How to Write: Quotes From Famous Writers on Writing

Updated on February 5, 2018
CatherineGiordano profile image

Inspirational essays and articles, with a touch of humor, are a favorite topic for Ms. Giordano, a writer and public speaker.

Famous writers speak about writing.
Famous writers speak about writing.

Why Do Writers Write?

Writers write because they love writing. They have a love affair with words. They write because they must write.

I'm not a famous author, but I write because I am near to obsessed with writing. A piece will start to compose itself in my head, and finally I just have to write the words down. I take great care to use exactly the right word. I consider the sound of the word as well as the meaning. I consider the tempo of the words. I consider mood and tone. As I said--I'm obsessed.

I'm not a famous writer yet; maybe one day I will be. In the meantime, join me in this exploration of what famous writers have said about writing.

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

Writing is its own reward. ~Henry Miller

Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself. ~Harlan Ellison

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. ~Anais Nin

Writing is its own reward.

— Henry Miller

How Can I Become a Writer?

This question is easy to answer. Start writing. Perhaps the real question is how can I become a good writer? That will be addressed in more detail below. But know this. You can’t become a good writer without first being a bad writer. So just write. Do not judge. Just write. The judging comes later.

If you wish to be a writer, write. ~Epictetus

Those who write are writers. Those who wait are waiters. ~A. Lee Martinez

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. ~Mary Heaton Vorse

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences. ~Somerset Maugham

A quote about writing from Epictetus.
A quote about writing from Epictetus.

How Can I Get Started as a Writer?

With writing, as with almost anything else, you start by starting. Start at the beginning, or middle, or end. Just start writing and soon your words will take shape. Your ideas will take on a form; your characters will become real; your plots will unfold.

If you are writing non-fiction it begins with a subject or an idea. In fiction, it may begin with a character or an incident. While some might say you should do an outline, I think it is best to just plunge in. The outline can come later.

If you haven't got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you'll only have to throw away the first three pages. ~William Campbell Gault

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does. ~William Faulkner

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

If you haven't got an idea, write a story anyway.

— William Campbell Gault

How Can I Be a Good Writer?

The hard work is not the writing; the hard work is the re-writing. Editing and revision are what turn words into writing. It is what turns bad writing into good writing.

The first draft is like scattering seeds upon fertile earth. Now you must pull the weeds, transplant where needed, perhaps add some new plants, and thus, create the garden.

During the editing and revising process, you may end up discarding most of what you have written. Don’t worry. It is part of the process.

It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. ~C. J. Cherryh

I can’t write five words but that I change seven. ~Dorothy Parker

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good. ~William Faulkner

Books aren't written, they're rewritten.... It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it. ~Michael Crichton

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. ~Truman Capote

The wastepaper basket is the writer's best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Have you heard the expression "kill your darlings"? It means you must take a cold hard look at the passages in your writing that you most love. These are the passages that are the most likely to be overwrought, written to show off you skills with words rather than to tell the story. Be ruthless. Excise them.

An author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it. ~Colette

A quote about writing from C. J Cherryh.
A quote about writing from C. J Cherryh.

How Can I Be a Successful Writer?

Some might say that being a good writer is being a successful writer. But I know what you mean. We all need to earn a living, and writers want to earn their living by writing. The real question is: How can I get paid for writing?

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere. ~S.J. Perelman

Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being. ~A. A. Milne

The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money. ~Karl Marx

The dubious privilege of a freelance writer is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.

— S. J. Perelman

Let’s Try This Again. How Can I Be a Successful Writer?

My first attempt at answering this question produced nothing but laments about the plight of the author and his desire to be paid for his writing. In my defense, I must remind you that this is not an article about how to get paid; it is an article about what published successful (i.e. paid) writers have said about writing.

Maybe we should look at this question in another way. How can I write something that publishers will want to publish because readers will want to read it?

The writers below are talking mainly about fiction, but remember in non-fiction, your ideas are your characters and your explanation of your ideas are your plot.

Their advice boils down to this: Interesting characters and plot and a story told in an interesting way.

