Looking for the best writing quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite quotes about writing from famous authors covering everything from coming up with ideas to first drafts and much more.

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.

William Faulkner

Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.

David Foster Wallace

Write what should not be forgotten.

Isabel Allende

Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise.

Sylvia Plath

The good we get from art is not what we learn from it; it is what we become through it.

Oscar Wilde

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

Virginia Woolf

I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.

Emily Dickinson

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.

Roald Dahl

A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.

Oscar Wilde

The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art.

Oscar Wilde

Art lifts man from his personal life into the universal life.

Leo Tolstoy

A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth and that is why we call what he writes fiction.

William Faulkner

As a writer, you goal is to keep your reader believing your story even though both of you know it’s fiction.

Margaret Atwood

An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.

Oscar Wilde

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

Virginia Woolf

Coming up with Ideas

If you wait for inspiration to write you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.

Dan Poynter

All stories have to at least try to explain some small portion of the meaning of life.

Gene Weingarten

Imagination? It is the one thing beside honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience the more he can imagine.

Ernest Hemingway

What the artist is always looking for is the mode of existence in which soul and body are one and indivisible: in which the outward is expressive of the inward: in which form reveals. 

Oscar Wilde

An idea that isn’t risky is hardly worth calling an idea.

Oscar Wilde

Talent borrows, genius steals!

Oscar Wilde

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you wll, nine times out of ten become original without ever having noticed it.

C.S. Lewis

Literature always anticipates life. It doesn’t copy it but moulds it to it’s purpose.

Oscar Wilde

The imagination imitates. It is the critical spirit that creates.

Oscar Wilde

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

Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.

J.K. Rowling

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

Toni Morrison

The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.

William Faulkner

Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that is all important.

George R.R. Martin

Recommended Reading: The Script Quotes: A Masterclass in Screenwriting and Story

Story and Structure

[Defining story] a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence.

E.M Forster

All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

Leo Tolstoy

The two real themes, the only themes, are love and death.

Robert Graves

I want a story to take me to a place that I’ve never been to before and make it come vividly alive for me.

George RR Martin

Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality “The king died, and then the queen died” is a story. “The king died, and then the queen died of grief” is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: “The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king. ”This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say “and then?” If it is in a plot we ask “why?” That is the fundamental difference between these two aspects of the novel. A plot cannot be told to a gaping audience of cavemen or to a tyrannical sultan or to their modern descendant the movie-public. They can only be kept awake by “and then – and then – They can only supply curiosity. But a plot demands intelligence and memory also. 

E. M. Forster, from Aspects of the Novel

The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.

Tom Clancy

There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written – it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and, if you fail to find that form, the story will not tell itself.

Mark Twain

First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him.

Ray Bradbury

The Writing Process

I kept always two books in my pocket: one to read, one to write in.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

John Steinbeck

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

Ernest Hemingway

Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

Gore Vidal

I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.

William Faulkner

Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yoursef why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other wa around.

Stephen King

Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.

Esther Freud

I’m happy if I can finish a few pages in a day.

George RR Martin

Recommended Reading: The Writing Process: How Film Directors Write Scripts

First Draft

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.

Terry Pratchett

The first draft of everything is shit.

Ernest Hemingway

There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.

Frank Herbert

I would advise any beginning writer to write the first drafts as if no one else will ever read them – without a thought about publication – and only in the last draft to consider how the work will look from the outside.

Anne Tyler

Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience. The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.

Leo Tolstoy

I just give myself permission to suck. I delete about 90 percent of my first drafts, so it doesn’t really matter much if on a particular day I write beautiful and brilliant prose that will stick in the minds of my readers forever, because there’s a 90 percent chance I’m just going to delete whatever I write anyway. I find this hugely liberating.

John Green

On first drafts: It is completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut – it’s the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts.

Stephen King

I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times – once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say. Somewhere I put it this way: first drafts are for learning what one’s fiction wants him to say. Revision works with that knowledge to enlarge and enhance an idea, to reform it. Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.

Bernard Malamud

I end each chapter with a cliffhanger, resolution, a turn, a reveal, a new wrinkle… something that will make you want to read the next chapter of that character.

George RR Martin

The Blank Page and Writers Block Quotes

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.

Sidney Sheldon

You fail only if you stop writing.

Ray Bradbury

You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless – there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.

Ernest Hemingway

The nearest I have to a rule is a post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ from Flaubert. Which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’

Helen Simpson

There are two moments worthwhile in writing, the one when you start and the other when you throw it in the waste-paper basket.

Samuel Beckett

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

Thomas Mann

Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when if feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

Stephen King

The Second Draft and Editing

Write drunk, edit sober.

Ernest Hemingway

When your story is ready for a rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.

Stephen King

I’ve found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.

Don Roff

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

Dr. Seuss

My first feeling was that there was no way to continue. Writing isn’t like math; in math, two plus two always equals four no matter what your mood is like. With writing, the way you feel changes everything.

Stephenie Meyer

Memory is a good editor.

Collins Kelly

Writing Technique Quotes

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.

Elmore Leonard

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.

Jack Kerouac

Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Stephen King

My aim in constructing sentences is to make the sentence utterly easy to understand, writing what I call transparent prose. I’ve failed dreadfully if you have to read a sentence twice to figure out what I meant.

Ken Follett

It’s not a matter of old or new forms; a person writes without thinking about any forms, he writes because it flows freely from his soul.

Anton Chekhov

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.

Margaret Atwood

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

Mark Twain

Part 1. I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in.

Part 2. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.

Part 3. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

Mark Twain

Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.

William Faulkner

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

Ernest Hemingway

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things… You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

Elmore Leonard

Recommended Reading: Writing the Screenplay Quotes

Rejection and Critics Quotes

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent, he would be wise to develop a thick hide.

Harper Lee

Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

William Faulkner

I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.

Sylvia Plath

… so remember: great achievements take time, there is no overnight success.

Leo Tolstoy

An absolutely necessary part of a writer’s equipment, almost as necessary as talent, is the ability to stand up under punishment, both the punishment the world hands out and the punishment he inflicts upon himself.

Irwin Shaw

I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.

Michael York

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

William Faulkner

If you have an idea you genuinely think is great, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.

Stan Lee

Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.

Oscar Wilde

Conformity is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Oscar Wilde

The moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist.

Oscar Wilde

The best art is about individualism, free self-expression and realising a unique, imaginative perspective- A true artist takes no notice whatever of the public. The public are to him non-existent.

Oscar Wilde

They are always asking a writer why he does not write like somebody else, or a painter why he does not paint like somebody else, quite oblivious of the fact that if either of them did anything of the kind he would cease to be an artist.

Oscar Wilde

Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.

Oscar Wilde

There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this one.

C.N. Bovee

Art if not democracy. People don’t get to vote on how it ends.

George R.R. Martin

I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

William Faulkner

At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that — the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is … curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.

William Faulkner

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.

C. S. Lewis

The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.

William Faulkner

Writing Advice

Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.

Mark Twain

Every character sould want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

Kurt Vonnegut

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.

Robert Frost

An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.

Stephen King Quotes

My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.

Anton Chekhov

If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there.

Anton Chekhov

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

Oscar Wilde

When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.

George Orwell

I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on until I am.

Jane Austen

Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.

William Faulkner

It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little – or not at all in some cases – should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.

Stephen King

A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.

William Faulkner

I don’t think anybody can teach anybody anything. I think that you learn it, but the young writer that is as I say demon-driven and wants to learn and has got to write, he don’t know why, he will learn from almost any source that he finds. He will learn from older people who are not writers, he will learn from writers, but he learns it — you can’t teach it.

William Faulkner

One of the big things that distinguishes the strongest fiction from writing that’s perhaps without depth is a real understanding of what real human beings are like.

George RR Martin

As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.

Ernest Hemingway

Go where the pain is, go where the pleasure is.

Anne Rice

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.

Allen Ginsberg

If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.

Wally Lamb

If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life but what I will call the artistic life, if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.

Oscar Wilde

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.

William Faulkner

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

It is your object to convey everythingthing to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had to read but something that happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing.

Ernest Hemingway

In all things that are mysterious – never explain.

H.P. Lovecraft

The author, in his work, must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere. 

Gustave Flaubert

I have found that a story leaves a deeper impression when it is impossible to tell which side the author is on.

Leo Tolstoy

Every writer must have common sense. He must be sensitive and serious. But he must not grow solemn. He must not listen to himself. If he does, he might as well be under a tombstone. When he takes himself solemnly, he has no more to say. Yet he must despise nothing, not even solemn people. They are part of life and it’s his job to write about life.

Be direct. Indirectness ruins good writing. There is inner confusion in the world today and because of it people are turning back to old standards like children to their mothers. This makes indirect writing.

Gertrude Stein to Margaret Craven

Here are some of the qualities you should possess or should try to acquire if you wish to become a fiction writer:

1. You should have a lively imagination.
2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene some alive in a readers mind. Not everybody has this ability. Its a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to to stick to what your doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week and month after month.
4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.
5. You must have strong self discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to give you the sack if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off if you start slacking.
6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups but for children, its vital.
7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.”

Roald Dahl, Lucky Break: How I Became a Writer

Writing Inspiration

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.

Louis L’Amour

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.  

Margaret Chittenden

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

Benjamin Franklin

Art only begins where Imitation ends.

Oscar Wilde

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. …this book…is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.

Anne Frank

You can make anything by writing.

C.S. Lewis

If a story is in you, it has to come out.

William Faulkner

It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.

William Faulkner

Keep it amateur. You’re not writing for money but for pleasure. It should be fun. And it should be exciting. Maybe not as you write, but after it’s done you should feel an excitement, a passion. That doesn’t mean feeling proud, sitting there gloating over what you’ve done. It means you know you’ve done your best. Next time it’s going to be better.

William Faulkner

Much unhappiness has come from things left unsaid.

Leo Tolstoy

The key to success in life is using the good thoughts of wise people.

Leo Tolstoy

The most important time is Now.

Leo Tolstoy

The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.  

Charles Dickens

The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Be yourself; everyone else is taken.

Oscar Wilde

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