Writing

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We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us. ~ Quintilian
You don't really understand your thoughts until you express them in words. ~ Elmer. L Towns
Every writer hopes or boldly assumes that his life is in some sense exemplary, that the particular will turn out to be universal. ~ Martin Amis
I have always felt that the position of an author is not and cannot be distinguished and respectable, except in so far as it is not a profession. It is too difficult to think nobly, when one thinks in order to live. In order to be able and to venture to utter great truths, one must not be dependent on success. ~ Rousseau

Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system). It is distinguished from illustration, such as cave drawing and painting, and the recording of language via a non-textual medium such as magnetic tape audio.

CONTENT: A-B - C-D - E-F - G-H - I-J - K-L - M-N - O-P -Q-R - S-T - U-V - W-X - Y-Z - See also

Quotes[edit]

listed alphabetically by author

A-B[edit]

Learn as much by writing as by reading. ~ Lord Acton
When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. … I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward. ~ L. Frank Baum
The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate. ~ François-René de Chateaubriand
If nobody reads the writing on the wall, man will be reduced to the state of the beast, whom he is shaming by his manners. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
The job of the writer is to kiss no ass, no matter how big and holy and white and tempting and powerful. ~ Ken Kesey
I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times — once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say. ~ Bernard Malamud
When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. ~ George Orwell
Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. ~ George Orwell
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance. ~ Alexander Pope
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
How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. ~ Henry David Thoreau
It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. ~ Vita Sackville-West
The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog! ~ Bill Watterson
  • After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity.
  • Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts.
    • Brian Aldiss, Penguin Science Fiction (1961) Introduction.
  • Every writer hopes or boldly assumes that his life is in some sense exemplary, that the particular will turn out to be universal.
  • I'm a bit of a grinder. Novels are very long, and long novels are very, very long. It's just a hell of a lot of man-hours. I tend to just go in there, and if it comes, it comes. A morning when I write not a single word doesn't worry me too much. If I come up against a brick wall, I'll just go and play snooker or something or sleep on it, and my subconscious will fix it for me. Usually, it's a journey without maps but a journey with a destination, so I know how it's going to begin and I know how it's going to end, but I don't know how I'm going to get from one to the other. That, really, is the struggle of the novel.[1]
  • Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.
  • Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.
    • James Baldwin "Autobiographical Notes" (1952); republished in Notes of a Native Son (1955).
  • I am a galley slave to pen and ink.
  • When I was young I longed to write a great novel that should win me fame. Now that I am getting old my first book is written to amuse children. For aside from my evident inability to do anything "great," I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp which, when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward.
    • L. Frank Baum, in a personal inscription on a copy of Mother Goose in Prose which he gave to his sister, Mary Louise Baum Brewster, quoted in The Making of the Wizard of Oz (1998) by Aljean Harmetz, p. 317.
  • The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.
    • Robert Benchley, quoted by James Thurber in The Bermudian (November 1950).
  • It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
  • When that passage was written only God and Robert Browning understood it. Now only God understands it.
    • Rudolf Besier, The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1932), act II, p. 66. Robert Browning is speaking.
  • 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, Twenty Conversations with Borges, Including a Selection of Poems : Interviews by Roberto Alifano, 1981–1983 (1984).
  • That so many writers have been prepared to accept a kind of martyrdom is the best tribute that flesh can pay to the living spirit of man as expressed in his literature. One cannot doubt that the martyrdom will continue to be gladly embraced. To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters.
    • Anthony Burgess, English Literature: A Survey for Students (1958, revised 1974).
  • The tendinous part of the mind, so to speak, is more developed in winter; the fleshy, in summer. I should say winter had given the bone and sinew to literature, summer the tissues and the blood.

C-D[edit]

  • A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.
  • In every man's writings, the character of the writer must lie recorded.
  • L'écrivain original n'est pas celui qui n'imite personne, mais celui que personne ne peut imiter.
    • The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.
    • François-René de Chateaubriand, Le génie du Christianisme (The Genius of Christianity) (1802). This sentence has also been translated as: "The original style is not the style which never borrows of any one, but that which no other person is capable of reproducing" in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989), reporting translation by Charles I. White (1856, reprinted 1976), part 2, book 1, chapter 3, p. 221; and as "The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none". The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (1979), 3d ed., p. 141.
  • Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them.
  • Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.

