Monday, September 24, 2012

Quotations about Writing Part 1: Early Writers

Of all those arts in which the wise excel, 
Nature's chief masterpiece is writing well.
 John Sheffield, English writer, (1648 – 1721)

Many of us enjoy quotations and popular sayings. We like them because they sometimes resonate deep within us by reflecting what we have experienced in life, or what we wish to experience. They echo what we feel, believe, recognize, imagine, or hope. They support or give meaning to what we know. They inform us, make us think, make us laugh, and inspire us.

With this in mind, I pulled together a list of quotations about writing from writers. The list grew so long that I have broken it into two parts. Part 1 provides a list of quotations from early writers, up to writers born in the 1800s. Part 2, which will be posted on Wednesday, covers writers born in the 1900s.

Some of the writers are famous and some are not as well known. But all offer thoughts and advice about writing and the writing life.



Good sense is both the first principal and the parent source of good writing.
Horace, Roman poet (65 BC – 8 BC)

Against the disease of writing one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease.
Peter Pierre Abélard, French Philosopher, (1079 – 1142)

Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.
Samuel Johnson, English author (1709 - 1784)

The writing of the wise are the only riches our posterity cannot squander.
Walter Savage Landor English writer and poet (1775 – 1864)

If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away.
Victor Hugo, French poet, novelist (1802 - 1885)

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist and short story writer (1804 – 1864)

I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.
Henry David Thoreau, American poet, author, naturalist (1817 – 1862)

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.
John Ruskin, English author, poet, critic (1819 - 1900)

Writing is learning to say nothing, more cleverly each day.
William Allingham, Irish poet, editor (1824 – 1889)

Learn as much by writing as by reading.
Lord Acton, English historian, writer (1837 – 1869)

I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
Oscar Wilde, Irish writer, poet (1854 - 1900)

A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules or fits certain definitions. It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.
Edith Wharton, American novelist, short story writer (1862 - 1937)

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Jules Renard, French author (1864 - 1910)

After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity.
George Ade, American writer, columnist, playwright (1866 - 1944), "Fables in Slang", 1899

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.
H. G. Wells, English author (1866 - 1946)

When I am dead, I hope it may be said 'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'
Hilaire Belloc Anglo-French, then British, writer, historian (1870 – 1953)

I don't want anyone reading my writing to think about style. I just want them to be in the story. 
Willa Cather, American author (1873 – 1947)

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
Robert Frost, American Poet, (1874 – 1963)

Writing a poem is discovering
Robert Frost, American Poet (1874 – 1963)

Habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.
W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist, short story writer (1874 – 1965)

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist, short story writer (1874 – 1965)

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.
W. Somerset Maugham, English playwright, novelist, short story writer (1874 – 1965)

A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
Thomas Mann, German writer, 1929 Nobel Prize Laureate (1875 - 1955)

Without words, without writing and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity.
Hermann Hesse, German-Swiss novelist, poet (1877 – 1962)

A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
Ring Lardner, American columnist, short story writer (1885 - 1933)

At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.
Raymond Chandler, American novelist, screenwriter (1888 - 1959)

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.
Gene Fowler American journalist, author (1890 – 1960)

And how is clarity to be achieved? Mainly by taking trouble and by writing to serve people rather than to impress them.
F. L. Lucas English scholar, literary critic, writer (1894 – 1967)

You can make anything by writing.
C.S. Lewis, Irish novelist, poet, essayist (1898 – 1963)

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.
C.S. Lewis, Irish novelist, poet, essayist (1898 – 1963)


Be sure and check back on Wednesday for quotations from 20th Century writers.

1 comment:

Mary Jane Honegger said...

I've always loved quotes. Imagine saying something so pithy and intelligent that people quote your words a hundred years from now. Oh, that I could be such a wordsmith. Although I consider that unlikely, I recently found a quote that gives hope for those of us writers aging out: "If you're a singer, you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes."
--Mickey Spillane