writers on writing




Writers On Writing

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

I leave out parts people skip. – Elmore Leonard paraphrased

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

The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. ~Norbet Platt

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. ~James Michener

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. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~Vita Sackville-West

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Easy reading is damn hard writing. ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.  ~Mark Twain

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.  ~Author Unknown

When once the itch of literature comes over a man, nothing can cure it but the scratching of a pen. But if you have not a pen, I suppose you must scratch any way you can. ~Samuel Lover, Handy Andy, 1842

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~James Michener

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. ~Isaac Asimov

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. ~Peter De Vries

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.
 ~English Professor (Name Unknown), Ohio University

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. 
~Hannah Arendt

I see but one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, all my world crumbles to nothing.  -Stendhal

It is easier to be long than short. -Samuel Butler 

The period is the writers’ best friend. -Unknown Writer

To write simply is as difficult as to be good. -Somerset Maugham

Once precision is abandoned as a linguistic or literary virtue, vague generalization is one of the two remaining possibilities, gibberish being the second. -Wendell Barry

If I’m going to be that clear, I also better be that right. -Unknown Writer

Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. -Albert Einstein

All a writer has to do is open a vein and bleed over the page. Nothing to it. -Red Smith

News is the first draft of history. -Accredited to Washington (DC) Post publisher Phil Graham

Short words are best and the old words when short are the best of all.
-Winston Churchill

If writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers.  -Irvin S. Cobb

Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.
-Jules Renard, author (1864-1910)

Autobiography is an unrivaled vehicle for telling the truth about other people. -Philip Guedalla

A writer— and, I believe, generally all persons—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, writer (1899-1986)

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.  -Thomas Carruthers

Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process where teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.  -Arthur Koestler

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.  ~Sharon O'Brien

Do not put statements in the negative form.
And don't start sentences with a conjunction.
If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
De-accession euphemisms.
If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
~William Safire, "Great Rules of Writing"

Don’t use pleonasms. (PLEE-uh-naz-uhm)

MEANING: noun: The use of more words than those necessary to express an idea; redundancy. Example: free gift.

The secret of good writing is to say an old thing in a new way or a new thing in an old way.  -Richard Harding Davis, journalist and author (1864-1916)

Comedy has to be based on truth. You take the truth and you put a little curlicue at the end.  -Sid Caesar, actor and writer (b. 1922)

There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.  -William Makepeace Thackeray, novelist (1811-1863)

I did try very hard to tell the whole truth without violating my literary instincts. One can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a window pane.  -George Orwell, writer

Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be start his own religion.
-L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction author who later started the Church of Scientology (1911-1986)

It is my belief that the writer, the free-lance author, should be and must be a critic of the society in which he lives. It is easy enough, and always profitable, to rail away at national enemies beyond the sea, at foreign powers beyond our borders who question the prevailing order. But the moral duty of the free writer is to begin his work at home; to be a critic of his own community, his own country, his own culture. If the writer is unwilling to fill this part, then the writer should abandon pretense and find another line of work: become a shoe repairman, a brain surgeon, a janitor, a cowboy, a nuclear physicist, a bus driver.  -Edward Abbey, naturalist and author (1927-1989)

Only those things are beautiful which are inspired by madness and written by reason. -Andre Gide, author, Nobel laureate (1869-1951)

My stories run up and bite me in the leg—I respond by writing them down—everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.  -Ray Bradbury, science-fiction writer (b. 1920)

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.
-William Faulkner, novelist (1897-1962)

A writer must refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution.
-Jean-Paul Sartre, writer and philosopher (1905-1980)

A poet should be of the / old-fashioned meaningless brand: / obscure, esoteric, symbolic, -- / the critics demand it; / so if there's a poem of mine / that you do understand / I'll gladly explain what it means / till you don't understand it.
-Piet Hein, poet and scientist (1905-1996)

Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.  -James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)

I see but one rule: to be clear. If I am not clear, all my world crumbles to nothing.  -Stendhal

Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.
-E.L. Doctorow, writer (b. 1931)

To read fast is as bad as to eat in a hurry.  -Vilhelm Ekelund, poet (1880-1949)

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 (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), rhetorician (c. 35-100)