The unread story is not a story… The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. ~Ursula K. Le Guin

In nearly all good fiction, the basic -- all but inescapable -- plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw. ~John Gardner

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. ~Herman Melville

If you start with a bang, you won't end with a whimper. ~T.S. Eliot

Make everybody fall out of the plane first, and then explain who they were and why they were in the plane to begin with. ~Nancy Ann Dibble

(I wonder if Noah Hawley, the author of the best-selling novel, Before the Fall, was inspired by this last quote because it describes the book exactly. And the advice worked for Hawley--I read this book over just one weekend because I couldn't put it down. Then I reread the book, just to study his technique.)

A quote about writing from Ursula Le Guin.
A quote about writing from Ursula Le Guin.

Where Can I Get Interesting Characters and Plot?

Interesting characters and plot come from your own life. But first, you must learn to see with a writer’s eye. You must step outside of your life and see it as an outside observer, an outside observer who wants to retain it and distill it into a story.

Life is your raw material, but you must craft it and shape it into a story.

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any. ~Orson Scott Card

Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences. ~Anne McCaffrey

Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about. ~Alice Munro

When men ask me how I know so much about men, they get a simple answer: everything I know about men, I learned from me. ~Anton Chekhov

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day.

— Orson Scott Card

What’s More Important—Story or Writing Style?

My personal belief is that both are important. Your writing style becomes a character because it sets the tone and mood. However, a bad story won’t be saved by fancy writing, and a good story can be told with inelegant style. Both writing style and story-telling go hand in hand, and a good story is made better by good writing.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write. ~Somerset Maugham

Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story. ~Ben Bova

Resist the temptation to try to use dazzling style to conceal weakness of substance. ~Stanley Schmidt

You've Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams
You've Got a Book in You: A Stress-Free Guide to Writing the Book of Your Dreams
I met the author, Elizabeth Sims, at a writer's conference. She is a dynamic speaker and a great writer with several very successful novels to her name. I bought this book at the conference --I managed to snatch the last one--and I've been using it. This book has excellent practical advice that got me writing.

Any Other Words of Wisdom from Writers to Writers?

Without comment, here are a few I just can’t resist including.

It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way. ~Ernest Hemingway

I hate writing. I love having written. –Dorothy Parker

There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are. ~Somerset Maugham

What is the main reason you write?

See results

Questions & Answers

  • Why do you write?

    I write because I must write. Once I form an idea, it feels like the words accumulate in my head, and then they seem to be screaming louder and louder "Write Me!". So I have to write them down to get them out of my head. I think there are other writers who feel something similar to what I feel.

© 2015 Catherine Giordano

I welcome your comments.

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    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Greensleeeves Hubs: I enjoyed your comment which underscores the importance of working to get your words exactly right. It takes me about 10 to 20 hours to write a hub, and I still go bqack many times in the following months and years to tinker.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      This is a nice collection of quotes Catherine, some humorous, all perceptive. I particularly like some of the quotes about rewrites, such as the one by C. J. Cherryh. Many strike true, but so do some of your own words, such as one of your opening sentences:

      'I take great care to use exactly the right word. I consider the sound of the word as well as the meaning.'

      I find that too. You describe it as obsessive, but maybe 'perfectionist' is more charitable? I started writing as a hobby in the days before word processors. I once tried to write a novel - I think I rewrote the first page at least 50 times - laborious on a typewriter! Even writing here on HubPages, I may revisit a page 50 or 100 times just changing words, moving sentences around, tinkering. Just to try to get it to sound right before publication. It does make one appreciate those who have truly made it as successful writers - however one defines success.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      lucka: Thank you for your comment. I'm so glad I was able to inspire you to get writing. I reread this hub myself sometimes to get myself inspired.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      4 years ago from Orlando Florida

      newbizman: I agree. Getting my thoughts into writing is very cathartitc and satisfying. Thanks for your comment.

    • newbizmau profile image

      Maurice Glaude 

      4 years ago from Mobile, AL

      I write lots that I don't include online and is just for my own satisfaction. Sometimes you just have to write for you. It's like meditation for me.

    • lucka profile image

      Tom Gorec 

      4 years ago from Slovenia

      Wow, love this! I also write a lot myself and I am just trying to get some motivation on writing my own book, reading this is just the kick I needed! Thank you.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Julie. I'm glad you found the quotes inspirational.

