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Writers on Writing


"You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write." Annie Proulx

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world." Philip Pullman

"As writers we live life twice, like a cow that eats its food once and then regurgitates it to chew and digest it again. We have a second chance at biting into our experience and examining it. This is our life and it's not going to last forever. There isn't time to talk about someday writing that short story or poem or novel. Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write." Natalie Goldberg

"The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is don't do it unless you're willing to give your whole life to it. Red wine and garlic also helps." Jim Harrison

"There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." W. Somerset Maugham

"For far too long we have been seduced into walking a path that did not lead us to ourselves. For far too long we have said yes when we wanted to say no. And for far too long we have said no when we desperately wanted to say yes. . . . When we don't listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don't, others will abandon us." Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

"Though a living cannot be made from art, art makes life worth living. It makes starving, living." John Sloan, American painter and etcher

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

"I can’t explain inspiration. A writer is either compelled to write or not. And if I waited for inspiration I wouldn’t really be a writer." Toni Morrison

"A word after a word after a word is power." Margaret Atwood

"What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure." Samuel Johnson

"A writer—and, I believe, generally all persons—must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art." Jorge Luis Borges

"My jump isn't high enough, my spins aren't perfect, I can't put my leg behind my ear. Please don't do that. Sometimes there is such an obsession with technique that it can kill your best impulses. Remember that communicating with an art form means being vulnerable, being imperfect. And most of the time it's much more interesting. Believe me." Mikhail Baryshnikov

"Once, in response to my question about what makes a book good, a student of mine shot back: 'It should sparkle!' Whenever I finish writing a book, I lean my ear to the manuscript and listen in panic. Is it bubbly or still? Does it pulsate or is it flat? Warm or cool? A sparkler, or a charred, sputtering little stick?" Dubravka Ugrešić

“Sometimes people ask me what piece of advice I would give to an aspiring author. I'd tell them that you should only become a writer if the possibility of not becoming one would kill you. Otherwise, you'd be better off doing something else. I became a writer, a teller of tales, because otherwise I would have died, or worse.” Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“All good books have one thing in common—they are truer than if they had really happened.” Ernest Hemingway

"All the stories I would like to write persecute me when I am in my chamber. It seems as if they are all around me, the little devils, and while one tugs at my ear, another tweaks my nose, and each says to me, ‘Sir, write me, I am beautiful’." Umberto Eco

"Art does not have to solve problems. It just has to formulate them correctly." Anton Chekhov

"I think that your [writing toolbox] should have at least four [levels] . . . Common tools go on top. The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary . . . You'll also want grammar on the top shelf of your toolbox . . . On the layer beneath go . . . elements of style, but as we move along, you'd do well to remember that we are also talking about magic." Stephen King

'“The sun rose like a uniformed officer in full salute, beckoning me to face the day with equal vigor.” Yes, many authors are entitled to write like this, and do a splendid job at it. I commend them. It’s not me, though. I tried to make it me, but failed. I’d probably write it like this: “Ah, cripes. The sun’s up. Shoot it or me. You decide.”' John Steinbeck

"In a plain statement, you can bury emotion." Colm Tóibín

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Pablo Picasso

"Remember: plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations." Ray Bradbury

"Donald Barthelme has this great essay called 'Not Knowing', where he says that your job as a fiction writer is to keep yourself confused for as long as you can. And the text will actually have an energy that will start talking to you. If you can keep your own designs a little quiet." George Saunders

"Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness." Allen Ginsberg

"Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved." Gabriel García Márquez

“You cannot teach creativity—how to become a good writer. But you can help a young writer discover within himself what kind of writer he would like to be.” Mario Vargas Llosa

"Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you, life is where things aren't." Julian Barnes

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over." Ernest Hemingway

"When you're writing, there's a deep, deep level of concentration way below your normal self. This strange voice, these strange sentences come out of you. When I was young, I thought I was in control of everything. Now I realise it's much more a process of dreaming." John Banville

"One ought only to write when one leaves a piece of one's flesh in the inkpot, each time one dips one's pen."

Leo Tolstoy

“The world is so complicated, tangled, and overloaded that to see into it with any clarity you must prune and prune.” Italo Calvino

"The completion of a work is to care about the responses you will get to it. The thought of saying, Okay, now this is going to be released and be free from me. I'm not going to be there to make excuses for it any longer. That's when I really start to think about it and work on it. The thought of finishing something is the thought of how it will connect with the rest of the world." Brian Eno

"Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot." D H Lawrence

"Style is the sum of all your defects." Alan Bennett

"One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." Ray Bradbury

"The most beautiful stories always start with wreckage." Jack London

"All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them." Isak Dinesen

“Hemingway described literary New York as a bottle full of tapeworms trying to feed on each other. When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, have them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano’s, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf.” John Updike

"A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction." William Faulkner

"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." Ray Bradbury

"[William Trevor] is a writer, writing like a sculptor, in that he creates a mass of material and then happily, passionately, brilliantly takes away, takes away, swirl of sentence by swirl of sentence." Sebastian Barry

"One's religion is whatever one is most interested in." J M Barrie

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Jorge Luis Borges

“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” G K Chesterton

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.” Henry David Thoreau

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

“The subject of drama is The Truth. At the end of the drama THE TRUTH—which has been overlooked, disregarded, scorned, and denied—prevails. And that is how we know the drama is done.” David Mamet

