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Quotations about Writing


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In literature, when nine hundred and ninety-nine souls ignore you, but the thousandth buys your work, or at least borrows it — that is called enormous popularity. ~Arnold Bennett (1867–1931)


Writing to me is an advanced and slow form of reading. If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison, quoted in Ellen Brown, "Writing Is Third Career For Morrison," The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1981 September 27th


Never use the word, 'very.' It is the weakest word in the English language; doesn't mean anything. If you feel the urge of 'very' coming on, just write the word, 'damn,' in the place of 'very.' The editor will strike out the word, 'damn,' and you will have a good sentence. ~William Allen White (quoteinvestigator.com)


The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say. ~Mark Twain


Write to me frequently & the longest Letters possible; never mind whether you have facts or no to communicate; fill your paper with the breathings of your heart... ~William Wordsworth, letter to wife Mary, 1812


Literature is the art of using words. This is not a platitude, but a truth of the first importance, a truth so profound that many writers never get down to it... ~Arnold Bennett (1867–1931), How to Become an Author: A Practical Guide, 1903


A metaphor is like a simile. ~Author unknown


The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. ~Mark Twain, letter to George Bainton, 1888  ["Don't mistake vivacity for wit, thare iz about az mutch difference az there iz between lightning and a lightning bug." ~Josh Billings' Farmer's Allminax for January 1871 —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~Author unknown


Writing is my time machine, takes me to the precise time and place I belong. ~Jeb Dickerson, @JebDickerson


Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them! ~Nathaniel Hawthorne


We write to remember our nows later. ~Terri Guillemets


A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960


Some critics are like chimney-sweepers; they put out the fire below, and frighten the swallows from their nests above; they scrape a long time in the chimney, cover themselves with soot, and bring nothing away but a bag of cinders, and then sing from the top of the house as if they had built it. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), "Drift Wood, A Collection of Essays: Table-Talk," Prose Works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1857


Writing is a solitary and rather self-absorbed way to occupy vast tracts of time, but it can be immensely rewarding. ~Cliff McNish, 2012, www.CliffMcNish.com


The formula of George Bernard Shaw: to put the obvious in terms of the scandalous. ~H. L. Mencken, A Little Book in C Major, 1916


[I]n the hands of a master of music, the words and the air have been specially adapted, and when sung together make the most delightful music one could wish to hear. In this species of prose-melody [Alexander] Smith excels. ~"Books, Catalogues, &c." (review of Smith's Dreamthorp), The Gardener's Monthly, April 1864


The pen sometimes builds a more enduring monument than can the hammer or chisel. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


A man may speak with his tongue and only be heard around the corner; but another man may speak with his pen and be heard around the globe. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897


The influence of the platform is much more potent than that of the pen. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


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


Is a stolen copyright a copywrong? ~Anonymous


Author:  a dancer of typewriter keys. ~Terri Guillemets


[T]he author who has not made warm friends and then lost them in an hour by writing things that did not agree with the preconceived ideas of these friends, has either not written well or not been read. ~Elbert Hubbard, "Harriet Martineau," Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous Women, 1897


[W]riting is a product of silence and solitude. ~Comparison, Graduate School of Comparative Literature, University of Warwick, 1979


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." —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


As a writer, I have mistaken how to use words. I write too much. I write like some people talk to fill silence. When I write, I am trying through the movement of my fingers to reach my head. I'm trying to build a word ladder up to my brain. Eventually these words help me come to an idea, and then I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite what I'd already written (when I had no idea what I was writing about) until the path of thinking, in retrospect, feels immediate. ~Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock: A Diary, 2015


Let your pen faithfully reflect the glint of light from your soul. ~Terri Guillemets


The pen wherewith thou dost so heavenly sing
Made of a quill from an angel's wing.
~Henry Constable (1562–1613)


[P]oets' Pens, pluckt from Archangels' wings... ~John Davies of Hereford (c.1565–1618)


...The feather, whence the pen
Was shaped...
Dropped from an Angel's wing...
~William Wordsworth (1770–1850), "Ecclesiastical Sketches: Walton's Book of Lives"


