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Quotes about Writing

Updated on October 19, 2015
Colleen Swan profile image

A lover of the written word Colleen has a Master's degree in English literature and enjoys finding unique and poignant quotes

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Jane Blair

From its earliest days, humankind has tried to transmit its thoughts and ideas into forms which could be read by others. This craving has existed throughout the ages, utilizing whatever customs were available during any given time, from clay tablets to email.

I once brought a story to a writer’s workshop. In both the narrative and the dialogue I conveyed the same information. During the critique after, one member pointed this out to me. It made perfect sense; I implemented that. Another said I tended to write from my intellect not my emotions. That too struck home; I struggle yet a bit with that one.

Writing is a craft which can be learned like any other. It is not, as some believe, a mystical gift granted only to a fortunate few. Writing simply involves a good deal of time, intense labor and, most of all, self-discipline.

Oliver Wendell Holmes

When I feel inclined to read poetry I take down my Dictionary. The poetry of words is quite as beautiful as that of sentences. The author may arrange the gems effectively, but their shape and luster have been given by the attrition of ages.

An old author is constantly rediscovering himself in the more or less fossilized productions of his early years.

Quote by Melvin Maddocks
Quote by Melvin Maddocks | Source

In good writing, words become one with things. Emerson

In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. He who has once known its satisfactions is provided with a resource against calamity. Emerson

What can we see, read, acquire, but ourselves. Take the book, my friend, and read your eyes out, you will never find there what I find. Emerson

For the most part, our novel-reading is a passion for results. Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born on May 25th 1803 and died on April 27th 1882. He was an American author, lecturer, and poet.

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If you really feel like you have to write a novel, at least have the decency to start it with a man and a woman making love. Daniel Smith

Writers can often prove ruthless in their quest for material. Thus, author Henry James once attended a funeral of the son of a family with who he was on less than cordial terms. When asked why he had done so, James replied that wherever deep emotion was likely to be displayed, he would make his utmost effort to be there. Henry James

When a man can observe himself suffering and is able, later, to describe what he’s gone through, it means he was born for literature. Edouard Bourdet

To one who has enjoyed the full life of any scene, of any hour, what thoughts can be recorded about it seem like the commas and semicolons in the paragraph; mere stops. Margaret Fuller

Writing is survival. Not to write, for many of us, is to die. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. Ray Bradbury

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12th 1817 and died on May 6th 1862. He was an American author, historian, critic, and philosopher.

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Nothing goes by luck in composition. It allows of no tricks. The best you can write will be the best you are. Thoreau

Books must be read as deliberately and reservedly as they are written. Thoreau

Quote by Mark Twain
Quote by Mark Twain | Source

Thank God for books! And yet thank God that the great realm of truth lies yet outside of books, too vast to be mastered by types or imprisoned in libraries. Henry Ward Beecher

The work of a writer is to write, and most of us will be forgotten faster than you can say “eternity” and stamp your foot 3 times. Anne Roiphe

Fiction is not a dream. Nor is it guesswork. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up. Margaret Banning

It is extremely natural for us to desire to see such our thoughts put into the dress of words, without which indeed we can scarce have a clear and distinct idea of them ourselves. Eustace Budgell

I think you must remember that the writer is a simple minded person to begin with and go on that basis. He’s got a great mind; he’s not a great thinker; he’s not a great philosopher, he’s a story teller. Erskine Caldwell

Even monarchs have need of authors, and fear their pens more than ugly women the painter’s pencil. Baltasar Gracian

No one, not even a pretty woman who wakes up to find a pimple on her nose, feels so vexed as an author who threatens to survive to his own reputation. Denis Diderot

The fact that many people should be shocked by what he writes practically imposes it as a duty upon the writer to go on shocking them. Aldous Huxley

Elwyn Brooks White (E. B White) born on July 11th 1899 died on October 1st 1985. He was an American writer and co-author of the English language style guide.