“There is more power in telling little than in telling all.” Mark Rothko

"Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide." Roddy Doyle

“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about.” Auguste Rodin

“I am not a historian. I happen to think that the content of my mother's life—her myths, her superstitions, her prayers, the contents of her pantry, the smell of her kitchen, the song that escaped from her sometimes parched lips, her thoughtful repose and pregnant laughter—are all worthy of art.” August Wilson

“The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It's not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.” Augusten Burroughs

“Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway. Thinking in terms of ideas destroys the power to think in terms of emotions and sensations.” Raymond Chandler

“When you have a great and difficult task, something perhaps almost impossible, if you only work a little at a time, every day a little, suddenly the work will finish itself.” Isak Dinesen

“The human being is a most curious creature. He thinks he has got one soul, and he has got dozens.” D H Lawrence

“In art, economy is always beauty.” Henry James

"The only way you would prove a person has talent is if he could revise." Robert Lowell

“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” Henry David Thoreau

“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” John le Carre

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Writing is the flip side of sex – it's good only when it's over." Hunter S Thompson

"To me, a short story is like an arrow." Isabel Allende

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." Oscar Wilde

"Every word written is a victory against death." Michel Butor

"Write as much as you can! Write, write, write till your fingers break!" Anton Chekhov

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

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer." Barbara Kingsolver

“Every writer knows he is spurious; every fiction writer would rather be credible than authentic.” John Le Carre

“One of the greatest and simplest tools for learning more and growing is doing more.” Washington Irving

"Don't say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream." Mark Twain

"It is the story that owns and directs us. It is the thing that makes us different from cattle; it is the mark on the face that sets one people apart from their neighbors." Chinua Achebe

"Never play cards with any man named Doc. Never eat at any place called Mom’s. And never, never, sleep with anyone whose troubles are worse than your own." Nelson Algren

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." John Steinbeck

“Begin over again, and concentrate.” Gertrude Stein on reading Ernest Hemingway’s novel-in-progress

"Being a writer is really all about discipline. It’s about sitting at the keyboard every morning and not leaving until you’ve done what you sat down to do. Without that, all the inspiration in the world is worth nothing." Neil Cross

"If I see an ending, I can work backward." Arthur Miller

"Literature has been the salvation of the damned, literature has inspired and guided lovers, routed despair and can perhaps in this case save the world." John Cheever

"The mission of life is to live [your] potentiality. How do you do it? My answer is, 'Follow your bliss.' There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam, And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss." Joseph Campbell

“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.” Robert Louis Stevenson

“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

"The miracle is not to fly in the air or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth." Chinese saying

"My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way." Ernest Hemingway

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." Carl Jung

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance." Japanese proverb

“Work is love made visible.” Kahlil Gibran

"The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it." William James

"It really is appallingly difficult to do something which is complete in every respect, and I think most people are content with mere approximations. But I intend to battle on, scrape off and start again. I would love to paint the way a bird sings." Claude Monet

"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." Mark Twain

"The ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding." Francis Bacon

“There is no such thing as repetition … Human beings cannot repeat. Every time you do something, you’re in another state of mind. By the end of the piece, when something is repeated, you’ve gone on another journey – your eyes are different, your hand is different. It’s almost like what happens in life. Falling in love at 16 is different to when you’re older. You never repeat yourself, ever." Julie Shanahan

"When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc, etc, stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs, I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat." Henry David Thoreau

"There is nothing worth more than this day.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away. It's a nice feeling, and you don't want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need." Helen Dunmore

"It's none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way." Ernest Hemingway

"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

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." Robert Frost

"Writing a poem is like having an affair, a one-night stand; a short story is a romance, a relationship; a novel is a marriage—one has to be cunning, devise compromises, and make sacrifices." Amos Oz

“A play produces ideas; ideas do not produce a play.” Sam Shepherd

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.” G K Chesterton

"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English—it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." Mark Twain

"They are more powerful more imposing more pretentious than a comma, but they are a comma all the same. They really have within them deeply within them fundamentally within them the comma nature." Gertrude Stein

“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it—don't cheat with it.” Ernest Hemingway

"Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created . . . language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation." Toni Morrison

"Why say 'very beautiful'? 'Beautiful' is enough.' James Joyce

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." H G Wells

"I'm astounded by people who take eighteen years to write something. That's how long it took that guy to write Madame Bovary, and was that ever on the best-seller list?" Sylvester Stallone

"Books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are." John Milton

"A circus passed the house. Still I feel the red in my mind." Emily Dickinson

“The figure of a labourer—some furrows in a ploughed field—a bit of sand, sea and sky—are serious subjects, so difficult but at the same time so beautiful, that it is indeed worthwhile to devote one’s life to the task of expressing the poetry hidden in them.” Vincent van Gogh

"If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly eough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them." Ernest Hemingway

"The older I become the more I realize of that I have to work very hard to reproduce what I search: the instantaneous. The influence of the atmosphere on the things and the light scattered throughout." Claude Monet

"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.” Jalal ad-Din Rumi

"All art is a vision penetrating the illusions of reality." Ansell Adams

"There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth." Richard Avedon

“If you keep on doing newspaper work, you will never see things, you will only see words and that will not do, that is of course, if you intend to be a writer.” Gertrude Stein to the young Ernest Hemingway

"This earth that we live on is full of stories in the same way that, for a fish, the ocean is full of ocean. Some people say when we are born we’re born into stories. I say we’re also born from stories." Ben Okri

"There is a mystery and a suprise and after that a great deal of hard work." Elizabeth Bishop

"If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, they wouldn’t believe it." Michelangelo Buonarroti

