly related that other modern Device of consulting Indexes, which is to read Books Hebraically, and begin where others usually end; and this is a compendious Way of coming to an Acquaintance with Authors: For Authors are to be used like Lobsters, you must look for the best Meat in the Tails, and lay the Bodies back again in the Dish....
~Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet: Together With a Proposal for the Encouragement of Poetry in this Kingdom," 1721
The best style is the style you don't notice. ~Somerset Maugham
There are thousands of thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up the pen and writes. ~William Makepeace Thackeray
I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head. ~John Updike
I'm not a writer. Ernest Hemingway was a writer. I just have a vivid imagination and type 90 WPM. ~Tiffany Madison
When I state myself, as the representative of the verse, it does not mean me, but a supposed person. ~Emily Dickinson
Authorship is exhibitionism, and readers a species of voyeur. ~Terri Guillemets
Drama, instead of telling us the whole of a man's life, must place him in such a situation, tie such a knot, that when it is untied, the whole man is visible. ~Leo Tolstoy
The majority of writers ought to translate themselves; there are but few thoughts that are born translated, that is, clothed with the power best fitted alike to express and transmit them. What we have in the first instance written for ourselves, should be written a second time for others. ~Alexandre Vinet (1797–1847), Literature. First Section: Literature in General. Chapter III.—Literary Precepts. II. Literary Precepts— 3. Literary Precepts and Miscellaneous Observations—Rage for Reading, Outlines of Philosophy and Literature, edited by Jean Frédéric Astié, 1865
Booze, pot, too much sex, failure in one's private life, too much attrition, too much recognition, too little recognition. Nearly everything in the scheme of things works to dull a first-rate talent. But the worst probably is cowardice. ~Norman Mailer [Answer to the question what can ruin a first-rate writer
Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I would always be that same maddening, monstrous mixture of pedantry, egoism, politeness, selfishness, kindliness, sneakiness, larkiness, sociability, loneliness, ambition, ordered calm and hidden intensity. I would cover my life with words. I would spray the whole bloody world with words. ~Stephen Fry (b.1957), Moab is my Washpot #INFJ
A catless writer is almost inconceivable; even Ernest Hemingway, manly follower of the hunting trophy and the bullfight, lived waist-deep in cats. It's a perverse taste, really, since it would be easier to write with a herd of buffalo in the room than even one cat; they make nests in the notes and bite the end of the pen and walk on the typewriter keys. ~Barbara Holland (1933–2010), The Name of the Cat, 1988
The book's idea or theme or meaning has been stirring about in your consciousness for months and probably years. When the idea first hits you you feel enormously stimulated and heightened. Then you wish you could get away from it, but now nothing but death can separate you from it. It's no use.... Now everything else in your life takes second place or fades out of your consciousness altogether. Clothes are unimportant, letters go unanswered for days or even weeks, parties you regard with a lackluster eye, travel is a lure to be avoided like death, for it is ruin to the sustained rhythm of your work day. Teeth go unfilled, bodily ills run unchecked, your idea of bliss is to wake up on Monday morning knowing that you haven't a single engagement for the entire week. You are cradled in a white paper cocoon tied up with typewriter ribbon. Awake and asleep the novel is with you, haunting you, dogging your footsteps. Strange formless bits of material float out from the ether about you and attach themselves to the main body of your story as though they had hung suspended in air for years, waiting. ~Edna Ferber (1885–1968), A Peculiar Treasure, 1939
We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true. ~Robert Wilensky, 1996
I heard someone tried the monkeys-on-typewriters bit trying for the plays of William Shakespeare, but all they got was the collected works of Francis Bacon. ~Bill Hoest (1926–1988)
I heard that if you locked William Shakespeare in a room with a typewriter for long enough he'd eventually write all the songs by the Monkees. ~Author unknown
Related Quotations: Brevity, Poetry, Grammar, Language, Imagination, Daydreaming, Art, Typewriters, Fonts, Quotations, Books, Libraries, Literature