A Few Good Quotes for Writers

“When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”
~Kurt Vonnegut

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force. Clutter is a wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip.”
~Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent re-writer.”
-James Michener

“Beginning writers must appreciate the prerequisites if they hope to become writers. You pay your dues—which takes years.”
~Alex Haley

“Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.”
~Somerset Maugham

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

“No, it’s not a very good story—its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.”
~Stephen King

Please leave your favorite writer quote in the comments.

And have a good weekend!

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  12. Anita on August 5, 2011 at 9:18 PM

    I love all these great writing quotes. Here’s one of my absolute favorites of all time:

    “Two things make a story. The net and the air that falls through the net.”
    – Pablo Neruda

  13. Kristen on July 24, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Late to the party, but here’s one for those of us with a finished manuscript that’s not published (yet!):

    “The very fact that you have brought a story into existence for which there is no duplication is in itself a gift to the world deserving of respect.” — Elizabeth Lyon, in *The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit”

  14. Lisa Fredersdorf on June 27, 2011 at 10:42 AM

    “The person who says we only live once, must not know how to read a book.” ~Anonymous

    Keeps me going everyday, even though it’s about reading, not writing.

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  16. Bill on May 19, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    >The mark of a professional is making it look easy. The sign of an amateur is thinking that it is.

  17. Michael on May 19, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    >"…the artist must bow to the monitor of his own imagination; must be led by the sovereignty of his own impressions and perceptions; must be guided by the tyranny of what troubles and concerns him personally…" –Richard Wright in a letter to Antonio Frasconi

  18. QualityPoint on May 19, 2011 at 6:22 AM

    >Really nice quotes in this blog.you can also see the great quotes

  19. Barkalounger on May 16, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    >The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.
    ~Sister Corita Kent

  20. Janice Hardy on May 16, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    >Don't get it right, get it written. –Ally Carter

  21. Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 8:22 AM

    >"Books aren't written on whim or promises. Books are written on years turned inside out by ideas that never let go until you get them in print, and even then writing's a last resort, a desperate ransom you pay to get your life back." — Richard Bach

    "Words are my gun and my spear." — Daisy Utemorrah

    "Writing isn't necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterward." — Robert A. Heinlein

    "I never actually learned the rules of grammar, relying instead only on what sounded right." — Joan Didion

  22. Crystal Laine on May 15, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    >Two more!

    "You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."—Jack London

    "Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators." – Olin Miller (No relation)

  23. Crystal Laine on May 15, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    >I collect quotes, so this was fun!

    Here's one I like: "The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon."–Robert Cormier

  24. girlgeum on May 15, 2011 at 6:10 PM

    >"Writing is torture. It is very hard work. It's not coal mining but it's work."
    Fran Lebowitz

  25. Natalie Sharpston on May 15, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    >Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.
    —Albert Von Szent-Gyorgi

    Go deeper. Always go deeper.
    —Pat Conroy

  26. Dani In Chicago on May 15, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    >"This is the sort of pedantic nonsense up with which I will not put.” – Winston Churchill, upon discovering that an editor had clumsily rearranged one of his sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition.

    "I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon taking it out." – Oscar Wilde, suffering from writer's block.

  27. Serenity Bohon on May 14, 2011 at 10:58 PM

    >"The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." Samuel Johnson

    "One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."
    Annie Dillard

  28. Mary Ann on May 14, 2011 at 10:08 PM

    >Great quotations. One of my favourites:

    There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. W. Somerset Maugham

  29. Neil Larkins on May 14, 2011 at 8:51 PM

    >I love writer quotes! Thanks, Rachelle and everybody. Can't say I have a fav — they're all great. Here's a Samuel Johnson (maybe to think about before submitting?)–
    "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." (Found this in a puzzle book of all places.)

  30. Lee Rogers on May 14, 2011 at 5:05 PM

    >"Tell them I said something."

    Pancho Villa

    Reputedly his last words.

  31. Jillian Kent on May 14, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    >The people in the story (characters) shall be alive, except in the case of the corpses,
    and the reader should be able to tell the corpses from the others.
    Mark Twain 🙂

  32. Jessica Nelson on May 14, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    >GREAT quotes!!! Thank you so much.

  33. Lenore Buth at www.awomansview.typepad.com on May 14, 2011 at 12:50 PM

    >When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me." –Erma Bombeck

  34. sally apokedak on May 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

    >I love this quote because I am so often tempted to tell people what's right instead of building a story that makes readers want to do what's right.

    Instead of giving you a lecture on the importance of staying warm, Lewis builds a fire and says, "Here—feel this. Doesn’t that feel good?" You can hardly help but love Aslan for the things he says and does. You can hardly help but desire what’s good and right and true.

    A virtuous life is a life of adventure—of facing challenges, standing firm, rescuing the powerless, righting wrongs. A good adventure story dramatizes that adventure and makes it seem like the sort of life that nobody would want to miss out on. It doesn’t just tell the reader what’s right; it helps the reader to want what’s right.

    ~ Jonathan Rogers "How Stories Do Their Work on Us

  35. Diane Rivers on May 14, 2011 at 9:04 AM

    >"Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple "I must", then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it." Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903

  36. Peter DeHaan on May 14, 2011 at 8:27 AM

    >Here is one that I recently read, which gives me inspitation:

    Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity. -Christopher Morley

  37. carden on May 14, 2011 at 7:43 AM

    >"I suppose half of writing is overcoming the revulsion you feel when you sit down to it."
    Flannery O'Connor

    It helps to know that even Flannery felt that same terror/sickness I feel right before I begin writing each day:)

    Thanks for the wonderful blog, Rachelle.


  38. R.D. Allen on May 14, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    >"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth

  39. Jerry Eckert on May 13, 2011 at 11:11 PM

    >"Words are loaded pistols"
    Jean-Paul Sartre

  40. Diane Fordham on May 13, 2011 at 10:47 PM

    >Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write my books so when the reader gets to the end of a chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I've kept them up all night, I feel like I've succeeded!"
    – Sidney Sheldon

  41. Susanna Leonard Hill on May 13, 2011 at 7:33 PM

    >So many great quotes here, some I've never seen before and really like! To them I add:

    "Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." ~ Anton Chekhov

  42. Elizabeth M Thompson on May 13, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    >This quote is from Telling Secrets: A Memoir by Frederick Buechner

    "But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity…that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually."

  43. Tana Adams on May 13, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    >When they said it couldn't be done, it was done. ~Helen Keller

    I liken to writing every single time.

  44. Sumel on May 13, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    >Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
    E.L. Doctorow

  45. steeleweed on May 13, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    >A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. ~Thomas Mann

  46. Anonymous on May 13, 2011 at 5:14 PM

    >Hands down, this is my favorite writing quote:

    "I write for the same reason I breathe, because if I didn't, I would die." -Isaac Asimov

  47. Jan Cline on May 13, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    >Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

  48. Ronni on May 13, 2011 at 4:24 PM

    >"Don't get it right. Get it written."

    I don't know who to attribute that to, but it's a great one.

  49. Jenny Hansen on May 13, 2011 at 3:59 PM


    You are right, that quote is from Nora Roberts:

    "I can fix a bad page, but I can't fix a blank one."

    I love it and had the hardest time for a long time embracing it. Julia Cameron's helped:

    "Come to the page and let the work flow through you."

    For some reason, Julia's advice helped me embrace Nora's. Go figure. 🙂

  50. Beth on May 13, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    >Thank you, thank you, thank you! Quotes can be so encouraging. Here's one I like:

    Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. —Anonymous Author (God bless him!)

  51. Juliette on May 13, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    >Write what you want to read – CS Lewis

  52. natalie on May 13, 2011 at 3:15 PM

    >Wish I could remember who said this–maybe Nora Roberts??–but here's the quote I chant to myself every day that I'm struggling:

    "I can revise s***. I can't revise nothing."

  53. Chris Shaughness on May 13, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    >There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. –Ernest Hemingway

    So true, writing can be such hard work.

  54. MJR on May 13, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    >Not a quote from a writer, but…

    Don’t listen to those who belittle your dreams no matter how reasonable they seem. Just love them and send them along and get back to working and proving them wrong.

    Cory Booker (mayor of Newark, NJ)

  55. The Pen and Ink Blog on May 13, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    >I adore the Groucho Marx quote. I was using it was my Google quote for a year. I love Mark Twain's too. Here's another for the group: "If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." ~Toni Morrison.

  56. Frank on May 13, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    >Every writer has hundreds of separate people living in his mind at one time. The talent of a writer is the ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him. This is all kept in line by six honest serving men. (They taught me all I know); Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

  57. Loree Huebner on May 13, 2011 at 2:35 PM

    >"A writer writes not because he is educated but because he is driven by the need to communicate. Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. The writer wants to be understood much more than he wants to be respected or praised or even loved."
    — Leo Rosten – American Novelist

  58. John Kelly on May 13, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    >"Outside of a dog a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
    ~Groucho Marx

  59. Sarah Thomas on May 13, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    >"The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." – Mary Heaton Vorse

    And if you don't know who she is, look her up–she's amazing!

  60. Rosemary Gemmell on May 13, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    >Good to see blogger back in action.

    "If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin." Ivan Turgenev

    That's why I do some of my research as I go along, when it's needed!

  61. Andrea Aten on May 13, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    >Some of my favorites have already been posted. Here are a few others:

    "The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." ~Anaïs Nin


    "Ink and paper are sometimes passionate lovers, oftentimes brother and sister, and occasionally mortal enemies." ~Terri Guillemets

  62. Les Edgerton on May 13, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    >I believe Harry Crews was the one who said, "I try to leave out the parts people skip." One of my favorites…

  63. Sarah on May 13, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    >"An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all." – Oscar Wilde

    One of my favorites. 🙂

  64. Sandra Heska King on May 13, 2011 at 12:36 PM

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

    But I also love this one. Though it's not writing specific, it's my mantra:

    "It's never too late to become what you might have been." – George Eliot

  65. Susan on May 13, 2011 at 12:36 PM

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

  66. Summer Ross on May 13, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    >You posted one of my favorites by mark twain! Great quotes!

  67. Becca on May 13, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    >Brenda Ueland said, "Duty should be a by-product. Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first – at least for some part of every day of your life." (If You Want to Write, 1938)