"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come." Chinese proverb

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." Ernest Hemingway

“Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words, or he will certainly misunderstand them.” John Ruskin

"I can't write without a reader. It's precisely like a kiss - you can't do it alone." John Cheever

"Your life is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it." Gautama Buddha

“I have made this letter longer only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal

"Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.” Raymond Chandler

“All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” Ernest Hemingway

"If I have any justification for having lived it's simply, I'm nothing but faults, failures and so on, but I have tried to make a good pair of shoes. There's some value in that." Arthur Miller

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Truman Capote

"If I knew where poems came from, I'd go there." Michael Longley

"Life is only given us once, and one wants to live it boldly, with full consciousness and beauty." Anton Chekhov

"You know that fiction, prose rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it." Ernest Hemingway

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." James Joyce

"Elephants feel the fatal footfalls of poachers a hundred miles off. Cats exit the room when oysters are opened. On and on, and on and on. The unseen exists and has properties." Richard Ford

"All things are difficult before they are easy." Thomas Fuller

"It is only the story . . . that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind. Does the blind man own his escort? No, neither do we own the story; rather, it is the story that owns us." Chinua Achebe

"That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way." Ernest Hemingway

"Where there is no vision, people perish." Proverbs 29:18

"This race and this country and this life produced me . . . I shall express myself as I am." James Joyce

'The answers could be found . . . we could learn from diggin' down." Jack Johnson, musician

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, the really great make you feet that you, too, can become great." Mark Twain

"If your daily life seems poor, don't blame it, blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches." Rainer Maria Rilke

"I weill tell you something about stories. They aren't just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don't have anything if you don't have stories." Leslie Marmon Silko

"You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen." Joseph Campbell

"There are only two ways to live your life. One as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein

"Art is not what you see, but what you make others see." Edgar Degas

"The writer is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures for the purpose of improvement . . . Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat, and for courage, compassion and love." John Steinbeck in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech 

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Were I to await perfection, my book would never be finished.” Chinese proverb

"The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"And if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it's as though I've neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible." Richard Avedon

"Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there would be no concept of humanity." Herman Hesse

"A book is like a mirror; if an ass peers into it, you can’t expect an apostle to look out." C G Lichtenberg

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

"The end of our exploring will be to arrive at where we started, and to know the place for the first time." T S Eliot

"It is the story that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence." Chinua Achebe

"Only bad writers think that their work is really good." Anne Enright

"Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how he feels about dogs." Christopher Hampton

"I write one page of a master-piece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Ernest Hemingway to F Scott Fitzgerald

"You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water." Rabindranath Tagore

"For me, writing something down was the only road out." Anne Tyler

"To be a person is to have a story to tell." Isak Dinesen

"That what we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself has changed, but that our power to do it is increased." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The harder I try, the luckier I get." Dizzy Gillespie

"Never mistake motion for action." Ernest Hemingway

"I must impress upon myself that I know nothing at all, for it is the only way to progress." Edgar Degas

"Everything you can imagine is real." Pablo Picasso

"Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up.” Joseph Campbell

"It is never too late to be what you might have been." George Eliot

"The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publishers and the readers can and will come later." Patricia Highsmith

"I am large, I contain multitudes." Walt Whitman

"This is the tale I pray the divine Muse to unfold to us. Begin it, goddess, at whatever point you will." Homer

"My favourite piece of advice [on writing a book] . . . came from the Australian novelist, Elliot Perlman. What would he say to anyone who wanted to write a novel? He paused, then replied firmly, 'Think what you are prepared to sacrifice.' " Louise Doughty

"Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind they can change our world." Gautama Buddha

"Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together." Eugene Ionesco

"The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it." John Ruskin

"You don't need complexity to create complexity." Brian Eno

"Every time I peer into [my 13-volume Oxford English Dictionary], which is several times a day, I think: All the words I'll ever need are here; the only thing I have to do is get them in the right order." Andrew Motion

“All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” F Scott Fitzgerald

“The faintest ink is better than the best memory." Chinese proverb

"The great artists of complexity, such as James and Mann and Proust, are always giving us a great deal -- of themselves, of their intellects, of their prose, of their gathered data. But one way of looking at the simplicity of Chekhov and Verga is to note how much they subtract, how little they give us, how often they invite us to fill their bareness with our own feeling." James Wood

"The only reason for being alive is being fully alive." D H Lawrence

"Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him and then choose that way with all his strength." Hasidic Proverb

"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center." Kurt Vonnegut

"Fiction is a lie. Good fiction is the truth in a lie." Stephen King

"You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself." Galileo Galilei

"From the marriage of inspiration and discipline, works of art are born." Ninette de Valois

"Truth is a matter of the imagination." Ursula Le Guin

“Good writing is like a windowpane.” George Orwell

"If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people." Virginia Woolf

"For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot, writers frame their world." Jeanette Winterson

"The first draft of anything is shit." Ernest Hemingway

"It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things." Georgia O’Keeffe

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Gene Fowler

"If I were hungry and helpless in the street, I would not ask for a loaf, but for half a loaf and a book."
Gabriel Garcia Lorca

“Drama lies in extreme exaggeration of the feelings, an exaggeration that dislocates flat, everyday reality.” Eugene Ionesco

"Writing isn't taught—it's achieved, like sin in Ireland." James Salter

"For me, writing is like breathing. I'm always writing something. When it's not fiction, I'm translating or writing essays . . . Writing is like training for an athlete or practice for a musician. If you stop entirely, it takes a long time to get your pace back." Haruki Murakami

