If you've been following my column you'll notice I like to write about the art and craft of writing. Most recently, I've covered topics such as freewriting, Stan Lee's advice for storytelling, strategies LinkedIn Top Voices uses to attract more readers, and my advice for breaking out of a creative rut and getting more writing done.
But if you're like me, you might find the need to dip into sources of inspiration from time to time, something to loosen your mental gears and limber up your writing limbs in the hope that you'll be able to write prose that inspires, educates, and, if that's your goal, entertains.
That's why I like to read quotes attributed to famous authors about writing. These writers, who gifted us with their timeless tales, sometimes reflected on what they had learned over a lifetime of writing about the craft itself. Here are 60 inspiring quotes from some of the world's most famous authors (source: Goodreads):
"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
― Neil Gaiman, Coraline
"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write."
― Saul Bellow
"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
― William Faulkner
"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
"Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on."
― Louis L'Amour
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world."
― Philip Pullman
"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
― Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
― Franz Kafka
"There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you."
― Beatrix Potter
"You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write."
― Annie Proulx
"If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it."
― Anais Nin
"So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say."
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
"He asked, "What makes a man a writer?" "Well," I said, "it's simple. You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge."
― Charles Bukowski
"Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading."
― Eudora Welty, On Writing
"Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don't always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive.... Virtually every page is a cliffhanger -- you've got to force them to turn it."
― Dr. Seuss
"To write well, express yourself like the common people, but think like a wise man."
"A story was a form of telepathy. By means of inking symbols onto a page, she was able to send thoughts and feelings from her mind to her reader's. It was a magical process, so commonplace that no one stopped to wonder at it."
― Ian McEwan, Atonement
"Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself...It's a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent."
― Harper Lee
"Some writers enjoy writing, I am told. Not me. I enjoy having written."
― George R.R. Martin
"You can't blame a writer for what the characters say."
― Truman Capote
"Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth."
― Khaled Hosseini
"Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory."
― Tennessee Williams
"Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."
― Gloria Steinem
"If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them."
― George Orwell
"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. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience."
― Henry David Thoreau
"My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip."
― Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing
"The best way to become acquainted with a subject is to write about it. "
― Benjamin Disraeli
"If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it."
― H.G. Wells
"Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar."
― E.B. White
"The best stories don't come from "good vs. bad" but "good vs. good."
― Leo Tolstoy
"If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act -- truth is always subversive."
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
"Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them."
― Nathaniel Hawthorne
"In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person you need to become to write that book."
― Junot Diaz
"We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . .
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
"I have advice for people who want to write. I don't care whether they're 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can't be a writer if you're not a reader. It's the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it's for only half an hour -- write, write, write."
― Madeleine L'Engle
"A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world."
― Susan Sontag
"it is all very well for you to write simply and the simpler the better. But do not start to think so damned simply. Know how complicated it is and then state it simply."
― Ernest Hemingway
"The desire to write grows with writing."
"Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world."
― Robert McKee
"You can't edit a blank page"
― Nora Roberts
"The things that the novel does not say are necessarily more numerous than those it does say and only a special halo around what is written can give the illusion that you are reading also what is not written."
― Italo Calvino
"This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don't. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete."
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
"Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever."
― Will Self
"You should always be trying to write a poem you are unable to write, a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you're merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that's always easiest."
― John Berryman
"Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write."
― Elie Wiesel
"Writer's block is only a failure of the ego."
― Norman Mailer
"You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it.
That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence."
― Octavia E. Butler
"You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place
between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting...
It will come if it is there and if you will let it come."
― Gertrude Stein
"There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you're writing, and aren't writing particularly well."
― Agatha Christie, An Autobiography
"The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always."
― Arthur Miller
"Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace."
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
"Write a short story every week. It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row."
― Ray Bradbury
"I sometimes think it is because they are so bad at expressing themselves verbally that writers take to pen and paper in the first place"
― Gore Vidal
"Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance."
― J.K. Rowling
"I don't wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work."
― Pearl S. Buck
"Books are for nothing but to inspire."
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before."
― Edith Wharton, The Writing of Fiction
"If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing."
― Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack