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Happy is he who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale—who writes always to the unknown friend. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair. ~ Aimé Césaire
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.

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  • When you look for the motivations you always go to the basic instincts, to the basic emotions, the basic things that have moved humankind always. That's what all writers write about, ultimately. What did Shakespeare write about? Jealousy, love, sex, power, greed, the same stuff that soap operas and the Bible are made of. It's always the same.
  • Writing is like training to be an athlete. There is a lot of training and work that nobody sees in order to compete. The writer needs to write every day, just as the athlete needs to train. Much of the writing will never be used, but it is essential to do it. I always tell my young students to write at least one good page a day. At the end of the year they will have at least 360 good pages. That is a book.
  • The written word is an act of human solidarity. I write so that people will love each other more.
    • Isabel Allende Interview (1989) in Interviews with Latin American Writers by Marie Lise Gazarian Gautier (1989)
  • Writing is a terrible way to make a living, almost as bad as criticism.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • SCRIBBLER, n. A professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one's own.
  • 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.
  • So I had this problem—work or starve. So I thought I'd combine the two and decided to become a writer.
    • Robert Bloch, Acceptance Speech at the first World Fantasy Convention, printed in First World Fantasy Awards (1977; edited by Gahan Wilson), ISBN 0-385-12199-7, p. 50
  • 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).
  • The personal essay is vulnerable. It cannot stand upon its footnotes.
    • Mary L. Bradford, "I, Eye, Aye: A Personal Essay on Personal Essays" (1978)
  • 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.
  • Oh that I had the art of easy writing
    What should be easy reading! could I scale
    Parnassus, where the Muses sit inditing
    Those pretty poems never known to fail,
    How quickly would I print (the world delighting)
    A Grecian, Syrian, or Assyrian tale;
    And sell you, mix'd with western sentimentalism,
    Some sample of the finest Orientalism.
  • I've half a mind to tumble down to prose,
    But verse is more in fashion—so here goes!


  • 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.
  • Writing is a lonely occupation at best. Of course there are stimulating and even happy associations with friends and colleagues, but during the actual work of creation the writer cuts himself off from all others and confronts his subject alone. He moves into a realm where he has never been before — perhaps where no one has ever been. It is a lonely place, even a little frightening.
    • Rachel Carson Acceptance speech of the Achievement Award of the American Association of University Women, Washington, D.C., June 22, (1956)
  • The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.
    • Lewis Carroll, Roger Lancelyn Green (1989). The Selected Letters of Lewis Carroll, p.10, Springer
  • My mouth shall be the mouth of those calamities that have no mouth, my voice the freedom of those who break down in the prison holes of despair.
  • Un poète doit laisser des traces de son passage, non des preuves. Seules les traces font rêver.
    • A poet should leave traces of his passage, not proofs. Traces alone engender dreams.
      • René Char, as quoted in The French-American Review (1976) by Texas Christian University, p. 132.
  • 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.
  • In its focus on beauty, cursive handwriting is an activity more formative to what parents hope for their children than any single standardized test could be. It uplifts a work-a-day practice like writing and recording into a transcendent good. Content mastery is essential, of course, but cursive instills in students an appreciation of craftsmanship and the importance of taking pride in appearance.


  • The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.
    • Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy, page 182 [1]
  • Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I've always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them. Coming from where I come from, with the history I have having spent the first twelve years of my life under both dictatorships…this is what I've always seen as the unifying principle among all writers. This is what, among other things, might join Albert Camus and Sophocles to Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Osip Mandelstam, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to Ralph Waldo Ellison. Somewhere, if not now, then maybe years in the future, a future that we may have yet to dream of, someone may risk his or her life to read us.
  • To outsiders, teaching writing might seem like leading students through endless punctuation exercises. It’s not. In reality, a postsecondary writing classroom is a place where students develop higher-order skills like formulating (and continuously fine-tuning) a persuasive argument, finding relevant sources, and integrating compelling evidence. But they also extend to essential beneath-the-surface abilities like finding ideas worth writing about in the first place and then figuring out how to organize and structure those ideas.


  • 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.
  • Happy is he who looks only into his work to know if it will succeed, never into the times or the public opinion; and who writes from the love of imparting certain thoughts and not from the necessity of sale—who writes always to the unknown friend.


  • 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 glass 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.
  • 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 do 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.


  • 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.
  • Effective writing isn’t in the mechanics. Anyone can master the mechanical act of stringing together words and sentences and paragraphs to make a character move from A to B. The bookstores are full of evidence. But that’s not writing. Writing isn’t about the words, it’s about the experience. It’s about the feeling that the story creates inside of you. If there’s no feeling, there’s no story.
    But sometimes, there’s only the feeling without any meaning or understanding. And that’s not a story either.
  • [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.
  • 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 follow.
  • I always feel you're writing the book you couldn't find, so you have to write it yourself.
  • I don’t think about rules when I’m writing – that’s the great thing about writing: it’s the one place in my life that I can do whatever I want.
  • 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).
  • "murderous signs, scratched in a folded tablet,
    and many of them too, enough to kill a man."
    • Homer, the Iliad (cap 6 trad Fagles)




  • 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.


  • 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.
  • For me, writing is an act of reciprocity with the world; it is what I can give back in return for everything that has been given to me.
  • 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.


  • A preface is a species of literary luxury, where an author, like a lover, is privileged to be egotistical.
  • I have been writing all my life, and even now I do not understand the faculty of composition; but this I do know, that the history of the circumstances under which most books are written would be a frightful picture of human suffering. How often is the pen taken up when the hand is unsteady with recent sickness, and bodily pain is struggled against, and sometimes in vain! How often is the page written hurriedly and anxiously,—the mind fevered the while by the consciousness that it is not doing justice to its powers!
  • 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).


  • 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, 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.
  • A rule says "You must do it this way". A principle says, "This works... and has through all remembered time." The difference is crucial. Your work needn't be modeled after the well-made play; rather it must be well made within the principles that shape our art. Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form.
    • Robert McKee, Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting (2010)
  • 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.
  • Sadly, reading and writing are, at least in part, the victims of a television and internet culture that has effectively encumbered the minds of people. This is problematic because, without reading, it becomes difficult to think analytically and imaginatively about the world’s problems and issues, and it hampers the development of appropriate responses and solutions. Lack of reading also often results in the uncritical acceptance of political slogans which, while they appear plausible, are ultimately devoid of merit.
  • 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.
  • Why one writes is a question I can answer easily, having so often asked it of myself. I believe one writes because one has to create a world in which one can live. I could not live in any of the worlds offered to me — the world of my parents, the world of war, the world of politics. I had to create a world of my own, like a climate, a country, an atmosphere in which I could breathe, reign, and recreate myself when destroyed by living. That, I believe, is the reason for every work of art.
    • Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5 (1947-1955), February 1954, as quoted in Woman as Writer (1978), p. 38.
  • I write what I would like to read – what I think other women would like to read. If what I write makes a woman in the Canadian mountains cry and she writes and tells me about it, especially if she says ‘I read it to Tom when he came in from work and he cried too,’ I feel I have succeeded.
    • Kathleen Norris, on the publication of her seventy-eighth book, as cited in: James Charlton. The Writer's quotation book. 1985. p. 34


  • 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.


  • what’s a writer for? The whole point is to put yourself into other lives, other heads—writers have always done that. If you screw up, so someone will tell you, that’s all. I think men can write about women and women can write about men. The whole point is to know the facts. Men have so often written about women without knowing the reality of their lives, and worse, without being interested in that daily reality.
  • The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write.
  • You can’t write without a lot of pressure. Sometimes the pressure comes from anger, which then changes into a pressure to write...The pressure from anger is an energy that can be violent or useful or useless. Also the pressure doesn’t have to be anger. It could be love. One could be overcome with feelings of lifetime love or justice.
  • I think a lot of what influences a writer is what you hear in the street, the language you hear, the way people talk, the way, the rhythms, the song, the language of your childhood.
    • Grace Paley 1980 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley (1997)
  • 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).
  • GR: What advice do you give writers?
CP: Write to please themselves or shock themselves or entertain themselves. And if anything, to surprise people in workshop. There's a linguistic anthropologist named Shirley Brice Heath. Jonathan Franzen has written about her quite a bit. She says the one aspect of writing that people value most is the element of surprise. If a story can surprise the reader, subvert an expectation, then the reader will really treasure that story.
I noticed that my more recent writer's workshop—one that I'd been in for, geez, 20 years at least—fell apart about the time I started writing Adjustment Day. I think it was because I was starting to pander to them. Someone in the group, a dear friend of mine, told me I couldn't use the word faggot anymore, that I would have to leave the workshop if I was going to use the word in a story. Another friend objected to a different word.
And I found myself having to write within the constraints of people's sensibilities. There was no way I can write the kind of challenging in-your-face stuff that I love to write. And so I left workshop, and in doing so, I was able to write Adjustment Day. But I think my last few books have been more perhaps frivolous because I was writing to please people in workshop, and that doesn't work. I try to tell people not to do that.
  • 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.
  • Writing, Phaedrus, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing.
  • 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.


  • I have collected all the writings of the Empire and burnt those which were of no use.
  • 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.


  • Ethelfreda blinked in surprise. “How did you...”
    “Know that you're a writer?” When Ethelfreda nodded, Mrs. Gotti said, “You have that pale, physically unfit, financially desperate, and emotionally downtrodden look about you. It’s unmistakable. Only writers ever look like that.”
  • ... I think writing is one of the most pleasurable things one can do. It can be a private thing ... many hours alone in a room typing away, or sometimes racking one's brain to think of things to write. But it is also something that we can share.
  • what is writing if not a form of confession in disguise? No matter what the subject, all literary roads lead back to the self. The writer descends like a miner into the deepest shafts of her soul in order to unearth the blackest coals of her torment, or to retrieve the most glittering diamonds of her memories, and bring them back to the surface in the form of fictions that she wishes to share with the world.
    • Chava Rosenfarb "Confessions of a Yiddish Writer" (1973) in "Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays" (2019) translated from the Yiddish with Goldie Morgentaler
  • I was never a Sunday scribbler. Writing was never a hobby for me, a pastime to while away the hours. On the contrary, it was as necessary to me as life itself; it was a refuge, a substitute for living, a confrontation with myself, a form of confession - but always it was a necessity that allowed me to feel that my life had an accompanying motif, an underlying melody. Writing often gave me moments of such ecstasy as can only be experienced by lovers; it gave me instances of such intense spiritual forgetfulness that I truly believed that I and the cosmos were one, so that through the simple act of breathing the air in my room I felt that I was inhaling the universe itself. Clasped within the bosom of this universe, my physical self simply ceased to be. Rare moments these, but blessed.
    • Chava Rosenfarb "Confessions of a Yiddish Writer" (1973) in "Confessions of a Yiddish Writer and Other Essays" edited and translated from the Yiddish by Goldie Morgentaler (2019)
  • 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.
  • The bottom line is, I have to write the story I want to write. I never wrote them with a focus group of 8-year-olds in mind. I have to continue telling the story the way I want to tell it. I don't at all relish the idea of children in tears, and I absolutely don't deny it's frightening. But it's supposed to be frightening! And if you don't show how scary that is, you cannot show how incredibly brave Harry is.
  • I found that life intruding on writing was, in fact, life. And that tempting as it may be for a writer who is also a parent, one must not think of life as an intrusion. At the end of the day, writing has very little to do with writing and much to do with life. And life, my definition, is not an intrusion.
    • Sarah Ruhl, "On Interruptions," 100 Essays I Don't Have Time to Write
  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.
  • 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.
    • Sara Sheridan, "What Writers Earn: A Cultural Myth", Huffington Post (April 24, 2013)
  • 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.
  • The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.
  • Here's a statement made recently by a man who feels that women writers are quite different from men writers: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it is unequal to me.”
    He talked about something called “feminine tosh”. He didn't mean it in an unkind way, he added. He said this is because of women's “sentimentality, their narrow view of the world . . . And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing, too”.
  • Reading and writing are two essential skills of learning — gateway skills. Our K-12 schools and universities had better get them right. Reading opens up worlds. Writing changes worlds. We only speak as well as we write and think. We only write as well as we read.Images quickly disappear. A shot on the TV screen lasts three to eight seconds. Writing doesn’t vaporize. There is something lasting about it. It’s been said that if you want to extend your life, write and leave something worth reading.There will always be room for and need for great writers.


