These are some of my favourite writing quotations. I hope you enjoy them. I will add new ones as I come across them, so do keep checking back.
Every writer I know has trouble writing. Joseph Heller
If you wish to write, write. Epictetus
There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Walter Wellesley ‘Red’ Smith
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Robert Frost
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. Gene Fowler
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. Elmore Leonard
I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. James Michener
The wastebasket is a writer's best friend. Isaac Bashevis Singer
You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better. Maxim Gorky
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. William Wordsworth
Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov
Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Mark Twain
Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Author Unknown
If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. Isaac Asimov
Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned. Oscar Wilde
The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes. Agatha Christie
Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. From the movie Finding Forrester
It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. Sinclair Lewis
1/ The first 12 years are the worst.
2/ The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
3/ Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
4/ Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
5/ Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.
6/ Try to be accurate about stuff.
7/ Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ¬finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
8/ You can also do all that with whiskey.
9/ Have fun.
10/ Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ¬counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
(Originally appeared in The Guardian)
1/ Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
2/ Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph.
3/ Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it's the job.
4/ Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
5/ Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don't go near the online bookies – unless it's research.
6/ Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg "horse", "ran", "said".
7/ Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It's research.
8/ Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
9/ Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven't written yet.
10/ Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – "He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego." But then get back to work. (Originally appeared in The Guardian)
1/ Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look¬ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2/ Avoid prologues: they can be ¬annoying, especially a prologue ¬following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday, but it's OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks."
3/ Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But "said" is far less intrusive than "grumbled", "gasped", "cautioned", "lied". I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated" and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
4/ Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs".
5/ Keep your exclamation points ¬under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful. 6/ Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7/ Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.
8/ Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants", what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story.
9/ Don't go into great detail describing places and things, unless you're ¬Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10/ Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
From Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing