Writers on Writing

Writers on Writing


I’ve always liked quotes.  I also like writing.  Consequently, I’ve developed a fondness for writerly advice from other writers.  And why not learn from the greats?  As Issac Newton says, “If I have seen further [than certain other men] it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” (and here I go with the quotes already).


Without further ado, here’s my top five favorite quotes of writers on writing:


  1. “All writers are readers moved to emulation.” – Henry James


Every time I read this quote, I think back to when I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I was seventeen and, at the time, I didn’t care much about books or writing.  I was the kid who’d look up the Spark Notes for Jane Eyre the period before class so I could answer the homework questions without having to do any work (I’ve changed since, thankfully).  But this book grabbed me; I read it all in one day. All I kept thinking was, “I wish I had written a story like this.” I believe it’s that same impulse that drove me to write as I got older.


  1. “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King


To me, this quote means that when you start writing something, you can’t have that little voice in the back of your head, saying, “Is this really that good? Who would want to read this?” You have to start off writing for yourself.  Then, once you’ve got the story out, you can go back and edit it.  It’s at this stage you begin to think about the audience that will (hopefully) read your work one day.


  1. “For masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that experience of the mass is behind the single voice” – Virginia Woolf.


The things you write don’t happen isolated from everything else in the world. Whether you like it or not, what you write is in constant conversation with everything else that’s ever been written, so be aware of what’s out there, and how you can add to that conversation.


  1. “Murder your darlings” – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (or Flannery O’Connor or Faulkner or Fitzgerald or Stephen King—it’s a quote that a lot of writers use. Because it’s true.)


A professor of mine perfectly explained this quote the other day. Remember that outfit you use to wear all the time because you thought it looked great on you? Then you saw a picture of yourself in said outfit a year later and you can’t understand how your friends could have let you out of the house wearing it, right? This is the same thing—just insert the printed word in place of outfit (which will haunt you longer than any of your old clothes will).


  1. “I think honest writers write about what bothers them” – Andre Dubus II (not to be confused with his son, Andre Dubus III).


This might not be the most clever or insightful quote on the list, but it’s my favorite. I know that I personally tend to write about the things that bother me. Whenever I have trouble coming up with a new story or topic to write about, I go back to this quote.  What scares me, angers me, saddens me—this tends to be the same things that inspire me to write in the first place.

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