E-F[edit]

  • If I let my fingers wander idly over the keys of a typewriter it might happen that my screed made an intelligible sentence. If an army of monkeys were strumming on typewriters they might write all the books in the British Museum.
    • Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1928), chapter 4, p. 72. Eddington calls this "a rather classical illustration" of chance. A discussion of this concept is in William Ralph Bennett, Scientific and Engineering Problem-solving with the Computer (1976), chapter 4, p. 105. A similar quotation was attributed, apparently incorrectly, to [Thomas Henry?] Huxley by Sir James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe (1931), p. 4.
  • These two rules make the best system: first, have something to say; second, say it.
    • Nathanael Emmons, as quoted by Edwards Amasa Park in "Miscellaneous Reflections of a Visiter upon the Character of Dr. Emmons", published in The Works of Nathanael Emmons (1842), ed. Jacob Ide, Vol. 1, p. cxxxii
    • Compare: First, have something to say. Second, say it. Third, stop when you have said it. Fourth, give it a good title.
      • John Shaw Billings, as quoted in "Johns Hopkins Historical Club: Special Meeting, May 26, 1913, in Memory of Dr. John Shaw Billings", Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Vol. 25, No. 282 (August 1914), p. 247.
  • Good typography should be like like a wonderful clear crystal goblet that holds wine. [It is] much better than a golden goblet with jewels on the outside because the point of the crystal goblet is that you can see the wine that is inside. You can appreciate the colors of it. You can see how when you swirl the wine how the texture of the wine clings to the glas and how quickly it drips down back into the pool of wine. And you can see the sediment in the bottom when you hold it up in the light. That's the purpose of typography. It should be invisible.
    • Tom Fauls, Associate Professor in Advertising, in the short documentary Comic Sans (2009).
  • You can gather however that I know I am not a real artist, and at the same time am fearfully serious over my work and willing to sweat at atmosphere if it helps me wo what I want. What I want, I think, is the sentimental, but the sentimental reached by no easy beaten track—I cannot explain myself properly, for you must remember (I forget it myself) that though 'clever' I have a small and cloudy brain, and cannot clear it by talking or reading philosophy.
    • E. M. Forster, Selected Letters: Letter 60, to Robert Trevelyan, 28 October 1905.
  • As for 'story' I never yet did enjoy a novel or play in which someone didn't tell me afterward that there was something wrong with the story, so that's going to be no drawback as far as I'm concerned. "Good Lord, why am I so bored"—"I know; it must be the plot developing harmoniously." So I often reply to myself, and there rises before me my special nightmare—that of the writer as craftsman, natty and deft.
    • E. M. Forster, Selected Letters: Letter 104, to Forrest Reid, 19 June 1912.

G-H[edit]

  • You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.
  • May God give power to every word of mine. In his name I began to write this, and in His name I close it.
  • [Writing is] a bit like shitting...if it's coming in dribs and drabs or not coming at all, or being forced out, or if you're missing the rhythm, it's no pleasure at all.
  • Please write again soon. Though my own life is filled with activity, letters encourage momentary escape into others lives and I come back to my own with greater contentment.
  • Good writers indulge their audience; great writers know better.
  • Intellectually as well as emotionally he (Nietzsche) needed solitude. This fact emerges, I believe, from the manner of thinking and style of writing revealed in his books, which are essentially a species of talking to oneself. … He is a man whose mind is full, overfull, of ideas; he is constantly finding ways of expressing them which, as he says in his letters, surprise and delight him; he spends much of each day walking, and at night he sits crouched over his table; and all the time he is talking to himself. He loves his own company, for with no one else can he enjoy such entertaining conversation. Sometimes he contradicts himself, but what would conversation be without contradiction? He argues, he grows angry, he laughs at himself; he postures and exposes himself as a posturer; he announces he is the freest of free-thinkers, and retorts that free-thinking is mere destructiveness. Gradually a philosophy emerges, his philosophy: none of it is of any use to anyone, no one is even interested in it; but one day — so he tells himself — mankind will open its eyes and see that a new world has been discovered.
  • He wins every hand who mingles profit with pleasure, by delighting and instructing the reader at the same time.
    • Horace, The Epistle to the Pisones (c. 18 BC).

