Advice on Writing: Inspiring, Thought-Provoking Quotes About Writing
Writing For Children & Teens
I think if what you’re writing is realistic fiction for teens, then you need to reflect their lives. The one thing I have heard from teenagers is that they want honesty.
– Kathy Stinson, author of Becoming Ruby
and other books for teens and children
Children like to read about success, whether it’s winning the hand of the best princess or prince, saving a life, helping people who need it, beating the other team in the game of the year, or discovering another universe.
-Janet and Isaac Asimov
I will not take a young reader through a story and in the end abandon him. That is, I will not write a book that closes in despair. I cannot, will not, withhold from my young readers the harsh realities of human hunger and suffering and loss, but neither will I neglect to plant that stubborn seed of hope that has enabled our race to outlast wars and famines and the destruction of death.
-Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder
I think a children’s writer has a dual responsibility–you must entertain the child, it must be something they enjoy reading, but I think also because we’re adult and we have had experiences we need to kind of show a way through what seems to be a hopeless tangle at times. I don’t necessarily mean a happy ending, because happy endings aren’t always right for a book, more often than not, but the possibility of a solution I think is important.
-Berlie Doherty, Talking Books (edited by James Carter)
It is not necessary to have children of your own in order to write children´s books. The only condition is that one was once a child oneself – and then try to remember what it was like.
But what the young adult novel does that the adult novel doesn’t is get into the heart and soul of the teenager as a teenager. Not as an adult reminiscing, nor as the subject of a narrator, but as a teenager with teenage concerns that have nothing to do with adult memories because they are being lived at that moment.
-M Rachel Plummer, “What Makes A Young Adult Novel A Young Adult Novel?”
I think kids are the most important audience. They are passionate about life and that passion translates to reading. They may not remember the plot or the character or the setting of a particular book when they’re thirty years old. But they will remember the feeling of wonder of words, and that’s why I write for children. To touch their passions.
-Sharelle Byars Moranville, “Writing Middle-Grade Novels that Reach Out and Touch Young Readers”
So this is always the key: you have to write the book you love, the book that’s alive in your heart. That’s the one you have to write.
– Lurleen McDaniel
The best children’s book writers are not people who have kids, but people who write from the child within themselves.
– Andrea Brown
I believe that good questions are more important than answers, and the best children’s books ask questions, and make the readers ask questions. And every new question is going to disturb someone’s universe.
– Madeleine L’Engle
You must write for children in the same way you do for adults, only better.
“First do no harm,” says the Hippocratic oath for physicians. If writers of children’s books had to take an oath it might begin, “First tell the truth.”
Children long for models of effective action: “What could a kid really do?” …Really doing something is hard. It’s just because children feel so little power that they need the hope that an individual–that they themselves–can act and accomplish.
-Judy K. Morris, Writing Fiction For Children
. . . I believe that words, too, are necessities–and to give the children of the world the words they need is, in a real sense, to give them life and growth and refreshment.
-Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder
I subscribe to the belief that “if you want to send a message, use Western Union.” In other words, if the values or moral messages are too overt, the story will suffer and no one will read it (which paradoxically means they won’t get the message either). Children don’t like to be preached to any more than adults do. On the other hand, while I always try and tell a good story, I can’t help but infuse my moral and ethical views into any book I write, consciously or not.
-Garth Nix, “A Conversation With Garth Nix,” writerswrite.com
The Need To Write
I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.
– Isaac Asimov
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
– Maya Angelou
The world I create in writing compensates for what the real world does not give me.
– Gloria Anzaldua
If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both — you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot
– Ray Bradbury
Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.
– Natalie Goldberg
One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time, in others’ minds.
– Alfred Kazin
But have the courage to write whatever your dream is for yourself.
– May Sarton
The rule of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.
– Anais Nin
One of the things that draws writers to writing is that they can get things right that they got wrong in real life by writing about them.
Writers have an island, a center of refuge, within themselves. It is the mind’s anchorage, the soul’s Great Good Place.
Fiction is an act of revenge.
I started writing because of a terrible feeling of powerlessness.
I began to write because I was too shy to talk, and too lonely not to send messages.
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.
Writing is my vacation from living.
