Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.
—Mark Twain (1835–1910) American Humorist
True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, as those move easiest who have learned to dance. ‘Tis not enough no harshness gives offence. The sound must seem an echo to the sense.
—Alexander Pope (1688–1744) English Poet
Let those who would write heroic poems make their life an heroic poem.
—John Milton (1608–74) English Poet, Civil Servant, Scholar, Debater
I dare say I am compelled, unconsciously compelled, now to write volume after volume, as in past years I was compelled to go to sea, voyage after voyage. Leaves must follow upon each other as leagues used to follow in the days gone by, on and on to the appointed end, which, being truth itself, is one—one for all men and for all occupations.
—Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) Polish-born British Novelist
The writing of the wise are the only riches our posterity cannot squander.
—Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864) English Writer, Poet
What I have crossed out I didn’t like. What I haven’t crossed out I’m dissatisfied with.
—Cecil B. DeMille (1881–1959) American Film Producer, Director
Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”
It has always been my practice to cast a long paragraph in a single mould, to try it by my ear, to deposit it in my memory, but to suspend the action of the pen till I had given the last polish to my work.
—Edward Gibbon (1737–94) English Historian, Politician
I’m simply the happiest, the placidest, when I’m writing, and so I suppose that that, for me, is the final answer. … It’s fine therapy for people who are perpetually scared of nameless threats as I am most of the time.
—William Styron (1925–2006) American Novelist, Essayist, Writer
O Grub Street! how do I bemoan thee, whose graceless children scorn to own thee! . Yet thou hast greater cause to be ashamed of them, than they of thee.
—Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) Irish Satirist
Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure. Emotion is easily transferred from the writer to the reader.
—Joseph Joubert (1754–1824) French Writer, Moralist
Readers of the twenty-first chapter must decide for themselves whether it enhances the book they presumably know or is really a discardable limb. I meant the book to end in this way, but my aesthetic judgment may have been faulty. Writers are rarely their own best critics, nor are critics. ‘Quod scripsi scripsi’ said Pontius Pilate when he made Jesus Christ the King of the Jews. ‘What I have written I have Written.’ We can destroy what we have written but we cannot unwrite it. I leave what I wrote with what Dr. Johnson called frigid indifference to the judgment of that .00000001 of the American population which cares about such things. Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.
—Anthony Burgess (1917–93) English Novelist, Critic, Composer
Writing itself is a bad enough trade, rightly held up to ridicule and contempt by the greater part of mankind, and especially by those who do real work, plowing, riding, sailing
—Hilaire Belloc (1870–1953) British Historian, Poet, Critic
We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
—Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) American Author, Journalist, Short Story Writer
The parody is the last refuge of the frustrated writer. Parodies are what you write when you are associate editor of the Harvard Lampoon. The greater the work of literature, the easier the parody. The step up from writing parodies is writing on the wall above the urinal.
—Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) American Author, Journalist, Short Story Writer
The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.
—John Steinbeck (1902–68) American Novelist, Short Story Writer, Journalist
It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on.
—Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) American Novelist, Poet
I love writing, it’s the center of my life. If you don’t love what you do, you’d better find something else to love. Otherwise, you don’t have a reason for living.
—Ray Bradbury (b.1920) American Novelist, Short Story Writer
What’s so exciting and terrifying about the writing process is that it really is an act of exploration and discovery. With all of us, not just writers, there is a sort of knowledge of the other. We have a lot more in common than we realize, and I think writing is really a sustained act of empathy.
—Andre Dubus (1936–99) American Short Story Writer, Essayist
The writer may very well serve a movement of history as its mouthpiece, but he cannot of course create it.
—Karl Marx (1818–1883) German Philosopher, Economist
I got to the point where the vampire began describing his brother’s death, and the whole thing just exploded! Suddenly, in the guise of Louis, a fantasy figure, I was able to touch the reality that was mine. It had something to do with growing up in New Orleans, this strange, decadent city full of antebellum houses. It had something to do with my old-guard Catholic background. It had something to do with the tragic loss of my daughter and with the death of my mother when I was fourteen. Through Louis’ eyes, everything became accessible. But I didn’t ask when I was writing what it meant; I only asked if it felt authentic. There was an intensity—an intensity that’s still there when I write about those characters. As long as it is there, I will go on with them. In some way they are a perfect metaphor for me.
—Anne Rice (1941–2021) American Author
First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.
—Cecil Day-Lewis (1904–72) British Poet, Critic
On occasions, after drinking a pint of beer at luncheon, there would be a flow into my mind with sudden and unaccountable emotion, sometimes a line or two of verse, sometimes a whole stanza, accompanied, not preceded by a vague notion of the poem which they were destined to form a part of…. I say bubble up because, so far as I could make out, the source of the suggestions thus proffered to the brain was the pit of the stomach.
—A. E. Housman (1859–1936) English Poet, Classical Scholar
The first essential in writing about anything is that the writer should have no experience of the matter.
—Isadora Duncan (1877–1927) American Dancer, Choreographer
I don’t believe in it. All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, and doctors don’t get doctor’s block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?
—Philip Pullman (b.1946) English Children’s Author
Writing is a question of finding a certain rhythm. I compare it to the rhythms of jazz. Much of the time life is a sort of rhythmic progression of three characters. If one tells oneself that life is like that, one feels it less arbitrary.
—Francoise Sagan (1935–2004) French Novelist, Playwright, Short-Story Writer
The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession.
—George Sand (1804–76) French Novelist, Dramatist
On the day when a young writer corrects his first proof-sheet he is as proud as a schoolboy who has just got his first dose of pox.
—Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) French Poet, Art Critic, Essayist, Translator
Habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.
—W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965) British Novelist, Short-Story Writer, Playwright
In my writing I am acting as a map maker, an explorer of psychic areas… a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.
—William S. Burroughs (1914–97) American Novelist, Poet, Short Story Writer, Painter