    • profile image

      Julie K Henderson 

      5 years ago

      Bravo! I appreciated all the quotes, especially the ones by Herman Melville and Orson Scott Card. Thank you for sharing.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      That's a good quote on writing, Deborah, and one that I did not know. You can't go wrong following Hemingway's advice. Thanks for the quote and the comment.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 

      5 years ago from Iowa

      Here's another Hemingway quote I love: “Use short sentences, use short first paragraphs, use vigorous English. Be positive. Never use old slang, and eliminate every superfluous word.”

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Peachpurple. The quotes are from others; they are not mine. I just collected them, organize them, and commented on them.

      Everyone has their own style of writing and their own strengths. I've seen my writing get better since I started hee on HubPages. . You are a good writer and the more you write the better you will get.

    • peachpurple profile image


      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i am not a clever writer like you, maybe I am not born with a brainy quotes

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Billy. Another day, another glitch. Thanks for your comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I did write a comment on this one earlier, but it isn't here now. And your last hub there is a comment there by me. I don't know what is happening but there is definitely a glitch in the system. You keep showing up as spam for whatever reason.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Flourish. Every time I reread it , I feel inspired too. Thanks for the votes up. I also like that quote about walking past ideas. It reminds me to sharpen my observations.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      5 years ago from USA

      I found much inspiration in this work of art. My particular favorite is the one, "Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day." Voted up and more.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks MsDora: I have a fetish for organization. The first thing I want to do in any situation is organize. It's a great trait for a writer to have. I think the impact of the quotes is much greater when they are grouped by topic. I appreciate your comment.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very versatile quotes, all meaningful. Thanks also for they layout making them easy to find. Good Job!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Hi Catherine, I could have not said your last comment better myself.

      We are not famous writers, but the famous ones started out not famous either. So yes from your piece comes a few great quotes.

      Enjoy your day


    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks Jodah. I'm glad you enjoyed the quotes. I choose most practical quotes with good advice and threw in a few funny ones.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      5 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Catherine, I read Joel's hub and loved it. Guess what, I love this too. Although about writing quotes both hubs are totally different. I particularly love the very last quote by Somerset Maughm.."There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree on what they are." (one little error I found: "Have you hard the expression "kill your darlings" ?" Hard should be heard.) Great writing, voted up.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Rayne 123: Every thing we write or say is a "quote." No one cares because we are not famous, or because it is just not worth repeating. As I wrote this piece, I thought about which of the things that I wrote in this piece might become a quote if I ever became a famous writer. Forgive my immodesty, but I thought there might be a few good quotes from me in there. Thanks for your comment Laurie, and I'm glad you enjoyed this piece.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great information you leave us. I love quotes and have written some of my own, not with my own pictures mind you.

      This is good information to know. I like the one that says

      "If you haven't got an idea, write a story anyway".

      — ~William Campbell Gault

      That is what I do sometimes just write what is ever on my mind at the time and sometimes I just put a quote together in a few minutes.

      Although I have not heard of some of these famous writers the quotes are very inspirational. My quotes are not nearly as well thought out and put together as these authors but maybe one day.

      Thank you so much for posting such great work



    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      A billion posts on writer's quotes. Woe is me. Mine is probably number 999,999,999. Thanks for reading and commenting. Maybe you pushed me up one number higher in the ranking. Most of these quotes were new to me, so I'm hoping there are others who have not heard them before. I hope you enjoyed rereading your favorite quotes. I appreciate your comment.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      5 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      Some of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite writers are included in your list. It's interesting how writers write about how to write, in fact, a Google search resulted in over a billion results on writing about writing. Well done.

    • CatherineGiordano profile imageAUTHOR

      Catherine Giordano 

      5 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you, Joel, for your praise of my hub. I don't think anyone has called my hub "piece of art" before. I appreciate the very nice compliment. I hope you found some inspirational quotes.

    • Joel Diffendarfer profile image

      Joel Diffendarfer 

      5 years ago from Jonesville

      Wow! Absolutely wonderful and beautiful. A piece of art! Love it.


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