Writing for me was always an inside thing. It’s always been the way in which I maintain my sanity.
I found that it was boring not to write. It made the world emptier and thinner for me.
I write to find out what I’m thinking about.
You write for the people in high school who ignored you. We all do.
The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I’ve gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians, I just line ’em up and shoot ’em.
Writing’s not terrible, it’s wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. I’m doing what I most wanted to do all my life. I’m not into the agonies of creation.
Whatever becomes of the work, the occupation of writing has been a real boon to me. It took me out of dark and desolate reality into an unreal but happier region . . . imagination lifted me when I was sinking . . . I am thankful to God who gave me this faculty.
I think if I get into the habit of writing a bit about what happens, or rather doesn’t happen, I may lose a little of the sense of loneliness and desolation which abides in me.
When you can’t write you feel you’ve been banished from yourself.
One sheds one’s sicknesses in book — repeats and presents again one’s emotions, to be master of them.
-D. H. Lawrence
Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.
-J. P. Donleavy
One reason writers write is out of revenge. Life hurts; certain ideas and experiences hurt; one wants to clarify, to set out illuminations, to replay the old bad scenes and get the Treppenworte said— the words one didn’t have the strength or ripeness to say when those words were necessary for one’s dignity or survival.
A poem . . . begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. . . . It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.
Writing is the only place I can be myself and not feel judged.
-Terry McMillan, “Easing My Heart Inside” (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)
The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.
I write. The longer I live, the more convinced I become that I cultivate my truest self in this one way. I pay more attention when I’m writing, and I hear myself more clearly when I’m writing . . . If I’m not doing it now, I should be.
-Tom Chiarella, “Collecting Myself” (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)
In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, and to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings satisfactions, is a curious anticlimax.
I’ve never known a storyteller who was unhappy when telling stories.
– Alan Dean Foster
I wrote to find beauty and purpose, to know that love is possible and lasting and real, to see day lilies and swimming pools, loyalty and devotion, even though my eyes were closed and all that surrounded me was a darkened room. I wrote because that was who I was at the core, and if I was too damaged to walk around the block, I was lucky all the same. Once I got to my desk, once I started writing, I still believed anything was possible.
-Alice Hoffman, “Writers on Writing” The New York Times (August 14, 2000)
Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader – not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.
– E.L. Doctorow
A writer’s voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer’s voice line the stroke of an artist’s brush – is the thumbprint of her whole person – her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.
– Patricia Lee Gauch
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
– Anton Chekhov
I think the best villains are the ones who don’t necessarily believe they are villains. They may commit the most atrocious acts, but in their minds they are completely justified. Beyond that, good villains need to be clever. After all, they are the ones who create the story. If not for them, there would be nothing for our hero to do! And finally, a villain has to thoroughly enjoy what he/she is doing. For them, it’s not just for the money, or whatever. It’s for the thrill of the game. That’s a fun villain.
D.J. MacHale, “A Conversation With D.J. MacHale,” writerswrite.com
Usually, when people get to the end of a chapter, they close the book and go to sleep. I deliberately write a book so when the reader gets to the end of the chapter, he or she must turn one more page. When people tell me I’ve kept them up all night, I feel like I’ve succeeded.
– Sidney Sheldon
A writer’s job is to imagine everything so personally that the fiction is as vivid as memories.
– John Irving
I like to think of what happens to characters in good novels and stories as knots–things keep knotting up. And by the end of the story–readers see an “unknotting” of sorts. Not what they expect, not the easy answers you get on TV, not wash and wear philosophies, but a reproduction of believable emotional experiences.
Never tell your reader what your story is about. Reading is a participatory sport. People do it because they are intelligent and enjoy figuring things out for themselves.
-George V. Higgins
The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides right through the brain and goes straight to the heart.
There are so many different kinds of writing and so many ways to work that the only rule is this: do what works. Almost everything has been tried and found to succeed for somebody. The methods, even the ideas, of successful writers contradict each other in a most heartening way, and the only element I find common to all successful writers is persistence–an overwhelming determination to succeed.
Write what you really think and mean, not what you think you should write and not what you thought you would n think and not what you hope it will mean, but what is really authentic and true.
The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.
– Tom Clancy
Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.