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I hate the guts of English grammar. … The approach to style is by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, sincerity…. You can say anything that comes into your head; never forget that. E. B White

When describing the creation of his classic novel Charlotte’s Webb, E. B. White stated: “In writing of a spider, I did not make the spider adapt her ways to my scheme. I spent a year studying spiders before I started writing the book. In this, I think I found the key to the story.” E. B White

Writing is an act of faith not a trick of grammar. E. B White

I love the elements of style. I love the idea of it. I love its execution. E. B White

Quote by LA Bruyere
Quote by LA Bruyere | Source

I know every book of mine by its scent, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things. George Gissing

A word carries far, very far; deals destruction through time as the bullets go flying through space. Joseph Conrad

A story with a moral appended is like the bill of a mosquito. It bores you, and then injects a stinging drop to irritate your conscience. O. Henry

The easiest books are generally the best; for, whatever author is obscure and difficult in his own language, certainly does not think clearly. Lord Chesterfield

A story has been thought to its conclusion when it has taken its worst possible turn. Friedrich Durrenmatt

In every story it was the extra I had; now it is gone, and I am just like you. F. Scott Fitzgerald

The unpublished manuscript is like an unconfessed sin that festers in the soul, corrupting and contaminating it. Antonio Machado

We find little in a book but what we put there. But in great books, the mind finds room to put many things. Joseph Joubert

A tragic writer does not have to believe in God, but he must believe in man. Joseph Wood Krutch

Literature flourishes best when it is half a trade and half an art. William Ralph Inge

What a convenient and delightful world is the world of books; if you bring to it not the obligations of the student, or look upon it as an opiate for idleness, but enter it rather with the enthusiasm of the adventurer. David Grayson

Quote by Earnest Dimnet
Quote by Earnest Dimnet | Source

The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately; the time has come for him to lay aside his pen. Colette

Obscenity is such a narrow domain; one immediately begins to suffocate there and to feel bored. Colette

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was born on 28th January 1873 and died 3rd August 1954 She was a French novelist and actress.

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Mama moon, teach me to see like a poet, And speak like a wild songbird, Carrying words, like grain in tight fists- Food for a hungry wind. Ellen Burstyn

There is a warning, love sends and the cost of it is never written till long afterward. Carl Sandburg

What, in fact, is a novel but a universe in which action is endowed with form, where final words are pronounced, where people possess one another completely, and where life assumes the aspect of destiny? Albert Camus

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 hers love affairs. Rebecca West

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. Oscar Wilde

Words are really a mask. They rarely express the true meaning; in fact they tend to hide it. Hermann Hesse

I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves. E. M. Forster

There is but one way to save a classic; and that is to give up revering him and use him for his own salvation. Jose Ortega Y Gasset

To start writing about your life is, from one standpoint, to stop living it. You must avoid adventures today so as to make time for registering those of yesterday. Ned Rorem

An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children. Benjamin Disraeli

Walter Savage Landor was born on the 30th January 1775 and died on the 17th September 1864. He was an English author and poet.

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Authors are like cattle going to a fair; those of the same field can never move on without butting one another. Walter Savage Landor

Clear writers, like fountains, do not seem as deep as they are; the turbid look the most profound. Walter Savage Landor

Every great writer is a writer of history. Let him treat on almost what subject he may. He carries with him for thousands of years a portion of his times. Walter Savage Landor

What is reading but silent conversation? Walter Savage Landor

Quote by Don Marquis
Quote by Don Marquis | Source

The book-worm wraps himself up in his web of verbal generalities, and sees only the glimmering shadows of things reflected from the minds of others. William Hazlitt

A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. Charles Peguy

Action can give us the feeling of being useful, but only words can give us a sense of weight and purpose. Eric Hoffer

A bad book is as much of labor to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul. Aldous Huxley

The pen is a formidable weapon, but a man can kill himself with it a great deal more easily than he can other people. Dennison Prentice

It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression. Unknown

Speak of the moderns without contempt and the ancients without idolatry; judge them all by their merits, but not by their age. Lord Chesterfield.

Our admiration of fine writing will always be in proportion to its real difficulty. Charles Caleb Colton

Many books require no thought form those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them. Charles Caleb Colton

Reading makes a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man. Francis Bacon

When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted, for we expected to see an author, and we find a man. Pascal

No one who cannot limit himself has ever been able to write. Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux

Thomas Carlyle was born on the 4th December 1795 and died on 5th February 1881. He was a Scottish satirical writer, and historian.

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Considering the multitude of mortals that handle the pen in these days, and can mostly spell, and write without glaring violations of grammar, the question naturally arises; how is it, then, that no work proceeds from them, bearing any stamp of authenticity and permanence; of worth for more than one day? Thomas Carlyle

In books lies the soul of the whole past time. Thomas Carlyle

How inexpressibly comfortable to know our fellow creature; to see into him, understand his going forth, decipher the whole heart of his mystery; nay, not only to see into him, but even to see out of him, to view the world altogether as he views it. Thomas Carlyle

The true university of these days is a collection of books. Thomas Carlyle

Listen to the Belle of Amherst by Emily Dickinson

Make the reader laugh and he will think you a trivial fellow, but bore him in the right way and your reputation is assured. Somerset Maugham

Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute; or you might not at all. Franklin P. Adams

The only impeccable writers are those who never wrote. William Hazlitt

In literature, there are only oxen. The biggest ones are the geniuses; who toil eighteen hours a day without tiring. Jules Renard

The man who reads only for improvement is beyond the hope of much improvement before he begins. Jonathan Daniels

I would venture to say the garment industry in this century has given birth to more writers, scholars and professors than any other American profession. Mark Schechter

Between the reputation of the author living and the reputation of the same dead there is ever a wide discrepancy. Thomas Baily Aldrich

I seek in the reading of books, only to please myself, by an honest diversion. Montaigne

What pursuit is more elegant than that of collecting the ignominies of our nature and transfixing them for show, each on the bright pin of a polished phrase? Logan Pearsall Smith

Meanings receive their dignity from words instead of giving it to them. Pascal

Human language is like a cracked kettle, on which we beat out tunes to make bears dance, when what we really want is to move the stars. Source: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Our passions shape our books, repose writes them in the intervals. Marcel Proust

André Paul Guillaume Gide born 22nd November 1869 and died on the 19 February 1951. He was a French author awarded the 1947 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Enduring fame is promised only to those writers who can offer to successive generations a substance constantly renewed, for every generation arrives upon the scene with its own particular hunger. Andre Gide

It is with noble sentiments that bad literature gets written. Andre Gide

To read a writer is for me not merely to get an idea of what he says, but to go off with him, and travel in his company. Andre Gide

Quote by Somerset Maugham
Quote by Somerset Maugham | Source

No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in. Henry Miller

In reading some books we occupy ourselves chiefly with the thoughts of the author; in perusing others, exclusively with our own. Edgar Allan Poe

Nothing a man writes can please him as profoundly as something he does with his back, shoulders and hands. For writing is an artificial activity. It is a lonely and private substitute for conversation. Brook Atkinson

For the creation of a masterpiece of literature two powers must concur, the power of the man and the power of the moment. Mathew Arnold

Autobiography is now as common as adultery, and hardly less reprehensible. John Cagney

The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some adventurers on behalf of us all. John Updike

Anyone who thinks writing is easy is a fool. Ernest Hemingway

English orthography satisfies all the requirements of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection. Thorstein Veblen

Damn the subjunctive. It brings all our writers to shame. Mark Twain

The person who sits in a marketplace, horn-tipped pen in hand, tablet on knee, ready to interpret to all and sundry whatever the hierarchy, royal or scholarly, does not have time to listen to or to record. Hortense Calisher

In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the double standard; they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never be unfaithful to them. W. H. Auden

Samuel Johnson: born on the 18th September 1709 and died on the 13th December 1784. Known as Doctor Johnson, he was an English writer, critic, and poet.

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

A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good. Samuel Johnson

Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. Samuel Johnson

Quote from the works of Dylan Marlais Thomas
Quote from the works of Dylan Marlais Thomas | Source

Writing is not what people think it is. It is not just something which, when it is operating, you can see from outside. Quote source unknown

No human being ever spoke of scenery for above two minutes at a time, which makes me suspect that we hear too much of it in literature. Robert Louis Stevenson

The writer William Thackeray was once asked by one of his small daughters, “Papa, why don’t you write nice books like Mr. Dickens?” Thackeray is said to have answered, “My dear, I wish I could”.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Eudora Welty, writing in pre internet days, devised her own cutting and pasting system. Ms. Welty, after a day’s writing, would cut her various pages into a number of strips, then arrange them in the order she felt most suitable, after careful reading.

A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. William Styron

When writing of oneself one should show no mercy. Yet why at the first attempt to discover one’s own truth does all inner strength seem to melt away in floods of self-pity and tenderness and rising tears? George Bernanos

The writer’s greed is appalling. He wants or seems to want everything and practically everybody; in another sense, and at the same time, he needs no one at all. James Baldwin

A best-seller is a gilded tomb of a mediocre talent. Lagan Pearsall Smith

The literary world is made up of little confederacies, each looking upon its own members as the lights of the universe; and considering all others as mere transient meteors, doomed soon to fall and be forgotten, while its own luminaries are to shine steadily on to immortality. Washington Irving

Monument to the poet Rainer M. Rilke in the city of Ronda, Spain. In the gardens of hotel Reina Victoria.

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This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night, “Must I write?” Dig down into yourself for a deep answer, and if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, “I must.”, then build your life according to this necessity.” Rainer Maria Rilke

No book, any more than helpful word, can do anything decisive if the person concerned is not already prepared through quite invisible influences for a deeper receptivity and absorption, if his hour of self-communion has not come anyway. Rainer Maria Rilke

Writer Nick Hornby in his book “More Baths, Less Talking” states regarding Charles Dickens: “One thing is clear: Dickens was not thinking about posterity. In fact, I'm betting that he would have said that he'd comprehensively blown his chance of a literary afterlife. He wrote too much too quickly, to feed his family and his ego, and to please his public.”

In describing her process of writing, Emily Fox Gordon recounts: “What I seem to want to do (enjoy is the wrong word here), is not to have experiences, but to think about and tell about them. I'm always looking for excuses not to sit down at my desk to write, but I enjoy my life only to the extent that even as I'm living it, I'm also writing it in my mind.”

Columnist and writer Nick Hornby advises readers: “No time spent with a book is ever entirely wasted. Even if the experience is not a happy one, there is always something to be learned. It’s just that every now and again you can hit a patch of reading that makes you feel as if you're puttering about.

There’s nothing like a couple of sleepy novels, followed by a moderately engaging biography of a minor cultural figure to make you aware of your own mortality. But what can you do about it? We don't choose to waste our reading time, it just happens; the books let us down.”

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill was born on October 16th 1888 and died on November 27th 1953. He was an Irish American playwright and dramatist.

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Having grown aware that his increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease would impair his writing ability, Nobel-prize winning playwright Eugene O'Neill tore up and burned the manuscripts of his unfinished plays. While such destruction seems tragic, one must respect his right to prevent future writers from attempting to complete them. Eugene O’Neill

Poignant Extracts

Reading Lolita in Tehran: Azar Nafisi

During a classroom discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, one student wondered aloud why Gatsby wasted his entire life seeking or pining for the eternal debutante, Daisy Buchanan. Why, the student continued, did he not find and marry a woman who would have appreciated his worth.” In response, a fellow student asked, “Why don't you write your own novel?”