"A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb. There is a record by the American singer Tori Amos called Little Earthquakes. That¹s a good metaphor for a short story." Joseph O'Connor

"When you write, you write out of your best self. Everything else drops away." Salman Rushdie

"When you get older, you eliminate. You want to see things pure and clean." George Balanchine

“When I first started writing plays I couldn’t write good dialogue because I didn’t respect how black people talked. I thought that in order to make art out of their dialogue I had to change it, make it into something different. Once I learned to value and respect my characters, I could really hear them. I let them start talking.” August Wilson

"With a novel you have to be good for months at a time. With a short story you only have to be good for a week." Norman Mailer

"I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at nine o'clock every morning." William Faulkner

"The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than 'Metamorphosis'." Jonathan Franzen

“Every writer I know has trouble writing." Joseph Heller

“I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.” Frida Kahlo

"Write all the time. Rework what you write. Hack it to pieces, cut and change . . . Writing is a self-conducted apprenticeship." Martha Gellhorn

“I dropped my hoe and ran into the house and started to write this poem, ‘End of Summer’. It began as a celebration of wild geese. Eventually the geese flew out of the poem, but I like to think they left behind the sound of their beating wings.” Stanley Kunitz

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimension." Oliver Wendell Holmes

"If you follow your star, you cannot fail to reach a glorious heaven." Dante Alighieri

"Art flies around truth, but with the definite intension of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before." Franz Kafka

"If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher." Turkish proverb

"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." Edgar Degas

“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” Ursula Le Guin

“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.” Barry Lopez

“God made man because he loves stories.” Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev

“If you start with a bang, you won't end with a whimper.” T S Eliot

“Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The ideal view for daily writing, hour for hour, is the blank brick wall of a cold-storage warehouse. Failing this, a stretch of sky will do, cloudless if possible.” Edna Ferber

“Expansion, that is the idea the novelist must cling to, not completion, not rounding off, but opening out.”

E M Forster

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.” Benjamin Franklin

"I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones." John Cage

"Anyone who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, but he who destroys a good book kills reason itself." John Milton

“Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.” Robert Moss

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

"Writers are a little below clowns and a little above trained seals." John Steinbeck

"With patience, mulberry leaves become silk." Turkish proverb

"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 it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and the sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer." Ernest Hemingway

“I’m writing to describe some of the things you can’t take with you when you cross over.” James Salter

"The true novelist is one who understands the work as a continuous poem, is a myth-maker, and the wonder of the art resides in the endless different ways of telling a story." Muriel Spark

"I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine." Emily Dickinson

"A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well, they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper." Ursula Le Guin

“I don’t use a typewriter. I write longhand, with a pencil. Essentially, I’m a horizontal writer. I think better lying down.” Truman Capote

“The Image is more than an idea. It is a vortex or cluster of fused ideas and is endowed with energy.” Ezra Pound

“God gives us each a song.” Ute proverb

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Mark Twain

"Knowledge is limited, but imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein

“If you’re not lying awake at night worrying about your novel, the reader isn’t going to, either. I always know that when I get a good night’s sleep, the next day I’m not going to get any work done. Writing a novel is like working on foreign policy. There are problems to be solved. It’s not all inspirational.” James M Cain

“When I am working on a book or story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day next you hit it again.” Ernest Hemingway

"The only thing worth writing about is the conflict in the human heart." William Faulkner

“You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” F Scott Fitzgerald

"When writing loses touch with the beautiful surface of the world, it loses its way. You always want to be in touch with how things look and what people say and what they call their dogs." Garrison Keillor

"For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness." James Baldwin

"I don't fire up the prose. I just tell it straight and don't fool around with it." Raymond Carver

"If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. But do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites, standing for absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college." Kurt Vonnegut

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one." Isaac Asimov

"How rich art is; if one can only remember what one has seen, one is never without food for thought or truly lonely, never alone." Vincent van Gogh

"A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life." Saul Bellow

"If a theme or idea is too near the surface, the novel becomes simply a tract illustrating an idea." Elizabeth Bowen

"When you write – explode – fly apart – disintegrate! Then give time enough to think, cut, rework, and rewrite." Ray Bradbury

“A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.” G C Lichtenberg

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." Stephen King

"An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way." Charles Bukowski

“There’s nothing more difficult than a line.” Pablo Picasso

"I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” Jack London

"And when he dreams he does not want to write, he does not have the power to dream he wants to write; and when he dreams he wants to write, he does not have the power to dream he does not want to write."


"The one way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy." Gustave Flaubert

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it." Ernest Hemingway

"Revolutions happen and all you have can suddenly vanish, but no one can ever steal your knowledge." Rudolph Nureyev

“If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

“If we had to say what writing is, we would describe it essentially as an act of courage.” Cynthia Ozick

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” F Scott Fitzgerald

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” Mark Twain

"They say the seeds of what we will do are in all of us, but it always seemed to me that in those who make jokes in life the seeds are covered with better soil and with a higher grade of manure." Ernest Hemingway

“Don't be too harsh to these poems until they're typed. I always think typescript lends some sort of certainty: at least, if the things are bad then, they appear to be bad with conviction.” letter to Vernon Watkins, March 1938, Dylan Thomas

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth

“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” Vladimir Nabokov

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

"My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements." Ernest Hemingway

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist, but the ability to start over.” F Scott Fitzgerald

"All that is real is in constant contact with magic and mystery." Serge Diaghilev

"You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page." Jodie Picault

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” Elmore Leonard

"It takes a long time to become young.” Pablo Picasso

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Mark Twain

“It is impossible to discourage the real writers—they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write.” Sinclair Lewis

"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe." Anatole France

“You'll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” Irish proverb

"It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page." Joan Baez

"I find this true: that even if we were covered by stones and buried in rubble, there would always be a hand with a pen that goes on writing." Günter Grass

“We are, all of us, unique. Each is a unique pattern of creativity and if we do not fulfill it, it is lost for all time.” Martha Graham

"The act of writing something down is what puts it into my memory. It takes it out of my mind and puts it outside where it's then possible to think about it differently." Brian Eno

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese proverb

“Action is character.” F Scott Fitzgerald

"When the solution is simple, God is answering." Albert Einstein

"You have to shoot as high as you can shoot." Ursula Le Guin

"It doesn't have to be the truth, just your vision of it, written down." Virginia Woolf

"Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds." Navajo Wind Chant

"The true enemy of creativity is good sense." Pablo Picasso

"I never plan. I never know what the next page is going to be . . . But that’s the fun of writing a novel or a story, because I don’t know what’s going to happen next." Haruki Murakami

‎"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you." Ray Bradbury

“The only way an artist can fail is to quit.” Thomas Hart Benton

"I don't have a past. I have a continuous present. The past is part of the present, just as the future is. We exist in time." George Balanchine

"If I put love into the work, it will find friends." Vincent van Gogh

“Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.” Joseph Campbell

‎"If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never be truly fulfilled." Lao Tzu

"No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a full stop put just at the right place." Isaac Babel

"Events at home, at work, in the street—these are the bases for a story." Naquib Mahfouz

"As a writer, one spends a lifetime journeying into the heart of language, trying to minimise, if not eliminate, the distance between language and thought." Arundhati Roy

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St Augustine

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you." BB King

“We do not understand in order to create. We create in order to understand.” Cecil Collins

"For me, writing something down was the only road out." Anne Tyler

"The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the word instead of being pulled by them." Raymond Chandler

"Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys." Michael Morpurgo

"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write." Saul Bellow

"The work is the axe for the frozen sea inside you." Franz Kafka

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." Maya Angelou

“Don’t stop for sunsets.” Roald Dahl, ie too much description overwhelming the narrative

"Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world." Tom Clancy

"To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the music the words make." Truman Capote

"It's true that writing is a solitary occupation, but you would be surprised at how much companionship a group of imaginary characters can offer once you get to know them." Anne Tyler

"When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day's work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing." John Steinbeck

"One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily." Gabriel Garcia Marquez

"In my art I am the murderer. I feel for the ordeal of the murderer, the man who has to live with his conscience. As an artist, I am a powerful person. In real life I feel like the mouse behind the radiator." Louise Bourgeois

"Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." T S Eliot

"How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" E M Forster

"Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting." Jonathan Franzen

"God preserve us from writers who regurgitate what they have learnt from books! It is people’s secrets we want to know -- it is the natural history of the human heart that we have been trying to put down for a thousand years and everyone must and can leave their contribution." August Strindberg

"Language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity." Gustave Flaubert

"Never begin the book when you feel you want to begin it, but hold off a while longer." Rose Tremain

'I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.' Joan Didion

"The work of any great artist is directed at the heart, the spirit and the soul, not the brain. Critics feel with their brains, they probably f*ck with their brains too. But the worst part is they fill their brainy sh*t into you and then we’re all made to feel we have to analyze literary works based on all this brainy sh*ttage. No, if you feel Beckett, you see something else: that his writing evokes a sort of sacred chaos, a blissful holiday for the brain and a profoundly pleasurable call to the spirit." Amita Mukerjee

"Always remember this. If you have a success, you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular, it is always because of the worst aspects of your work. They always praise you for the worse aspects. It never fails." Ernest Hemingway

"As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness." Ursula Le Guin

"There is a great proverb, that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter . . . Once I realised that, I had to be a writer." Chinua Achebe

"How can you write if you can't cry?" Ring Lardner

"Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none." Jules Renard

‘'Words dazzle and deceive because they are mimed by the face. But black words on a white page are the soul laid bare." Guy de Maupassant

“I knew what I was seeking . . . in the typing hours . . . It was this: strip the language and make the style, the method, all the psychological ramifications, the ambience of the relationships, all the one thing, so the reader couldn’t make separations. Cézanne’s apples. The appleness of apples. Yet just apples.” Morley Callaghan

"There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written—it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself." Mark Twain

"I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work." Pearl Buck

"I think the purpose of what we’re trying to do in art, finally, is to enchant the human heart and mind into a sense of its true kingdom of magnificence." Ben Okri

"With time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown." Chinese saying

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." C S Lewis

"Somebody at one of these places . . . asked me . . . "How do you write, create?" You don't, I told them. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks, you make a pet out of it." Charles Bukowski

"Writing is induced melancholy. It is lonely. You're olone, alone, alone and then you finish and what is coming towards you is talking, talking, talking." Claire Tomalin

"One life is not enough." Katherine Mansfield on why people write

"Anybody can write an exciting story and make it interesting. The trick is to learn how to write a quiet story and make it interesting." Ernest Hemingway

"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“To write it, it took three months; to conceive it three minutes; to collect the data in it all my life.” F Scott Fitzgerald

"True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read." Pliny the Elder

"The importance to the writer of first writing must be out of all proportion of the actual value of what is written." Elizabeth Bowen

"I write to discover what I know." Flannery O'Connor

“I discovered in nature the nonutilitarian delights that I sought in art. Both were a form of magic, both were a game of intricate enchantment and deception.” Vladimir Nabokov

“Design in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in the creative flux. You can't invent a design. You recognize it, in the fourth dimension. That is, with your blood and your bones, as well as with your eyes.” D H Lawrence

“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” Marc Chagall

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Make it new." Ezra Pound

"The problem was to sustain at any cost the feeling you had in the theater that you were watching a real person, yes, but an intense condensation of his experience, not simply a realistic series of episodes." Arthur Miller

“The greatest danger is not to set too high a target and miss it, but to set too low a target and reach it.” Michelangelo Buonarroti

"Poetry: the best words in the best order." Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"Fiction is the truth inside the lie." Stephen King

“When you get older, you eliminate. You want to see things pure and clean.” George Balanchine

“To say that a work of art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it.” Leo Tolstoy

“Art is man's constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” Chinua Achebe

“Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away." Carl Sandburg

“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.” Raymond Chandler

“Good writing excites me and makes life worth living.” Harold Pinter

“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” T S Eliot

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." John Muir

“The human soul needs actual beauty more than bread.” D H Lawrence

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” Maya


“An artist cannot do anything slovenly.” Jane Austen

“Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use.” Carlos Castaneda

“I write in order to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” H L Mencken

"If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking." Zen saying

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

“He is the true enchanter, whose spell operates, not upon the senses, but upon the imagination and the heart.”

Washington Irving

"Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself." Truman Capote

"I have trusted to my intuition to find the subjects, and I have written intuitively. I have an idea when I start, I have a shape; but I will fully understand what I have written only after some years." V S Naipaul

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Maya Angelou

“The way to kill a man or a nation is to cut off his dreams, the way the whites are taking care of the Indians: killing their dreams, their magic, their familiar spirits." William S Burroughs

“Learn from trees. Just as many fruits drop before they’re ripe. When I write a poem, I treat it with healthy cruelty, deleting images to take care of the right ones.” Mourid Barghouti

“Before I write down one word, I have to have the character in my mind through and through. I must penetrate into the last wrinkle of his soul.” Henrik Ibsen

“I teach you to teach yourself. We know everything already; we’ve just forgotten.” Cecil Collins

"Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself."

William Faulkner

“It is life, makes interest, makes importance . . . and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” Henry James

“Try to be original in your play and as clever as possible; but don't be afraid to show yourself to be foolish; we must have freedom of thinking, and only he is an emancipated thinker who is not afraid to write foolish things" Anton Chekhov

"When we are not sure, we are alive." Graham Greene

“Here I am, where I ought to be. A writer must have a place where he or she feels this, a place to love and be irritated with.” Louise Erdrich

“Writing has . . . been to me like a bath from which I have risen feeling cleaner, healthier, and freer.” Henrik Ibsen

"Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much a heart can hold." Zelda Fitzgerald

“It really comes down to this: indifference to everything except that piece of paper in the typewriter.” Raymond Carver

“I have written a great many stories and I still don’t know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances.” John Steinbeck

“The world needs writers. We will always be necessary. There are few professions that can claim that distinction.” Rod McKuen

“If you can change style, why stick to one style? Style is a vanity because it gives you product identification.” Norman Mailer

“To create is to make a pact with nothingness.” Clark Coolidge

"If the little bit you have is nothing special in itself, at least find a way of saying it that is a little bit special."

George Lichtenberg

“It is the function of art to conceal the difficulties of its execution.” Susan Sontag

"If the story is in you, it has got to come out." William Faulkner

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." Eleanor Roosevelt

“The only sensible approach is not to take it too seriously. What counts is the writing.” Jay McInerney

“The beginner hugs his infant poem to him and does not want it to grow up. But you may have to break your poem to remake it.” May Sarton

"Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations . . . it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale." Arthur Conan Doyle

“A writer strives to express a universal truth in the way that rings the most bells in the shortest amount of time.” William Faulkner

"He said, let’s put God—and all those grand progressive ideas—to one side. Let’s begin with man. Let’s be kind and attentive to the individual man—whether he’s a bishop, a peasant, an industral magnate, a convict in the Sakhalin islands or a waiter in a restaurant. Let’s begin with respect, compassion and love for the individual—or we’ll get nowhere." Vasily Grossman on Anton Chekhov

“You say what you have to say. But you have to learn to say it in such a way that the reader can see what you mean.” Kurt Vonnegut

“The only obligation any artist can have is to himself. His work means nothing, otherwise.” Truman Capote

“If you write a hundred short stories and they are bad, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You fail only if you stop writing.” Ray Bradbury

“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” Allen Ginsberg

“You’re gambling with something vital. Most writers get smashed egos.” Norman Mailer

“Is not love the origin of all creation?” Henri Matisse

“I have known writers who paid no damned attention whatever to the rules of grammar and rhetoric and somehow made the language behave for them.” Red Smith

“Work every day. No matter what has happened the day or night before, get up and bite on the nail.” Ernest Hemingway

"What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like . . . in favor of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues. What's equally wrong is the deliberate turning toward some genre or type of fiction in order to make money. It's morally wonky, for one thing - the job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story's web of lies, not to commit intellectual dishonesty in the hunt for the buck. Also, brothers and sisters, it doesn't work." Stephen King

"You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life." George Bernard Shaw to T E Lawrence on Seven Pillars of Wisdom

