10 great writing quotes from famous writers

August 08, 2018 | Writing
Erica Jong

Great writing inspires great writing. Some of the most compact and inspiring statements about writing are quotations from writers expressing their thoughts about the craft. Their individual choice of words and phrases inform better choices of our own, and the statements themselves give us a stronger perspective on methods and tactics that make for more creative and lucid prose.

How can we go wrong listening to the likes of Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King? You will hear from each of them and others in the ensuing collection of quotations from writers about writing. Let us begin.

Erica Jong: “Compose with utter freedom and edit with utter discipline.”

Donald Murray: “You write to discover what you want to say. You rewrite to discover what you have said and then rewrite to make it clear to other people.”

Sue Grafton: “Writing is a craft that takes many years to develop. The publishing world is full of talented, hardworking writers who’ve struggled for years to learn the necessary skills. I counsel any writer to focus on the job at hand — learning to write well — trusting that when the time comes, the Universe will step in and make the rest possible. Writing isn’t about the destination — writing is the journey that transforms the soul and gives meaning to all else.”

Saul Bellow: “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.”

Ernest Hemingway: “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Stephen King: “Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

Friedrich Nietzsche: “Don’t talk about giftedness, inborn talents? One can name all kinds of great men who were not very gifted. They acquired greatness ... all of them had that diligent seriousness of a craftsman, learning first to construct the parts properly before daring to make a great whole. They allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”

Joseph Conrad: “My task I am trying to achieve, is — by the power of the written word — to make you hear, to make you feel. It is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more. And it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

Isaac Asimov: “What lasts in the reader’s mind is not the phrase but the effect the phrase created: laughter, tears, pain, joy. If the phrase is not affecting the reader, what’s it doing there? Make it do its job or cut it without mercy or remorse.”

Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Mike Consol teaches public speaking, PowerPoint presentation skills and business writing workshops to companies and business professionals. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 925-449-1040.