If words are to enter men's minds and bear fruit, they must be the right words shaped cunningly to pass men's defenses and explode silently and effectually within their minds. -J.B. Phillips, writer and clergyman (1906-1982)

There is then creative reading as well as creative writing. When the mind is braced by labor and invention, the page of whatever book we read becomes luminous with manifold allusion.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own, which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.
-Jonathan Swift, satirist (1667-1745)

There is no doubt that I have lots of words inside me; but at moments, like rush-hour traffic at the mouth of a tunnel, they jam.
-John Updike, writer (1932-2009)

Some stories are true that never happened.
-Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)

Memories are interpreted like dreams.  -Leo Longanesi, journalist and editor (1905-1957)

Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.  -John Muir, Naturalist and explorer (1838-1914)

Ethiopians imagine their gods as black and snub-nosed; Thracians blue-eyed and red-haired. But if horses or lions had hands, or could draw and fashion works as men do, horses would draw the gods shaped like horses and lions like lions, making the gods resemble themselves.
-Xenophanes, philosopher and poet (c.570-475 BCE)

Moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but world's champions.
-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., novelist (1922-2007)

If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people. -Virginia Woolf, writer (1882-1941)

Fiction I suppose is the ultimate shot at revision. -Nora Ephron

I am led to the proposition that there is no fiction and nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction; there is only narrative. -E. L. Doctorow

“Some stories are true that never happened.”

That is my major preoccupation, memory, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom and serve it.

Most people think that shadows follow, precede or surround beings or objects. The truth is that they also surround words, ideas, desires, deeds, impulses and memories.

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.
For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences. -Elie Wiesel

Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. -Mark Twain

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write. - Saul Bellow

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. -Robert Frost

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them -- words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear. -Stephen King

Truth is strange, fiction is convenient. -C. Clapton

The death of a beautiful woman, is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.
-Edgar Allan Poe


To be capable of embarrassment is the beginning of moral consciousness. Honor grows from qualms.  -John Leonard, critic (1939-2008)

It was as if my mood had been goaded away from situational discontentedness into a dysthymia that seemed now to be heading into full-fledged depression.  -Meghan Daum; Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House; Knopf; 2011.

Remorse is a violent dyspepsia of the mind.  -Ogden Nash, poet (1902-1971)

My own experience and development deepen every day my conviction that our moral progress may be measured by the degree in which we sympathize with individual suffering and individual joy.
-George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), novelist (1819-1880)

There is no exception to the rule that every rule has an exception.
-James Thurber, writer and cartoonist (1894-1961)

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on "I am not too sure."
-H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.
-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, novelist, Nobel laureate (1918-2008)

Elvira always lied first to herself before she lied to anybody else, since this gave her a conviction of moral honesty.
-Phyllis Bottome, novelist (1884-1963)

We should tackle reality in a slightly jokey way, otherwise we miss its point.
-Lawrence Durrell, novelist, poet, and playwright (1912-1990)

The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
-Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)


Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. --Heraclitus, philosopher (500 BC)

If what you are getting online is for free, you are not the customer, you are the product.
-Jonathan Zittrain, professor of Internet law (b. 1969)

Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best. Genius must always have lapses proportionate to its triumphs.
-Max Beerbohm, essayist, parodist, and caricaturist (1872-1956)

People change and forget to tell each other.
-Lillian Hellman, playwright (1905-1984)

Every increased possession loads us with new weariness.
-John Ruskin, author, art critic, and social reformer (1819-1900)

Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.
-Ray Bradbury, writer (1920-2012)

Alexandra Styron first started reading her father's novel Sophie's Choice as soon as it came out, in 1979, when she was a preteenager. A few chapters in, encountering a steamy sex scene, she rushed from the room, overcome with adolescent pudeur.
-Liesl Schillinger; Literary Lions, by Their Cubs; The New York Times; Aug 10, 2011.

