Writing Wisdom

These quotes are an authentic, personal collection. I didn’t pull these off a quote website or a google search of writing quotes. I’m being careful to only add quotes I come across in my reading or hear in conversation. Maybe you’ll find some inspiring, but hopefully they’re all interesting. They are to me.

Russell Baker

  • I was very pleased with it [his manuscript] and I sent it off to my agent and my editor and I thought, “Well I’ll give them twenty-four hours to sit up all night and read it and they’ll phone me back tomorrow.” You always have that feeling of euphoria just about having finished anything.
  • Writers have to cultivate the habit early in life of listening to people other than themselves.

Annie Dillard

  • What impels the writer is a deep love for and respect for language, for literary forms, for books. It’s a privilege to muck about sentences all morning. It’s a challenge to bring off a powerful effect, or to tell the truth about something. You don’t do it from willpower; you do it from an abiding passion for the field.
  • You have to take pains in a memoir not to hang on the reader’s arm, like a drunk, and say, “And then I did this and it was so interesting.”
  • The personal pronoun can be the subject of the verb: “I see this, I did that.” But not the object of the verb: “I analyze me, I discuss me, I describe me, I quote me.”
  • I simply like to write books.
  • The writer of any work, and particularly any nonfiction work, must decide two crucial points: what to put in and what to leave out.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

  • My other advice [to memoir writers] is: Don’t sit around and wait until you have the story; just start telling the story.

Ian Frazier

  • I’ve always been willing to go in some off-the-wall direction — to drop everything and just run with it, where other writers might think, “I can’t disrupt the fabric of my narrative.” Ideally, each veer will make the narrative less boring.
  • As a writer you have to have far more information than you finally use.
  • Just as you cook with what’s in season, you write with what’s most congenial to your life at that moment; you go with what your natural tendency is.

Charles Martin

  • “Of the six million species on the planet, only man makes language. Words. What’s more—in evidence of the Divine—we string these symbols together and then write them down where they take on a life of their own and breathe outside of us. Story is the bandage of the broken. Sutures of the shattered. The tapestry upon which we write our lives. Upon which we lay the bodies of the dying and the about-to-come-to-life. And if it’s honest, true, hiding nothing, revealing all, then it is a raging river and those who ride it find they have something to give—that they are not yet empty.
    Critics cry foul, claiming the tongue is a bloody butcher that blasphemes, slices, slanders, and damns—leaving scars, carnage, the broken and the beaten. Admittedly, story is a double-edged scimitar, but the fault lies not in the word but in the hand that wields the pen. Not all stories spew, cower, and retreat. Some storm the castle. Rush in. Stand between. Wrap their arms around. Spill secrets. Share their shame. Return. Stories birth our dreams and feed the one thing that never dies.
    This is true for all of us—even those who hide behind masks, carts, and names that do not belong to us.” – An Excerpt from his novel “Unwritten.”

Frank McCourt

  • Forget about writing. Just scribble, scribble, scribble. Put down anything. Write honestly. Write from your own point of view and your own voice, and eventually it takes form. There’s no such thing as writer’s block.

Toni Morrison

  • When you first start writing — and I think it’s true for a lot of beginning writers — you’re scared to death that if you don’t get that sentence right that minute it’s never going to show up again. And it isn’t. But it doesn’t matter — another one will, and it will probably be better. And I don’t mind writing badly for a couple of days because I know I can fix it — and fix it again and again and again; and it will be better. I don’t have the hysteria that used to accompany some of those dazzling passages that I thought the world was just dying for me to remember. I’m a little more sanguine about it now. Because the best part of it all, the absolutely most delicious part, is finishing it and then doing it over. That’s the thrill of a lifetime for me: if I can just get done with that first phrase and then have infinite time to fix it and change it. I rewrite a lot, over and over again, so that it looks like I never did. I try to make it look like I never touched it, and that takes a lot of sweat.
  • If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.
  • When I hear someone say, “Truth is stranger than fiction,” I think that old chestnut is trued than we know, because it doesn’t say that truth is truer than fiction; just that it’s stranger, meaning that it’s odd. It may be excessive, it may be more interesting, but the important thing is it’s random — and fiction is not random.

William Zinsser

  • A good memoir requires two elements — one of art, the other of craft.

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