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40 Timeless Quotes About Writing

40 Timeless Quotes About Writing

You might think writing is easy- that all you need is a writerly instinct and you are good to go. But, having a writerly instinct alone doesn’t make a person a writer. Some of the most gifted writers of our time have tried and failed at writing because it’s a hard business. It lends itself to attacks on your intelligence, emotions, idiosyncrasies, and self-esteem- so you might as well be prepared. Even if you’re an utterly fantastic writer who will be remembered for decades to come, you’ll still receive a good dollop of criticism, rejection, and maybe even mockery before you get there.

George Orwell was rejected several times by publishers for Animal Farm, with Knopf Publishers, in 1945, saying the manuscript was a “stupid and pointless fable.” Vladimir Nabokov received a harsh rejection letter from Knopf too upon submitting Lolita, which would later go on to sell 50 million copies. Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style, and even Jack Kerouac’s perennial classic, On the Road received a blunt rejection letter that simply read, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

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rejection letter

    Arthur C. Fifield who didn’t bother reading the full manuscript for “The Making of Americans,” sent this most poetic rejection letter to novelist Gertrude Stein, who nonetheless went on to become one of the most prominent voices of American Literature. (Image credit: Mental Floss)

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    For those days when you feel dejected, hurt, weary or just a tad quit-y, a good writing quote can remind you of the essence of the craft and uplift your spirit. These timeless quotes about writing will encourage you to keep learning, to keep writing, and to keep striving.

    1. “I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” – Harper Lee

    2. “Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.” – Paul Theroux

    3. “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

    4. “If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.” – William Zinsser

    5. “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” – Truman Capote

    6. “Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” – Agatha Christie

    7. “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” – E. L. Doctorow

    8. “The best advice on writing I’ve ever received is to take it seriously, because to do it well is all-consuming.” – David Guterson

    9. “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury

    10.“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann

    11. “A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.” – Sidney Sheldon

    12. “Write while the heat is in you. …The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.” – Henry David Thoreau

    13. “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.” – Ray Bradbury

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

    15. “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” – Anne Frank

    16. “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” – Neil Gaiman

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

    18. “I love my rejection slips, they show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath

    19. “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

    20. “In general, what is written must be easy to read and easy to speak; which is the same.” – Aristotle

    21. “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

    22. “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” – Thomas Jefferson

    23. “A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

    24. “You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis

    25. “Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences” – Sylvia Plath

    26. “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” – Isaac Asimov

    27. “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” – Robert A. Heinlein

    28. “Writers are always selling somebody out.” – Joan Didion

    29. “It’s immoral not to tell.” – Albert Camus

    30. “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” – Robert Benchley

    31. “So what? All writers are lunatics!” – Cornelia Funke

    32. “Writers aren’t exactly people…. they’re a whole bunch of people trying to be one person.” – Scott Fitzgerald

    33. “Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” – Lev Grossman

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

    35. “I was a late bloomer. But anyone who blooms at all, ever, is very lucky.” – Sharon Olds

    36. “Writers live twice.” – Natalie Goldberg

    37. “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anaïs Nin

    38. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. ” – Benjamin Franklin

    39. “Write what should not be forgotten.” – Isabel Allende

    40. “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” ― Winston S. Churchill

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    More by this author

    David K. William

    David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

    “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

    Are we speaking the same language?

    My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

    When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

    Am I being lazy?

    When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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    Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

    Early in the relationship:

    “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

    When the relationship is established:

    “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

    It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

    Have I actually got anything to say?

    When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

    When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

    Am I painting an accurate picture?

    One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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    How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

    Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

    What words am I using?

    It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

    Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

    Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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    Is the map really the territory?

    Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

    A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

    I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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