– Howard Aiken
One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now . . . Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
– Annie Dillard
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
– Elmore Leonard
Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.
– Joyce Carol Oates
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
– Rudyard Kipling
I don’t ask writers about their work habits. I really don’t care. Joyce Carol Oates says
somewhere that when writers ask each other what time they start working and when they
finish and how much time they take for lunch, they’re actually trying to find out, “Is he as
crazy as I am?” I don’t need that question answered.
– Philip Roth, 1971
Don’t put anything in a story that does not reveal character or advance the action.
– Kurt Vonnegut
Style should be like a transparent varnish . . . it should spread completely over the colors, make them brighten, but not alter them.
A good writer refuses to be socialized. He insists on his own version of things, his own consciousness.
And by doing so he draws the reader’s eye from its usual groove into a new way of seeing.
The more particular, the more specific you are, the more universal you are.
– Nancy Hale
A storyteller never writes down everything he knows about his characters. There’s no need for readers to know everything. Some of it is better kept secret between the author and his creations.
-Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.
If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.
Let the readers do some of the work themselves.
Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken.
-C. S. Lewis
Every book should have its own voice — what you hear in your head as you read to yourself.
-Mary Lee Settle
The main thing is to take a blank sheet of paper and write the first sentence. From that first sentence springs the second, by some miracle, and then the subject emerges – what the critics call the basic concept or the conception of the work.
Most often I know how a story is going to end early on. I get the first line and the ending some way ahead.
I always know exactly how the novel will end, even the wording of the final paragraph.
-Joyce Carol Oates
Writers always go back to their young days, to their young lives. If a writer writes about his life, and he is serious, he will go back there, just like a criminal goes back to the place of his crime.
-Isaac Bashevis Singer
Virginia Woolf said writers must be androgynous. I’ll go a step further. You must be bisexual. If you can’t carry out the act . . . that’s up to you; you’d better get as close as you can imaginatively. You must create men who love women and women who love men or your books will be lopsided. In the beginning of everyone’s work the dice are always loaded toward one’s own sex or sex preference. Learning to unload those dice, to throw the bones honestly, is what maturity as an individual and as a writer is all about.
-Rita Mae Brown
The use of point of view is to bring the reader into immediate and continuous contact with the heart of the story and sustain him there.
Make the people live. Make them live. But my people must be more than people. They must be an over-essence of people.
There shouldn’t be difficult moments. As soon as things get difficult, I turn on my heel and let the damned idea percolate on its own. I pretend to abandon it! It soon follows and comes to heel. You can’t push or pressure ideas. You can’t try, ever! You can only do. Doing is everything.
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels – I myself become the wounded person.
For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain.
Style is absolutely embedded in the way you perceive.
Don't Give Up
Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.
– Bonnie Friedman
If you want to write, you can. Fear stops most people from writing, not lack of talent, whatever that is. ho am I? What right do I have to speak? Who will listen to me if I do? You’re a human being, with a unique story to tell, and you have every right. If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.
– Richard Rhodes
Write from the soul, not from some notion about what you think the marketplace wants. The market is fickle; the soul is eternal.
-Jeffrey A. Carver
Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
A note: despair at the badness of the book; can’t think how I ever could write such stuff–and with such excitement: that’s yesterday; today I think it good again. A note, by way of advising other Virginias with other books that this is the way of the thing: up down up down.
Be persistent. Editors change; editorial tastes change; markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.
Critics are by no means the end of the law. Do not think all is over with you because you articles are rejected. It may be that the editor has his drawer full,
or that he does not know enough to appreciate you, or you have not gained a reputation, or he is not in a mood to be pleased. A critic’s judgment is like that of any intelligent person. If he has experience, he is capable of judging whether a book will sell. That is all.
– Lavina Goodell
This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.
– Barbara Kingsolver
The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.
– John Campbell
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.
I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, “To hell with you.”
All writers have periods when they stop writing, when they cannot write, and this is always painful and terrible because writing is like breathing.
A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
For every person who will say yes, there are twenty who will say no. For a positive response, you must find the twenty-first person.
There have been many, many rejections. If you want to write it your own way, that’s the chance you take.