I-J[edit]

  • If it was easy, everyone would do it rather than going around telling you their ideas and saying how they could be a writer if they had the time.
  • Writing is nothing less than thought transference, the ability to send one's ideas out into the world, beyond time and distance, taken at the value of the words, unbound from the speaker.

K-L[edit]

  • The present writer ... writes because for him it is a luxury that becomes all the more enjoyable and conspicuous the fewer who buy and read what he writes.
    • Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (1843), S. Walsh, trans. (2006), p. 5
  • 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.
  • Advice to writers: Sometimes you just have to stop writing. Even before you begin.
  • He is no parasite on anything, whose work is real: a mechanic, a doctor, a builder, a tailor, a dishwasher. What, in comparison, does a writer produce? Semblances. This is a serious occupation?
    • Stanisław Lem, A Perfect Vacuum (1971), "Rien du tout, ou la conséquence" ("Nothing, or the Consequence"), tr. Michael Kandel (1978).

M-N[edit]

  • If I may, I would at this point urge young writers not to be too much concerned with the vagaries of the marketplace. Not everyone can make a first-rate living as a writer, but a writer who is serious and responsible about his work, and life, will probably find a way to earn a decent living, if he or she writes well. A good writer will be strengthened by his good writing at a time, let us say, of the resurgence of ignorance in our culture. I think I have been saying that the writer must never compromise with what is best in him in a world defined as free.
  • I have written almost all my life. My writing has drawn, out of a reluctant soul, a measure of astonishment at the nature of life. And the more I wrote well, the better I felt I had to write.
    In writing I had to say what had happened to me, yet present it as though it had been magically revealed. I began to write seriously when I had taught myself the discipline necessary to achieve what I wanted. When I touched that time, my words announced themselves to me. I have given my life to writing without regret, except when I consider what in my work I might have done better. I wanted my writing to be as good as it must be, and on the whole I think it is. I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times — once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.
    Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one's fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to re-form it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing: The men and things of today are wont to lie fairer and truer in tomorrow's meadow, Henry Thoreau said.
    I don't regret the years I put into my work. Perhaps I regret the fact that I was not two men, one who could live a full life apart from writing; and one who lived in art, exploring all he had to experience and know how to make his work right; yet not regretting that he had put his life into the art of perfecting the work.
    • Bernard Malamud, in an address at Bennington College (30 October 1984)] as published in "Reflections of a Writer: Long Work, Short Life" in The New York Times (20 March 1988).
  • A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
  • Premeditated details arrive, when you're writing, and my instinct is always to reach for the nearest weapon.
  • If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism. If you steal from two, it's research.
    • Wilson Mizner. John Burke (Richard O'Connor), Rogue's Progress: The Fabulous Adventures of Wilson Mizner (1975), chapter 9, p. 167.
  • The reason I got into magic was that it seemed to be what was lying at the end of the path of writing. If I wanted to continue on that path, I was going to have to get into that territory because I had followed writing as far as I thought I could without taking a step over the edges of rationality. The path led out of rational confines. When you start thinking about art and creativity, rationality is not big enough to contain it all.
  • I don’t distinguish between magic and art. When I got into magic, I realised I had been doing it all along, ever since I wrote my first pathetic story or poem when I was twelve or whatever. This has all been my magic, my way of dealing with it.
    • Alan Moore, from an "Alan Moore Interview" by Matthew De Abaitua (1998).
  • You ask me why I do not write something....I think one's feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.
    • Florence Nightingale, Letter to a friend, quoted in The Life of Florence Nightingale (1913) by Edward Tyas Cook, p. 94.

O-P[edit]

  • When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.
    • George Orwell, in "Charles Dickens" (1939), Inside the Whale and Other Essays (1940).
  • The Spanish war and other events in 1936-7 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.
  • Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
  • I have made this [letter] longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.
    • Blaise Pascal, "Lettres provinciales", letter 16 (1657). Translated as "The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter" in Pensées, The Provincial Letters, provincial letter 16 (1941), p. 571, as reported in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
  • Thus, in a real sense, I am constantly writing autobiography, but I have to turn it into fiction in order to give it credibility.
  • In the mental disturbance and effort of writing, what sustains you is the certainty that on every page there is something left unsaid.
  • Writing is a fine thing, because it combines the two pleasures of talking to yourself and talking to a crowd.
  • Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness – when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be.
  • Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries.

Q-R[edit]

  • We should not write so that it is possible for [the reader] to understand us, but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.
  • And lo, though I travel through the valley of the archetypes, I shall fear no evil, for I know that the author can't kill me off for at least another 150 pages, no matter how stupid or trite I become, or he ruins the book.
  • I felt that writing for bread would soon have stifled my genius and destroyed my talents, which were more those of the heart than of the pen, and arose solely from a proud and elevated manner of thinking, which alone could support them.
    • Rousseau, Confessions (Wordsworth: 1996), p. 391.
  • I have always felt that the position of an author is not and cannot be distinguished and respectable, except in so far as it is not a profession. It is too difficult to think nobly, when one thinks in order to live. In order to be able and to venture to utter great truths, one must not be dependent on success.
    • Rousseau, Confessions (Wordsworth: 1996), p. 391.
  • The need of success … might have made me strive to say what might please the multitude, rather than what was true and useful, and instead of a distinguished author which I might possibly become, I should have ended in becoming nothing but a mere scribbler.
    • Rousseau, Confessions (Wordsworth: 1996), p. 391.
  • 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.

S-T[edit]

  • Life is writing. The sole purpose of mankind is to engrave the thoughts of divinity onto the tablets of nature.
    • Friedrich Schlegel, “On Philosophy: To Dorothea,” in Theory as Practice (1997), p. 420.
  • People make interesting assumptions about the profession. The writer is a mysterious figure, wandering lonely as a cloud, fired by inspiration, or perhaps a cocktail or two.
  • Fine writers should split hairs together, and sit side by side, like friendly apes, to pick the fleas from each other's fur.
    • Logan Pearsall Smith, "Afterthoughts", All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia, After-thoughts, Last Words (1933), p. 150.
  • How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
  • You don't really understand your thoughts until you express them in words.
    • Elmer. L Towns, How to Study and Teach the Bible (1997).

U-V[edit]

  • Writers take words seriously — perhaps the last professional class that does — and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader.
    • John Updike, Writers on Themselves, The New York Times (17 August 1986).
  • Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbor's, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.
    • Attributed to Voltaire; in Tryon Edwards, Dictionary of Thoughts (1891), p. 392. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).

W-X[edit]

  • I realized that the purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!
  • The effort of expression has a bearing not only on the form but on the thought and on the whole inner being. So long as bare simplicity of expression is not attained, the thought has not touched or even come near to true greatness. … The real way of writing is to write as we translate. When we translate a text written in some foreign language, we do not seek to add anything to it; on the contrary, we are scrupulously careful not to add anything to it. That is how we have to try to translate a text which is not written down.
  • It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.
  • I am more or less familiar with the works of the members of this Institute. I have worked in the same field. I have felt that quick comradeship of letters which is a very real comradeship, because it is a comradeship of thought and of principle.
    • Woodrow Wilson, "That Quick Comradeship of Letters", address at the Institute of France, Paris, France (May 10, 1919). Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd, eds., The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson (1927), vol. 5, p. 482.
  • The imaginative artist willy-nilly influences his time. If he understands his responsibility and acts on it—taking the art seriously always, himself never quite—he can make a contribution equal to, if different from, that of the scientist, the politician, and the jurist. The anarchic artist so much in vogue now—asserting with vehemence and violence that he writes only for himself, grubbing in the worst seams of life—can do damage. But he can also be so useful in breaking up obsolete molds, exposing shams, and crying out the truth, that the broadest freedom of art seems to me necessary to a country worth living in.
    • Herman Wouk; in Kirk Polking, "An Exclusive Interview with Herman Wouk", Writer's Digest (September 1966), p. 50.

Y-Z[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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