Quotations About
writing

It is the glory and merit of some men to write well, and of others, not to write at all.

The Theophrastus of France, 1688.

I do not write for such dull elves
As have not a great deal of ingenuity themselves.

Letter, January 29, 1813, to her sister, Cassandra.
Posted in: Jane Austen

He is a writer. He makes the rest of them nervous.

Joe Jones
Posted in: Anne Lamott

It’s funny when you’ve got to sit down and write something that’s funny you think “Oh God…” That terrible need to be funny all the time. And when you’ve got to do something serious “Now hang on, wouldn’t it be funny if we did this…” I remember my history master at high school used to send back my essays saying “Adams please, more facts and less jokes.”

Posted in: Douglas Adams

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

unsourced.
This quote is attributed / unsourced.
Posted in: Toni Morrison

Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.

Richelieu. Act ii. Sc. ii.

And then because of the success of that damn book, suddenly I have to do another book, and another book and another book. I’m not somebody who’s set out to be a novelist per se. It just happened to be the clearest success I’ve had. I didn’t want to be trapped into just sitting in a room typing. It’s not the life I have envisaged for myself–sitting in a room typing for year after year. I kind of wanted to do something that would be…I’d get to work with a lot people, have a lot of fun, have a lot of meetings, have lots of brainstorming, lots of clever people around. I’ve also a chance to get a lot of toys. So that’s what this was. It was a kind of mid-life crisis project.

Regarding The Digital Village.
Posted in: Douglas Adams

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

Accepting Nobel Prize, 1962
Posted in: John Steinbeck

A book is like a man—clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

Letter to his editor and friend, Pascal "Pat" Covici, 1952
Posted in: John Steinbeck

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.

Letter to his daughter Frances Scott Fitzgerald

Jeremy Goodwin: And in that moment, Dan was reminded once again why he wanted to write in the first place: to impress women.

Dear Louise (1998)
Posted in: Sports Night

Elliot: How’s the writer’s block?
Dan: You’re gonna need to get someone to fix my computer.
Kim: What’s wrong with it?
Dan: It’s in several pieces on my floor.

Dear Louise (season 1, episode 7)
Posted in: Sports Night

I am indeed casting the die and writing the book, either for my contemporaries or for posterity to read, it matters not which: let the book await its reader for a hundred years; God himself has waited six thousand years for his work to be seen.

Harmonices Mundi (1618)
Posted in: Johannes Kepler

Tracy Lord: These stories are beautiful. Why, Mike, they’re almost poetry.
Macaulay Connor: Don’t kid yourself, they are.

All good biography, as all good fiction, comes down to the study of original sin, of our inherent disposition to choose death when we ought to choose life.

Time and Tide (1941)
Posted in: Rebecca West

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.

"On Keeping a Notebook", Slouching Toward Bethlehem

One great advantage which poetry has over prose—one sense in which, we might even say, it is considerably more beautiful—is that it fills up space approximately three times as rapidly.

"The Book-End," Collecting Himself: James Thurber on Writing and Writers, Humor and Himself (1989).
Posted in: James Thurber

I have owed you this letter for a very long time — but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.

Letter to his literary agent, found on his desk after his death in 1968
Posted in: John Steinbeck

The task of writing an autobiography is a difficult one. When I try to classify my earliest impressions, I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present. The woman paints the child’s experiences in her own fantasy. A few impressions stand out vividly from the first years of my life; but “the shadows of the prison-house are on the rest.”

The Story of My Life
Posted in: Helen Keller

I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

Posted in: J.K. Rowling

Jose Chung: Unlike profiling serial killers, writing is a lonely and depressing profession.

Posted in: Millennium

“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night — there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean. Jiminy! If I were the baker or the butcher or the broom huckster, people would run to the gate when I came by — just waiting for my stuff. And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation — yes, ma’am, salvation for their little, stunted minds — and it’s hard to make ‘em see it. That’s what makes it worth while — I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman, it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs — more books!”

Parnassus on Wheels (1917)

It is my ambition to be, as a private individual, abolished and voided from history, leaving it markless, no refuse save the printed books; I wish I had enough sense to see ahead thirty years ago, and like some of the Elizabethans, not signed them. It is my aim, and every effort bent, that the sum and history of my life, which in the same sentence is my obit and epitaph too, shall be them both: He made the books and he died.

Letter to Malcolm Cowley (11 February 1949)
Posted in: William Faulkner

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again.

Speech at the Nobel Prize Banquet after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature (10 December 1950)
Posted in: William Faulkner

Some folks wouldn’t even speak when they passed me on the street. Then MGM came to town to film Intruder in the Dust, and that made some difference because I’d brought money into Oxford. But it wasn’t until the Nobel Prize that they really thawed out. They couldn’t understand my books, but they could understand thirty thousand dollars.

as quoted in "Faulkner Without Fanfare" in Esquire (July 1963)
Posted in: William Faulkner

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, all of us. Proof of that is that there are about three candidates for the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays. But what is important is Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, not who wrote them, but that somebody did. The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn’t have needed anyone since.

Paris Review interview (1958)
Posted in: William Faulkner

I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

Paris Review interview (1958)
Posted in: William Faulkner

Looking back, I’ve had a remarkable ride. I’m not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children’s book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who… and so on. I didn’t have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.

Address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012
Posted in: Neil Gaiman

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.

Address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012
Posted in: Neil Gaiman

I decided that I would do my best in future not to write books just for the money. If you didn’t get the money, then you didn’t have anything. If I did work I was proud of, and I didn’t get the money, at least I’d have the work.

Address to the University of the Arts Class of 2012
Posted in: Neil Gaiman

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

A Room of One's Own (1929)
Posted in: Virginia Woolf

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.

Posted in: Wilson Mizner

Stop dying. Am trying to write a comedy.

Telegram to his brother, upon the news that Addison was fatally ill.
Posted in: Wilson Mizner

The courage of the poet is to keep ajar the door that leads into madness.

This quote is attributed / unsourced.

Look, then, into thine heart, and write!

Voices of the Night (1839)

I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.

Letter to Ed White (5 July 1950)
Posted in: Jack Kerouac

With a novelist, like a surgeon, you have to get a feeling that you’ve fallen into good hands – someone from whom you can accept the anesthetic with confidence.

This quote is attributed / unsourced.
Posted in: Saul Bellow

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.

Quoted by Granville Hicks in The Living Novel: A Symposium (1957)
Posted in: Saul Bellow

Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

"Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials" in a letter to Don Allen (1958)
Posted in: Jack Kerouac

It’s a proven fact, backed by simple math even my first grader can understand: the number of reviews of books by men is greater than the number of reviews of books by women; the number of male reviewers is greater than the number of female reviewers. Men, in other words, are still the arbiters of taste, the cultural gatekeepers, and the recipients of what little attention still gets paid to books.

"My So-Called 'Post-Feminist' Life in Arts and Letters", The Nation, April 29, 2013

I wanted to write that my work consists of two parts: of the one which is here, and of everything which I have not written. And precisely this second part is the important one.

letter to Ludwig von Ficker (1919)

It is human nature to look away from illness. We don’t enjoy a reminder of our own fragile mortality. That’s why writing on the Internet has become a life-saver for me. My ability to think and write have not been affected. And on the Web, my real voice finds expression.

TED Talk (March 2011)
Posted in: Roger Ebert