Caro: The Fatal Passion: Henry Blyth.

Lord Byron wrote a memoir which, after his death, was destroyed due to the wish of his former wife, Arabella. Feeling aggrieved by his treatment of her, including, she claimed, an intimacy with his half-sister, she pleaded, at a meeting of poets, for this memoir to be destroyed. This was done, allowing a sense of chivalry to deprive the world of the perspective of a major figure in both literature and life.

Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir: A. E. Hotchner

Hadley Hemingway, first of the four wives of Nobel Prize winner writer Ernest Hemingway, was asked by him to bring copies of all his manuscripts from Paris to him in Geneva. She did so. Having gone for a drink of water, she found the portfolio had been stolen. Overwrought, upon meeting him, she confessed her oversight.

At first he felt nonchalant in that he had remaining copies at home. Then she said she had brought those copies as well, thinking they might be of use to him. Although wretched at the time, Hemingway told a later biographer that Hadley had not signed on as guardian of his writing. Instead, she had signed on for wifehood at which she did an excellent job.

George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Anne Evans. She was born on 22 November 1819 and died on 22 December 1880 and was an English novelist.

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What is your main goal when choosing to read a book?

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Literary limitations: Was novel-writing acceptable for ladies in times gone by?

Hilary Spurling recounts in her book Secrets of a Woman's Heart, so despised was the writing of novels by aristocratic ladies that author Ivy Compton-Burnett’s maid felt abashed when the butcher’s boy mentioned her mistress’ having written a novel. Outraged, the maid drew herself upright and said, “My lady has no need.”

This horror seems to have stemmed from being viewed as employed by a lady required to earn a living in any form. In literary spheres, writing novels which did not seek the scope of great literature were dismissed as frivolities. Conversely, it was all but impossible for the work of a woman to be viewed with any degree of gravitas.

Other women writers, tended to publish their works under married names such as Mrs. Humphrey Ward and Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell. Perhaps some progress is shown by Elizabeth Gaskell having used her own first name, rather than that of her husband. In any case, it may be that the “Mrs.” has alienated modern readers from what are genuine reading joys.

I admit to first having delved into them out of curiosity, but soon found myself both moved and chagrined at my early condescension. It is well known that George Eliot, one of the greatest writers in English literature, was in truth Mary Anne Evans. Even she needed the strength of a man’s name to be read with the respect due her.

Colleen Swan

© 2014 Colleen Swan

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    • Colleen Swan profile image
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      Colleen Swan 6 months ago from County Durham

      Hi Shyron, Having read your profile we seem to have common interests. From an early age, my Mom explained books are like friends and should be cherished and respected as such. Reading has long been a major source of joy in my life.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 6 months ago from Texas

      Colleen, this is a masterpiece of words, as I have often said

      I am a Logophile.

      Words unspoken are words unheard

      Ideas that cannot be discerned

      Meanings that cannot be learned

      But silence can be broken by the written word

      *

      *

      Blessings my friend

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Once more you've come up with such interesting and varied quotes from excellent research. Quotes always make us think carefully about the subject and remind us of certain books and writers that fit the bill.

      Well done! Ann

    • Colleen Swan profile image
      Author

      Colleen Swan 3 years ago from County Durham

      Thank You Commenters for your reading. I am interspersing my hubs with quote selections, writing from both personal memories and past readings.

      It is a wistful detour.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 3 years ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      I enjoyed your selected quotes from many famous writers and poets. This hub is different than many of your other quality hubs I've had the opportunity to read.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      A very interesting hub and here's to so many more to follow.

      Enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Great quotes! They teach so much and inspire deep thoughts. Thank you.

    • Thomas Swan profile image

      Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand

      A useful and inspirational collection of quotes here. Certainly food for thought.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 3 years ago

      Interesting. I was already familiar with many of these quotes, but learned some as well. Thanks. :)