How to Write: Quotes From Famous Writers on 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
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
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.)
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
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?
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Catherine Giordano