"I like commas. I detest semi colons—I don't think they belong in a story. I gave up quotation marks long ago. I found I didn't need them, they were fly-specks on the page. If you're doing it right, the reader will know who's talking."  E L Doctorow

"It is only through fiction that facts can be made instructive or even intelligible. The writer rescues them from the unintelligible chaos of their actual occurrence and arranges them into works of art." George Bernard Shaw

“There are significant moments in everyone’s day that can make literature. That’s what you ought to write about.” Raymond Carver

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

“I think the whole glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.” Sherwood Anderson

“The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one’s family and friends; and lastly, the solid cash.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

“I must try to express clumsily in words what the pure music would have done better.” William Faulkner

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

"Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient." Hilary Mantel on writer's block

“Be it known: Each shepherd has a different and unique song. This is so because each single plant, each single weed along the path where he leads his herd has its own unique and different song. And out of the songs of these plants and weeds is the song of the shepherd made.” Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev

"Everyone, real or invented, deserves the open destiny of life." Grace Paley

“The one who tells the stories rules the world.” Hopi proverb

“A poet can’t afford to be aloof. The tools of his trade are the people he bumps up against.” Rod McKuen

“. . . a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.” William Saroyan

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

“My education was the library I had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out.” Dylan Thomas

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson

"If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin." Ivan Turgenev

“There’s literary creation and literary business. When I first got something accepted, it gave my life a validation it didn’t otherwise have.” Raymond Carver

“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience.” Alfred North Whitehead

“A whole is that which has beginning, middle and end.” Aristotle

“Many [modern novels] have a beginning, a muddle and an end.” Philip Larkin

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” H G Wells

“The author must keep his mouth shut when his work starts to speak.” Frederich Wilhelm Nietzsche

“Hemingway’s words strike you each one, as if they were pebbles fetched fresh from a brook. They live and shine, each in its place.” Ford Madox Ford on Ernest Hemingway

“A man does not know what he is saying until he knows what he is not saying.” G K Chesterton

“As for the story, whether the poet takes it ready made or constructs it for himself, he should first sketch its general outline, and then fill in the episodes and amplify in detail.” Aristotle

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.” William S Burroughs

“The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels.” Simone de Beauvoir

“Writing a book is a very lonely business. You are totally cut off from the rest of the world, submerged in your obsessions and memories.” Mario Vargas Llosa

“Never confuse movement with action.” Ernest Hemingway

"You can warm your hands at a poem." Jeanette Winterson

“You let the story cool off and then, instead of rewriting it, you relive it.” Ray Bradbury

“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he is usually too busy to wonder why.” William Faulkner

“Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't.” Julian Barnes

"A man must make his own arrows." Winnebago proverb

“Every writing career starts as a personal quest for sainthood, for self-betterment. Sooner or later, and as a rule quite soon, a man discovers that his pen accomplishes a lot more than his soul.” Joseph Brodsky

“Wanting to know an author because you like his work is like wanting to know a duck because you like paté.” Margaret Atwood

“The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention.” Ezra Pound

“It’s never going to be very mainstream. One reason is that poetry requires concentration, both on the part of the writer and the reader. But it’s kind of unkillable, poetry. It’s our most ancient artform and I think it’s more relevant today than ever, because it’s one person saying what they really believe.” Simon Armitage

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot . . . reading is the creative center of a writer's life . . . you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” Stephen King

"Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently." Henry Ford

'The King died and then the Queen died. That is a story. The King died and then the Queen died of grief. That is a plot.” E M Forster
“There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately no-one knows what they are.” Somerset Maugham

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.” Winston Churchill

"Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Henry Van Dyke

"I think that anyone who's pushed to do the very best that they can is privileged. It's a luxury." Twyla Tharp

"Everything has been thought of before; the task is to think of it again." George Balanchine

“Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have, and advertising seems to do very little good.” Thomas Wolfe

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.” Oliver Goldsmith

“I think you are more intelligent than this mss . . . I want to say me friend Hem, kin knock yew over the ropes, and then I want to see the punch delivered. I don’t want gentle embraces in the ring.” Ezra Pound on Hemingway

“The way British publishing works is that you go from not being published no matter how good you are, to being published no matter how bad you are.” Tibor Fischer

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” W B Yeats

“Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living.” Gustave Flaubert

“I've been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can't remember a single useful point in any of them or the slightest good advice. The only reviewer who ever made an impression on me was Skabichevsky who prophesied that I would die drunk in the bottom of a ditch.” Anton Chekhov

“My own invention or imagination, such as it is . . . would never have served me as it has but for the habit of commonplace, humble, patient, daily, toiling, drudging attention." Charles Dickens

“The world is so great and rich, and life so full of variety, that you can never lack occasions for poems.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  

“I hold any writer sufficiently justified who is himself in love with his theme.” Henry James

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” Isak Dinesen

“Their is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect.” G K Chesterton

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” Jane Austen

“An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.” Francois-Rene, Vicomte de Chateaubriand

“Oh it is only a novel . . . In short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.” Jane Austen

“I don’t believe in writers’ block. Plumbers don’t get plumbers’ block. Why should writing be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working?” Philip Pullman

“That is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best—make it all up—but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way.” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is not a job description. A great deal of it is luck. Don't do it if you are not a gambler because a lot of people devote many years of their lives to it (for little reward). I think people become writers because they are compulsive wordsmiths.” Margaret Atwood
“Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” T S Eliot

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E L Doctorow

"Man will keep on writing on pieces of paper, on scraps, on stones, as long as he lives." William Faulkner