I begin to see what marriage is for. It's to keep people away from each other. Sometimes I think that two people who love each other can be saved from madness only by the things that come between them: children, duties, visits, bores, relations, the things that protect married people from each other.  -Edith Wharton, novelist (1862-1937)

Don't be yourself. Be someone a little nicer.
-Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)

Many wealthy people are little more than janitors of their possessions.
-Frank Lloyd Wright, architect (1867-1959)

Television knows no night. It is perpetual day. TV embodies our fear of the dark, of night, of the other side of things.  -Jean Baudrillard, sociologist and philosopher (1929-2007)

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.  -Alden Nowlan, poet, novelist, and playwright (1933-1983)

I wish I could have known earlier that you have all the time you'll need right up to the day you die.  -William Wiley, artist (b. 1937)

You know what getting married is? It's agreeing to taking this person who right now is at the top of his form, full of hopes and ideas, feeling good, looking good, wildly interested in you because you're the same way, and sticking by him while he slowly disintegrates. And he does the same for you. You're his responsibility now and he's yours. If no one else will take care of him, you will. If everyone else rejects you, he won't. What do you think love is? Going to bed all the time?
-Jane Smiley, novelist (b.1949)

The sense of wishing to be known only for what one really is is like putting on an old, easy, comfortable garment. You are no longer afraid of anybody or anything. You say to yourself, 'Here I am --- just so ugly, dull, poor, beautiful, rich, interesting, amusing, ridiculous -- take me or leave me.' And how absolutely beautiful it is to be doing only what lies within your own capabilities and is part of your own nature. It is like a great burden rolled off a man's back when he comes to want to appear nothing that he is not, to take out of life only what is truly his own.
-David Grayson, journalist and author (1870-1946)

In our world of big names, curiously, our true heroes tend to be anonymous. In this life of illusion and quasi-illusion, the person of solid virtues who can be admired for something more substantial than his well-knownness often proves to be the unsung hero: the teacher, the nurse, the mother, the honest cop, the hard worker at lonely, underpaid, unglamorous, unpublicized jobs.
-Daniel J Boorstin, historian, professor, attorney, and writer (1914-2004)

Mere parsimony is not economy. Expense, and great expense, may be an essential part in true economy.   -Edmund Burke, statesman and writer (1729-1797)


I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.   -Gilda Radner -actress and comedian (1946-1989)

Death must be so beautiful.
To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence.
To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow.
To forget time, to forgive life,
to be at peace.
-Oscar Wilde

Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when you were not: that gives us no concern. Why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be? To die is only to be as we were before we were born.
-William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)

We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death.
-Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer (1804-1864)

Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
-Susan Ertz, author (1894-1985)

Add to the bouillabaisse of the five emotions of grief on the death of a loved one, the unacknowledged and often denied feeling which is relief that wasn’t one’s own self taken and for most of us, the guilt that that feeling brings.
-C.M. Chapman, (1949-)

The late F.W.H. Myers used to tell how he asked a man at a dinner table what he thought would happen to him when he died. The man tried to ignore the question, but on being pressed, replied: "Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk about such unpleasant subjects." -Bertrand Russell, philosopher, mathematician, author, Nobel laureate (1872-1970)

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. -Heraclitus, philosopher (500 BCE)

"Don't think of it as dying," said Death. "Just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush." -Terry Pratchett, novelist (Apr 28 1948-2015)



The desire of the man is for the woman, but the desire of the woman is for the desire of the man. -Madame de Stael, writer (22 Apr 1766-1817)

It also seems plausible that even if not essential to pregnancy, the comparative degree of a woman’s pleasurable feeling of orgasm elicited by penile stimulation during sexual intercourse with one man compared with another could be a significant factor in her selection of a mate.  Similarly, the comparative degree of orgasmic pleasure that a man experiences with one woman compared with another could be a significant factor in his selection of a mate. In addition, the overt behavioral excitement—muscle tension, movement, vocalization—expressed by a woman during her sexual intercourse-induced orgasms could be a significant factor in a man’s preference for that woman as a mate, and vice versa for the woman’s preference for that man as a mate.”
From The Science of Orgasm – Barry R. Komisaurk, Carlos Beyer-Fiores, Beverly Whipple

If I practiced sex, out of moral conviction, that was one thing; but to enjoy it ... seemed a defeat. I accompanied men and was accompanied in action, in the extrovert part of life; I plunged into that ... but not sex; that seemed to be their delight and all I got was a pleasure of being wanted, I suppose, and the tenderness (not nearly enough) that a man gives when he is satisfied. I daresay I was the worst bed partner in five continents.
-Martha Gellhorn


Terpsichore pic of

"Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss."
T.S. Eliot; Whispers of Immortality; 1920.



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