  • S/he who writes, writes. In uncertainty, in necessity. And does not ask whether s/he is given the permission to do so or not. Yet, in the context of today’s market-dependent societies, “to be a writer” can no longer mean purely to perform the act of writing. For a laywo/man to enter the priesthood—the sacred world of writers—s/he must fulfill a number of unwritten conditions. S/he must undergo a series of rituals, be baptized and ordained. S/he must submit her writings to the law laid down by the corporation of literary/literacy victims and be prepared to accept their verdict. Every woman who writes and wishes to become established as a writer has known the taste of rejection.
  • Good writing is thus differentiated from bad writing through a building up of skill and vocabulary and a perfecting of techniques. Since genius cannot be acquired, sophisticated means, skills, and knowledge are dangled before one’s eyes as the steps to take, the ladder to climb if one wishes to come any closer to the top of this monument known as Literature. Invoke the Name. Follow the norms. Of. The Well Written. The master-servant’s creed carries on: you must learn through patience and discipline. And what counts most is what it costs in labor to engender a work, hence the parallel often abusively drawn between the act of writing and the birth process.
  • To write is to become. Not to become a writer (or a poet), but to become, intransitively. Not when writing adopts established keynotes or policy, but when it traces for itself lines of evasion.
  • It is said that the writer’s choice is always a two-way choice. Whether one assumes it clear-sightedly or not, by writing one situates oneself vis-à-vis both society and the nature of literature, that is to say, the tools of creation. The way I encounter or incorporate the former, in other words, is the way I confront merge into the latter, for these are the two inseparable faces of a single entity. Neither entirely personal nor purely historical, a mode of writing is in itself a function. An act of historical solidarity, it denotes, in addition to the writer’s personal standpoint and intention, a relationship between creation and society. Dealing exclusively with either one of these two aspects, therefore, proves vain as an approach. So does the preaching of revolution through a writing more concerned with imposing than raising consciousness regarding the process by which language works or regarding the nature, activity, and status of writing itself. No radical change can occur as long as writing is not recognized, precisely, as “the choice of that social area within which the writer elects to situate the Nature of her/his language.”
  • Writing as a system by itself has its own rules and structuring process. The abc lesson says that for letters to become words and for words to take on meanings, they must relate to other letters, to other words, to the context in which they evolve—be it verbal or nonverbal—as well as to other present and absent contexts. (Words are think-tanks loaded with second- and third-order memories that die hard despite their ever-changing meanings.) Thus, writing constantly refers to writing, and no writing can ever claim to be “free” of other writings.
  • When asked why they write, writers usually answer that they do so to create a world of their own, make order out of chaos, heighten their awareness of life, transcend their existences, discover themselves, communicate their feelings, or speak to others. Some add that they write as they breathe, as they stay alive, or as “birds sing,” to unfold “the comings and goings of a desire” and “exhaust a task that bears in itself its own bliss.” At times Writing is considered as a substitute for something lying beyond it, at other times as a necessity and an activity in its own right, devoid of any ulterior motive or any finality.
  • Writing necessarily refers to writing. The image is that of a mirror capturing only the reflections of other mirrors. [...] Writing reflects. It reflects on other writings and, whenever awareness emerges, on itself as writing. Like the Japanese boxes that contain other boxes, nest one inside the other ad nihilum, writing is meshing one’s writing with the machinery of endless reflexivity. Footprints of emptiness multiplied to infinity in an attempt at disarming death.
  • Writing, for the majority of us who call ourselves writers, still consists of “expressing” the exalted emotions related to the act of creating and either appropriating language to ourselves or ascribing it to a subject who is more or less a reflection of ourselves.
  • Writing, in a way, is listening to the others’ language and reading with the others’ eyes. The more ears I am able to hear with, the farther I see the plurality of meaning and the less I lend myself to the illusion of a single message.
  • Writing, like a game that defies its own rules, is an ongoing practice that may be said to be concerned, not with inserting a “me” into language, but with creating an opening where the “me” disappears while “I” endlessly come and go, as the nature of language requires. To confer an Author on a text is to close the writing. Eureka! It makes sense! This is it! I hold the key to the puzzle! Fear and seek. Fear and seek. The danger we fear most is forgetting to fear. Seek and lose. Lose, freely. When you are silent, it speaks; when you speak, it is silent. Writing is born when the writer is no longer.
  • Writing as an inconsequential process of sameness/otherness is ceaselessly re-breaking and re-weaving patterns of ready-mades. The written bears the written to infinity.
  • If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
  • 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).


  • 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.


  • Did you ever think? Old-fashioned writing is the ultimate in context tagging. It’s passive, informative, and present exactly where you need it.
  • 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).


  • 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.
  • A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content. A certain amount of encouragement is necessary."
  • 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.
  • I think writing, my writing, is a species of mediumship. I become the person.
  • 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.

See also