"The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." Vassily Kandinsky

“There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.” Anthony Trollope

"I have a notebook in my bag always. I write in cafés, trains and hotel lounges. I write more like that than in my study." Carol Ann Duffy

“Except a living man there is nothing more wonderful than a book! A message to us from the dead - from human souls we never saw, who lived, perhaps, thousands of miles away. And yet these, in those little sheets of paper, speak to us, arouse us, terrify us, teach us, comfort us, open their hearts to us as brothers.” Charles Kingsley  

“Outside of a dog, a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.” Groucho Marx

“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.” Samuel Johnson

"The artist I believe in; the art is a mirage." Marcel Duchamp

"As a writer, my life’s journey has been to try to catch, all at once, as many levels of the mysterious, beautiful and tragic things that make us human." Ben Okri

“Better to write twaddle, anything, than nothing at all.” Katherine Mansfield

“Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand - a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods - or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values.” Willa Cather  

"Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." Sylvia Plath

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.” John Steinbeck

“I think we got much better poetry when it was all regarded as sinful or subversive, and you had to hide it under the cushion when somebody came in.” Philip Larkin

“The only important thing in a book is the meaning it has for you.” Somerset Maugham

“Most people don't realise that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else.” Katherine Ann Porter

“Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.” Salman Rushdie

“Every novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the reader and it is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy.” Paul Auster

“The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first.” Blaise Pascal

“Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure only death can stop it.” Ernest Hemingway

“Unfortunately many young writers are more concerned with fame than with their own work . . . It's much more important to write than to be written about.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Write as often as possible, not with the idea at once of getting into print, but as if you were learning an instrument.” J B Priestley

“Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, 'God, this is fascinating!'“ Jane Smiley

“I simply don't know how anyone can write at great speed, and only for the money's sake.” Feodor Dostoevsky

"It shows a great weakness if you daren't take in something new. You must be able to say: 'For a moment we'll upset this applecart and see what happens.' " Ninette de Valois

“No regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.” Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"After three days without reading, talk becomes flavorless." Chinese proverb

“Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages - all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person.” Doris Lessing

“Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.” Elie Wiesel

“If you want to be considered a poet, you will have to show mastery of the petrarchan sonnet form or the sestina. Your musical efforts must begin with well-formed fugues. There is no substitute for craft . . . Art begins with craft, and there is no art until craft has been mastered.” Anthony Burgess

“It's a delicious thing to write. To be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.” Gustave Flaubert

“We all know that books burn - yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory.” Franklin D Roosevelt

“A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances in which it is used.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

“A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.” Quentin Bell

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson

“Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.” Confucius

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Ernest Hemingway

“Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.' Rebecca West

“The act of writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the trouble to do it if you felt that it didn’t matter.” Edward Albee

“A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.” Henrik Ibsen

“An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterwards.” F Scott Fitzgerald

“Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.” Matthew Arnold

“If you are going to make a book end badly, it must end badly from the beginning.” Robert Louis Stevenson

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” Anaïs Nin  

“There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.” H L Mencken

“Masterpieces are no more than the shipwrecked flotsam of great minds.” Marcel Proust

“Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.” Raymond Chandler

"Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure." Rainier Maria Rilke

“The writer's intention hasn't anything to do with what he achieves. The intent to earn money or the intent to be famous or the intent to be great doesn't matter in the end. Just what comes out.” Lillian Hellman

"I am a poet. I distrust anything that starts with a capital letter." Antjie Krog

“It is not your business to determine how good [your work] is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you . . . No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille

"The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing . . . It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn't, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor." Stephen King

"I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to. The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me." John Updike

"The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind." Katherine Mansfield

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." Anaïs Nin

"What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator, 1890

“Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.” Jules Renard

“A writer needs loneliness and he gets his share of it. He needs love and he gets shared and also unshared love. He needs friendship. In fact, he needs the universe. To be a writer is, in a sense, to be a day-dreamer—to be living a kind of double life.” Jorge Luis Borgès

“A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it is such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.” Ernest Hemingway

“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” Ezra Pound

“To finish is a sadness to a writer—a little death.  He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn't really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.” John Steinbeck

"Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Samuel Johnson

"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair -- the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page." Stephen King

“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance." Ray Bradbury

"There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book." Saul Bellow

"Why do writers write? Because it isn't there." Thomas Berger

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

"The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.” John Mortimer

"Everything has been thought of before; the task is to think of it again." George Balanchine

“The proper study of mankind is books.” Aldous Huxley

“The most original authors are not so because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  

"The real composer thinks about his work the whole time; he is not always conscious of this, but he is aware of it later when he suddenly knows what he will do." Igor Stravinsky

"Art, being quite useless, except to the soul, is the highest of all human endeavours." Bruce M Rogers

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.” Ernest Hemingway

“I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn't, I would die.” Isaac Asimov

'There's more of yourself in a book than a play. That's why we know all about Dickens and not much about Shakespeare. Ben Jonson murdered people; Marlowe was a spy; Shakespeare just sat in the corner and took notes.” John Mortimer

"Every family has its joys and its horrors, but however great they may be, it's hard for an outsider's eye to see them; they are a secret." Anton Chekhov

“When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.” Flannery O’Connor

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.” Samuel Johnson

“A writer's ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years' time and for one reader in a hundred years' time.” Arthur Koestler

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Henry David Thoreau

“The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember or pretend you remember.” Harold Pinter

"I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon." Truman Capote


© 2005 Anne Aylor  
'Work of sight is done. Now do heart work on the pictures within you.' Rainer Maria Rilke