Writers are full of sage quotes on writing.
Whether it’s advice on finishing your novel, or the structure of that novel or how to write a killer opening line, we all talk a lot about our craft. Which is a good thing, because it helps other writers get better.
And some of the things writers have said about writing are pretty darn good. So here are fifteen quotes on writing, by other writers, that we could all do with reading today.
on the most important thing in writing
The simplest, most succinct piece of writing advice I’ve ever seen. And yet often it’s the hardest to put into practice.
That’s what it takes to write a sentence, a short story, a novel. Just keep putting one word after the other until you’re done. Whether it’s your first novel or your hundredth, it doesn’t matter. This is what it takes to be a writer.
On opening stories
Elmore Leonard advises against the “it was a dark and stormy night” opening.
To be fair, there are few things more off-putting to me than a book opening with a three page description of the weather. Especially when it’s not relevant to the plot. Your mileage may vary though.
As with every piece of writing advice ever written, it can be broken if there’s a good reason for it. And if you can write it well. If you really have to open your book with the weather then do it.
On THe Importance of reading
Reading is the foundation of all writing; you cannot be a decent writer without first being widely read.
Plenty of writers have offered quotes with their own variation on this theme, but I like Joyce Carol Oates’ the best.
Read as though you life depends on it.
On the importance of the work
These two quotes kind of go together for me.
Writing for me has always been a compulsion, something I have to do. I have always had stories swirling around in my head, desperate to be put down on page. The ones that I end up writing down are the ones that are the most desperate.
And writing is hard work.
Oh not the actual act of it. Sitting in front of a computer itself that taxing in and of itself, but spending that time creating is just that bit harder than what most cubicle workers deal with.
In some respects writing is the easiest job in the world: all you’re doing is making things up. But there’s a dark side to creativity that makes it harder than it needs to be. The constant gnawing doubt. The conviction that no one is ever going to read your writing. The fear that you’re never going to “make it” whatever that means.
A writer has to battle that every single time they sit down to write, and that’s where the hard work lies.
So, as these two quotes on writing say, if you’re in this for anything other than the work, anything other than the stories you need to tell, you’re in the wrong profession. But if you have a love for the act of writing, for the stories in your head, then you’re in the right place.
On getting the job done
Writers as a rule don’t make much money. Most of us make less than £1000 a year, at least according to this post. If you’re writing to get rich then odds are you’re in the wrong profession.
But if you’re doing it because you love writing, then you’ve got a shot at success according to Maya Angelou. And who am I to argue with Maya Angelou?
Writing is definitely a job, albeit a not very well paid one.
The writers who finishing things are those who sit down every day and do a little bit of work. Discipline is what makes novels, as much as creativity.
I wrote more extensively on eliminating distractions in my post on how to write more with less stress, but this quote is probably the single best way to focus on your writing.
Turn the internet off next time you sit down to write. I guarantee you’ll be much more productive, and so does Zadie Smith.
On forging ahead
I am a big believer in pantsing, or writing into dark as Dean Wesley Smith calls it.
You don’t need to know every minute detail of your story before you start. In fact if you have too much detail before you put a single word down, you risk stifling your story.
Stories are strange, organic things. Let them grow. Nudge them this way and that, like a gardener growing a bonsai tree, but let them do their own thing.
So if you don’t know the ending to your story, forge ahead. Learn to love the unknown and embrace it. Your stories will probably be more exciting for it.
Quotes on Writing by Teju Cole
I really like both of these quotes on writing, different as they are.
As a writer, you’re going to fail a lot. That’s to be expected, and should be embraced.
Not every story is going to work out, not every blog post is going to go viral, but that’s okay. You can probably learn more from a massive failure than a huge success. And continued learning is one of the most important things you can do to improve your craft.
The second quote on shock value taps into one of my pet peeves.
Shocking readers for the sake of it is always obvious, no matter how skilled you are as a writer. And if it puts me off a story, you can bet it’ll put other readers off too. Don’t do it.
Your characters are people, real human beings that you bring to life through the power of your writing. They should do human things, make human mistakes. Some of them are going to be terrible things, and do awful shocking things.
As long as all the shock is character driven it’s not going to stick out like a sore thumb. Readers will be able to tell the difference and your story will be better received for it.
This quote on writing is so very true, as much as it hurts.
When you find success, whatever your definition of that is, most people you know will be happy for you. They’ll be supportive. Maybe they’ll even buy your books.
But not everyone will.
Because whatever your level of success you just achieved something, maybe even a childhood dream. Very few people ever do that. We have a culture that tells us to be happy with our own mediocrity. That there’s no point trying because we’ll never make it.
By succeeding as a writer you prove that wrong, and not everyone will be happy with that. Looking your own failure in the eye hurts, and people don’t appreciate being made to.
This isn’t your fault.
Don’t let other people turn you into a failure too, no matter how close to them you are. Keep working hard and proving them wrong. They’ll hate it, but you’ll be happy.
Winning awards for your writing just makes it harder to put words down next time you try to write.
The only real achievements in writing are siting down to work, and finishing your work. Anything else is just a distraction.
On breaking rules
Of all the quotes on writing, this might be the most important.
Rules are made to be broken, if you have a good reason for breaking them.
Everything in this post is optional. Write whatever you want, as long as you’re writing, you’re succeeding.
What are your favourite quotes on writing?