If often seems as if inspired minds had penned their words of wisdom and beauty with quills plucked from the wings of angels. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


Goosequill.— A little tube which, in the hands of modern dramatists, seems to have the power of reproducing its parental hisses. ~"Specimens of a Patent Pocket Dictionary, For the use of those who wish to understand the meaning of things as well as words," The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1824


Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline. ~Gowan McGland (character written by Peter De Vries), Reuben, Reuben, 1964 [According to Greek historian Herodotus, ancient Persians would deliberate while drunk then re-evaluate while sober. And vice versa. In vino veritas! "Write drunk; edit sober" trace-down credit: quoteinvestigator.com –tg]


Any real writer — or reader — has had a papercut on the forehead at least once. ~Terri Guillemets


It is a pity that we cannot examine an author's literary entrails, so as to see on what wisdom he has been feeding. ~Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799), translated by Norman Alliston, 1908


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


Dear little children of my pen,
      The editors too often spank you,
      And send you flying home again
      With little notes that say, "No, thank you."
They never seem to comprehend
      How much of love it took to rear you...
However that may be, my dears,
      Though in a darkened desk he shoves you,
      Just go to sleep and dry your tears—
      Remember that your daddy loves you.
~James P. Haverson (1880–1954), "Pen Prodigals," Sour Sonnets of a Sorehead & Other Songs of the Street, 1908


If Mr. Carnegie really wants to die poor he might pay all the postage on returned manuscripts. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1904, George Horace Lorimer, editor


A writer is successful not because he writes paragraphs but because he writes emotions. ~Terri Guillemets, "Conduit," 2007


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
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
As poets do.
~Edward Thomas (1878-1917), "Words"


Pen.— The silent mouthpiece of the mind, which gives ubiquity and immortality to the evanescent thought of a moment. ~"Specimens of a Patent Pocket Dictionary, For the use of those who wish to understand the meaning of things as well as words," The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, 1824‑5


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


Your writing chamber isn't the office or the study — it's your heart. ~Terri Guillemets


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


The traditional sacrifices of a writer are soul and sleep. ~Terri Guillemets


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


Get a pen that makes a sensuous line, get a comfortable typewriter, a friendly word processor — whichever feels easy to the hand. ~Garrison Keillor, "How to write a personal letter," 1987, from Power of the Printed Word advertising campaign by Billings S. Fuess, Jr. at Ogilvy & Mather for International Paper Company


Never use a figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut out a word, cut it out. Never use the passive where you can use the active. Never use a foreign phrase, scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. ~George Orwell, 1946, "Politics and the English Language"  [a little altered —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


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"


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


Lists are the butterfly nets that catch my fleeting thoughts... ~Betsy Cañas Garmon, betsygarmon.com  [And a resounding INFJ-hallelujah! —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


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 (quoteinvestigator.com)


Some writers collect their disjointed ideas from all authors within their reach, just as the paper they write on is made from the tattered rags of all the stuff on earth. ~George Denison Prentice, Prenticeana; Or, Wit and Humor in Paragraphs, 1859


As to the Adjective: When in doubt, strike it out. ~Mark Twain


Writing is both a sacrificing and a saving of soul. ~Terri Guillemets


I just 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, 1963 interview with Steven Marcus, in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, Third Series, 1967, edited by George Plimpton


...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 —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


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)


Winter is best for writing, when I'm held willing captive by howling snowstorms, with nothing to lure or distract from the typewriter. ~Ethel Pochocki (1925–2010), quoted in Something about the Author, Volume 76, edited by Diane Telgen, 1994   [a little altered —tg]


Other than actually putting pen to paper, I can't think of another more important duty of the writer than to stare wistfully out a window. ~Terri Guillemets


A well-disposed research librarian is a writer's best friend, as essential as ink. ~Barbara Rogan, Suspicion, 1999


The words of the world want to make sentences. ~Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie, 1960


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. ~Joseph Kita, "What I Know" (Heaven on Earth), Wisdom of Our Fathers, 1999


Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don't know what comes next in the story… clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come. ~Chuck Palahniuk, "13 Writing Tips," 2006


Writers are just people who have a whole lot on the inside that they need to get to the outside, with pen and paper their preferred method of transport. Same with dancers, artists, and singers — all the same urges with differing transportation. ~Terri Guillemets


I write at midnight because I am dark. Angela writes by day because she is almost always happy light. ~Clarice Lispector (1920–1977), A Breath of Life: Pulsations, written 1974–1977, published posthumously 1978, edited by Olga Borelli and Benjamin Moser, translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz, 2012  [Author —tg]


Strictly speaking, we have only layers of novels and comedies; few are grown from the seed. ~Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799), translated by Norman Alliston, 1908


How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live! ~Henry David Thoreau, journal, 1851 August 19th


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


...a writer is, by trade, a talkative fellow on paper and appreciates an audience. ~Hal Borland


I take joy in what I do. I have a wonderful relationship with my waking self every morning and that hour around 7:30 when your brain is not connected to your ears, when it's floating around inside your head full of metaphors. I lie in bed and I watch the metaphors collect and drift and when they reach a certain point of collision, I jump out of bed and get them down before they go away. ~Ray Bradbury, National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters acceptance speech, 2000 November 15th


[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"


Writing is easy. You just sit down and focus — but not too hard. ~Terri Guillemets


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


An author plants the alphabet — and harvests flowers, nourishment, and weeds. ~Terri Guillemets


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


PEN
      An author's means of livelihood.
PENNIES
      His reward.
PENURY
      His finish.
~Charles Wayland Towne, The Altogether New Foolish Dictionary, by Gideon Wurdz, 1914


I have given up writing and married a farmer.... He has to hire "a help," and do the chores himself, while I, sure of food and shelter for the first time in my life, sit by the fire, and think. ~Malheureuse, "Four For a Cent," in The Overland Monthly, January 1893  ["On the whole, it is all rubbish your going to a farm. The soul is more than flesh, etc. You had better much come up to London." ~Ezra Pound, letter to Iris Barry, 1916 September 22nd —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


      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


Writer's block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite. ~Terri Guillemets


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


Pen and ink is wit's plough. ~Proverbs, ed. John Ray, 1737


      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 palely-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! —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


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


I took my paper and ink into the garden, looking up to God for assistance, and wrote freely for two hours. I find all the difference in writing out of doors, with quiet and pleasing objects before my eyes, and within, where I can do nothing without closing my eyes upon the things before me. ~Henry Martyn (1781–1812), journal, 1804 May 4th


writing is knitting
colors and stories
a map of soul
and glint of madness
~Terri Guillemets, "Ink knitting," 2019, blackout poetry created from Alice Walker, The Temple of My Familiar, 1989, page 178


A nom-de-plume is an affectation and is not calculated to impress an editor favorably. There is no more reason why a writer should sign a fictitious name to his work, than for a painter to do so with his canvases or for John Smith to put the name of Roderick Random over the store where he sells pork and molasses. ~James Knapp Reeve, Practical Authorship, 1910


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" —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


I have just finished reading Conrad's old novel, Romance. Marvelous thing, to me. I read it breathless and laid it down with cold hands and a fluttering heart... It takes robustness to write a novel like that. Conrad must write at a pitch of feeling that would exhaust an ordinary person completely. ~Dorothy Thompson, letter to Rose Wilder Lane, 1921, edited by William V. Holtz


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, © Thomas Paine McLaughlin


When describing people, stay away from hair and eye color, as well as height and weight. Many writers make the mistake of describing their characters like the people in a police blotter. Think, instead, about the way you might describe your friends. Do you know the height and weight of your friends? Do you ever think about their eye color? These features are not as interesting as other, more complex descriptors. Consider your characters' gestures, the shape of their facial features, their gait, their dimples, their scars, the way they laugh, the quality of their teeth, their stance, their fashion sense, their odor, their vocal tone, and so on. ~Abby Geni, "Description," 2016


The brain that bubbles with phrases has hard work to collect its thoughts. ~Henry Stanley Haskins, "Thought," Meditations in Wall Street, 1940


Some writers have beautiful poetry inside that explodes from the pen into prose. Others hold their inner prose until it implodes to poetry. ~Terri Guillemets


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


Boswell was the father of all Press Agents. ~"Poor Richard Junior's Philosophy," The Saturday Evening Post, 1903, George Horace Lorimer, editor


The printing press is the mother of errors. ~Italian proverb


Those who have had experience with type are aware of its satanic persistence towards error. ~Author unknown


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" —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


An author, behind his words, is naked. ~Terri Guillemets


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


I sometimes get up at night when I can't sleep and walk down into my library and open one of my books and read a paragraph and say My God, did I write that? ~Ray Bradbury, National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters acceptance speech, 2000 November 15th


When at times I come across a good idea of mine in one of my old notebooks, I am astonished how foreign it has become to me and my system, and am as delighted with it as if it were the thought of one of my predecessors. ~Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799), "The Character of a Person of my Acquaintance"  [Lichtenberg's unfinished "autopsychography" (Norman Alliston, 1908). —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


A health to the Knight of the Pencil,
A health to the Lord of the Quill;
A health to the writers of fiction,
A health to the gleaners of fact;
A health to the slaves of the ink-pot,
A health to them all, the disciples of gall!
~James P. Haverson (1880–1954), "Dedicatory: To Newspaper Men — By One of Them," Sour Sonnets of a Sorehead & Other Songs of the Street, 1908  [a little altered —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Reading in bed is a gateway drug to writing in bed. ~Terri Guillemets


I should be very glad if they would send me Books, Paper, Quills, and all Kinds of stationary... ~John Adams, letter to Isaac Smith, Jr., 1771


[K]now ye, know ye, that I would write like Mrs. Browning or George Eliot if I could. Would it not be prettier to write of moonlight and love, to murmur of the sheen of midnight rivers and the matin chant of virginal souls? Would I, think you, gyre and gimble in the wabe of print as I do, could wishes make me a sweet little unspankable cherub, grown moon-cheeked upon a diet of air? ~Malheureuse, "Four For a Cent," in The Overland Monthly, January 1893


Remember to use all five senses... Smell, in particular, can be incredibly evocative when written well. Think about temperature, ambient sounds, the feel of the ground, the taste of the air. ~Abby Geni, "Description," 2016


Some authors write with a grave ink, of a dramatic pen dipped into their dark souls. ~Terri Guillemets


I was once interviewed by Barbara Walters... and while we were off-camera, she seemed very interested in my prolificity and wondered whether I didn't sometimes want to do other things, rather than writing. "No," I said. She said, "What if the doctor gave you six months to live. What would you do?" I said, "Type faster." ~Isaac Asimov, "Prolificity," I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994  ["It happened. He didn't brood. He did try to write faster, but eventually I had to type for him because his hands wouldn't work. Nevertheless, he was a writer to the end." ~Janet Jeppson Asimov, "Compulsive Writing," Notes for a Memoir on Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing, 2006 —tg]


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. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


An author can be just a writer, but a translator must always be a poet. ~Terri Guillemets


Molière — The comic half of Shakespeare. ~Charles Searle, Look Here!, 1885


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


These things sift through our minds, with the years, like sand, and find their way out in ink. ~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


Being an author is having angels whisper in your ear — and devils, too. ~Terri Guillemets


I'm a singer-songwriter... If I'm not writing songs, I'm like a flower without water. When I'm writing songs, I'm a sunflower six feet tall... It 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, 2009  [S8, E4 —tg]


[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


At the point of the pen is the focus of the mind. ~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Sparks from the Philosopher's Stone, 1882


The pen is a tree whose fruit is expression. ~Oriental proverb


The only cure for writer's block is insomnia. ~Terri Guillemets


If I'm trying to sleep, the ideas won't stop. If I'm trying to write, there appears a barren nothingness. ~Terri Guillemets


The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. 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, 1956 interview with Jean Stein, in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, edited by Malcolm Cowley, 1958


When her work was done, she ran away to her books with the greatest possible delight. Even when very young, she would hide away with books, pen, ink, and paper, rather than play with her schoolmates. Her father and mother used to wonder what she did with so much paper; but she was too bashful to show what she wrote. Her mother, therefore, was much surprised, when searching in a dark closet, she found a number of little books, made of writing paper, evidently done by a child. The writing consisted of little verses, written to the pictures she had drawn on the opposite page. She cried when she found her treasures had been discovered, and then they were given to her, she took an early opportunity to burn them secretly; this shows how natural it is for people of good sense to be bashful about their own productions. ~"Lives of Celebrated Children, No. 2," Monthly Repository and Library of Entertaining Knowledge, July 1830, of Lucretia Maria Davidson (1808–1825)


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


WRITING:  A week-long business meeting with a single word. Being on a committee with a thick dictionary, thesaurus, red pen, and cup of strong coffee. Arguing with an obstinate piece of punctuation. Bleary-eyed inkstorms at 3AM, answering the call of duty whenever inspiration strikes. ~Terri Guillemets, "Blotting paper," 2010


I'm writing a book. I have the page numbers done, now I just have to fill in the rest. ~Steven Wright, A Steven Wright Special, 1985, stevenwright.com


I've written several children's books. Not on purpose. ~Steven Wright, A Steven Wright Special, 1985, stevenwright.com


Authorship is exhibitionism, and readers a species of voyeur. ~Terri Guillemets


Let the pen perspire
When the mind's afire.
~James Lendall Basford (1845–1915), Seven Seventy Seven Sensations, 1897


Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted. ~Jules Renard, Journal, 1895 April 10th


Being an author is being in charge of your own personal insane asylum. ~Terri Guillemets


How to find blog post typos:
1. Click publish.
~WritersWrite.co.za


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...
~Terri Guillemets


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


[Walt Whitman] spent many nights drinking at Pfaff's Beer Hall in Manhattan, a popular spot for New York's young bohemians, freethinkers, and sarcastic literati. ~Zachary Turpin, "Introduction to Walt Whitman's 'Manly Health and Training,'" 2016  [Wouldn't that be a fun place to hang out, or at the least, be a fly on the wall‽ —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Author by night,
Editor by sun.
~Terri Guillemets, "Candlelit words," 1992


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! —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


In writing, you either stick with it and keep revising until it's done, no matter how long it takes — or set it aside a few years until you've distanced yourself enough to get it right. The wait is just as excruciating as the work. ~Terri Guillemets


I was admittedly a third-rater, although there were some kind critics who insisted that I was really second rate. ~Gerald Raftery (1905–1986), "The poetry in my past," If I May Say So, The Bennington Banner, 1974 November 4th


Writing helps keep me sane — or at least a pen's length from insane. ~Terri Guillemets


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


The best writers always make poetry, whether it comes out prose or verse. ~Terri Guillemets


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." —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally mortal enemies. ~Terri Guillemets


And when you get an eminent journal like Time magazine complaining, as it often has, that to the young writers of today life seems short on rewards and that what they write is a product of their own neuroses, in its silly way the magazine is merely stating the status quo and obvious truth. 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 with Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton, in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, edited by Malcolm Cowley, 1958


My pen has multiple personalities. ~Terri Guillemets, "Named & maimed," 2000


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  (quoteinvestigator.com)


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"


The universe will do the writing for you, if you just listen closely enough. ~Terri Guillemets


      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


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


Generally speaking, modern writers have lost the conception of drama. 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, quoted in A. B. Goldenveizer, Talks with Tolstoi, translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Virginia Woolf, 1923


Blazing starshine ink bled from her midnight pen and left glittering trails of angel words. ~Terri Guillemets


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


Ink on paper is as beautiful to me as flowers on the mountains — God composes, why shouldn't we? ~Terri Guillemets


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


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


Manuscripts either moulder in your drawer, or mature there. ~Marie Dubsky, Freifrau von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830–1916), translated by Mrs Annis Lee Wister, 1882


If I fall asleep with a pen in my hand, don't remove it — I may be writing in my dreams. ~Terri Guillemets


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



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