Reading time: About 3 minutes
Whenever I read, I copy my favourite lines and passages into my gigantic collection of quotes about writing. Here are some that have spoken to me at various phases of my writing life.
1) Reading and writing, like everything else, improve with practice. ~Margaret Atwood
I particularly like the way Atwood suggests reading (as well as writing) is something we need to work at, and something that will improve with time and effort. Reading is not just mere entertainment or escapism. It is the foundation on which a writing life is built.
2) There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. ~Ray Bradbury
Is there an author alive who isn’t horrified by the idea of book burning? I think not. But Ray Bradbury puts the emphasis where it truly belongs — on those who fail to read. I trust you’re not one of those people.
3) Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space. ~Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card is best known for his science fiction, which perhaps explains why I don’t know the man. But this quote truly resonates with me. That’s why I note the really spectacular pieces of figurative language I uncover in my reading each week and blog about them every Thursday. Here’s the most recent one.
4) It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly. ~ C. J. Cherryh
Yes! This is exactly why I strongly promote the concept of the crappy first draft. Remove some of that pressure on yourself and make writing fun again.
5) The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes. ~Agatha Christie
I’ve long felt that sitting at your desk is the worst place to do the “thinking and planning” work demanded by writing. Me? I prefer to go for a walk. But I think Christie (pictured above) is right — doing the dishes is an equally good time to plan.
6) Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler
This quote used to be my mantra. It still makes me laugh but, thankfully, I no longer agree with it. I enjoy writing now. Even though I never thought I’d be able to write those words and have them be true!
7) Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. ~Stephen King
Many people are obsessed with the notion of talent (and, usually, their own lack of it.) Talent is not terribly relevant to the writing business. So much hard work is involved. If you’re willing to do the work, you can compensate for the missing talent. (Carol Dweck calls this a growth mindset.) Ironically, many people with the talent simply aren’t willing to do the work.
8) Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. ~Anne Lamott
Perfectionism is toxic to writers. If you expect yourself to write nothing but perfect sentences, you’re bound to develop a terrific case of writer’s block.
9) Being bored is an essential part of writing, and the Internet has made it very hard to be bored . ~Graham Linehan
The smart phone and tablet have made us all allergic to boredom. When I’m standing in a line now, I’ll not infrequently pull out my phone and start reading The New York Times. It’s a good newspaper, to be sure, but I’m starting to think I might be better off just allowing myself to daydream a little more often.
10) I hate writing, I love having written. ~Dorothy Parker
Here’s another quote that used to be my mantra. While I generally felt proud of my “finished work,” actually getting words on paper used to be sheer torture. This problem was most acute when I was in high school and university. I procrastinated and delayed until I could avoid the keyboard no longer. Now, I’m so much happier to be able to write relatively easily — without making a federal case of it.
11) I think books are like people, in the sense that they’ll turn up in your life when you most need them. ~Emma Thompson
I hadn’t read or heard this quote until last week. (Thanks to Russ Skinner for sharing it on Twitter.) I’ve found it to be true — in the same way that whenever you learn a new word, even a frightfully obscure one, it seems that you spot it again in your reading within the week.
12) A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” ~E.B. White
I agree. There’s no such thing as “ideal conditions” for writing. We always have other deadlines, other pressures, other things to do. But if we want to write, we need to earmark the time for it. I’ve found that writing first thing in the morning — before tackling email — is one of the best ways to ensure I always complete my writing done.
13) I learned that you should feel when writing, like a child stringing beads in kindergarten…~Brenda Ueland
I like the way Ueland takes me back to childhood with this comment. Isn’t it wonderful the way she invokes the intense, often serious concentration of youngsters on the simplest tasks? If we can recapture that sort of feeling when we’re writing, we’re far more likely to get the job done.
14) Writers: Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking. ~William Butler Yeats
Here’s another quote focusing on the waiting-for-the-muse vs. hard work conundrum. Sure, we can all wait until the iron is hot and inspiration strikes us like a blistering poker. But wouldn’t it be faster to make it hot ourselves?
15) Writing is thinking on paper. ~William Zinsser
I’ve often found that I don’t know what I think about something until I start to write about it. Isn’t it wonderful the way writing helps us learn more and clarify our own thoughts? For me, writing isn’t just about expressing — it’s also about learning.
Which of these quotes resonate for you? Do any make you angry or annoy you? Do you have any others you really appreciate? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/15 will be put in a draw for a copy of Two Awesome Hours by Josh Davis. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below.