The Writing Process
Well, some days I find it impossible to begin, but I always spend my four hours down there and I may read magazines, I may do a crossword puzzle or check all the baseball averages or get some work done; there are days when it goes and days when it doesn’t go. But I think I have to go every day in order to earn the good days.
I don’t worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It’s a matter of just sitting down and working . . . coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, “Well, now it’s writing time and now I’ll write.” There’s no difference on paper between the two . . . you sit down and you just have conditioned yourself to: now it’s writing time and you have a deadline sitting out there somewhere and you’re going to do the very best you can here at this moment; and so you do it.
Delay is natural to a writer. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor – as though not until everything in the world is lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonable expect me to set a word down on paper.
-E. B. White
Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. You feel dull, you have a headache, nobody loves you, write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write.
-J. B. Priestley
I’m in good form, taking no interest in things, neglecting clothes, meals, company, and feeling calm and stable as I write. Each word has broken out of its shell; sentences come thrusting up straight from my breast. I just copy them down.
I enjoy the process of writing. The torment comes in getting my bottom on the chair and in front of the typewriter.
Writing every book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty . . . like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.
Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.
I write whenever it suits me. During a creative period I write every day; a novel should not be interrupted. When I cease to be carried along, when I no longer feel as though I were taking down dictation, I stop.
Write From Within
A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.
– Ursula K. LeGuin
For a creative writer possession of the “truth” is less important than emotional sincerity.
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.
– Kurt Vonnegut
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.
-D. H. Lawrence
Keep in mind that the person to write for is yourself. Tell the story that you most desperately want to read.
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 it’s job or cut it without mercy or remorse.
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart…
– William Wordsworth
New writers are often told, “Write what you know.” I would broaden that by saying, “Write what you know emotionally.”
– Marjorie Franco
Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered pot holder.
You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only
touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.
– Marianne Moore
It’s better to write about things you feel than about things you know about.
– L. P. Hartley
The Need To Read
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 is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
William Safire told me something that really helped: “Never feel guilty about reading. That’s what you do.”
If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting.
– Ray Bradbury
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.
You’ve heard the old expression, “I am what I eat”? Well, in many ways, I AM what I READ. Everything I know about writing comes from having internalized years and years of reading fiction.
-Sharelle Byars Moranville, “Writing Middle-Grade Novels that Reach Out and Touch Young Readers”
On Reading, Readers, And Books
We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images–a dog hunting through garbage cans, a plane circling above Alaskan mountains, an old lady furtively licking her napkin at a party.
Write what you want to read. The person you know best in this world is you. Listen to yourself. If you are excited by what you are writing, you have a much better chance of putting that excitement over to a reader.
If you despise your readers, they will probably despise you.
No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.
-E. B. White
When I was a ten-year-old book worm and used to kiss the dust jacket of authors as if they were icons, it used to amaze me that these remote people could provoke me to love.
When I only begin to read, I forget I’m on this world. It lifts me on wings with high thoughts.
It is books that are a key to the wide world; if you can’t do anything else, read all that you can.
-Jane Hamilton, The Book of Ruth
Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.
When I am attached by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.
-Michel de Montaigne (1553 – 1592)
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
-Sir Francis Bacon
Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, aye, to life itself than this incessant business.
-Henry David Thoreau
“Please,” she whispered as she opened the book, “please get me out of here just for an hour or so, please take me far, far away.”
-Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
Books loved anyone who opened them, they gave you security and friendship and didn’t ask anything in return; they never went away, never, not even when you treated them badly.
-Cornelia Funke, Inkheart
On Writing And Writers
Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.
What I like in a good author isn’t what he says, but what he whispers.
-Logan Pearsall Smith
All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation – it is the Self escaping into the open.
The writer isn’t made in a vacuum. Writers are witnesses. The reason we need writers is because we need witnesses to this terrifying century.
-E. L. Doctorow
It seems to me that writing is a marvelous way of making sense of one’s life, both for the writer and for the reader.
Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.
A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return.
Editing and Revising
Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.
It would be crazy to begin revising immediately after finishing the first draft, and counter to the way the mind likes to create. You’re exhausted. You deserve a vacation. Go away from the project for at least a week.
Books aren’t written; they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.
Compiled by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED