These writing quips from famous published authors range from the writer’s life to writing well – with a smattering of “how to write” advice. Authors include Ernest Hemingway, Erica Jong, John Updike, E.B. White, Julia Cameron, Walt Whitman, and more.
To kick things off, here’s my favorite writing advice from Annie Dillard: “I don’t do housework. Life is too short and I’m too much of a Puritan. If you want to take a year off to write a book, you have to take that year, or the year will take you by the hair and pull you toward the grave.”
But wait, it gets better: “Let the grass die. I let almost all of my indoor plants die from neglect while I was writing the book. There are all kinds of ways to live. You can take your choice. You can keep a tidy house, and when St. Peter asks you what you did with your life, you can say, I kept a tidy house, I made my own cheese balls,” said Annie Dillard (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray).
Break free from the chains of housework, television, food, or endlessly surfing the internet, fellow scribes. When you glom on to what you love (writing), you’ll taste freelancing success….
21 Writing Quips From Published Authors
These writing quips range from pursuing your writing goals to writing well – with a smattering of other writing advice in between.
A writing quip from Arthur Hailey (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray.)
- “I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind or if I’m sick or well. There must be 600 finished words – not almost right words. Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, I do write 600 at the top of my pad every day, and I keep track of the word count to insure I reach my quota daily – without fail,” said Hailey.
An inspirational quip from Barbara Sher (from I Could Do Anything…If Only I Knew What It Was!)
- “Action is absolutely essential for people who don’t know what they want. Action will help you think better and more clearly than if you sat still and weighed all the theoretical factors. Even action in the wrong direction is informative,” says Sher.
An inspirational quip from Mark Twain.
- “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” said Mark Twain.
On Writing Leads
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A writing quip from Nora Ephron (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray.)
- “I don’t write a word of the article until I have the lead. It just sets the whole tone – the whole point of view. I know exactly where I’m going as soon as I have the lead,” said Ephron, author of the screenplay When Harry Met Sally.
A writing quotation from Joan Didion (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray).
- “What’s so hard about the first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone,” said Didion, author of several novels, non-fiction books, and screenplays.
A writing quip from Erica Jong (from The New Writer’s Handbook):
- “All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged,” said Jong. “If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.”
A writing quip from Madeleine L’Engle:
- “I got so discouraged, I almost stopped writing. It was my 12-year-old son who changed my mind when he said to me, “Mother, you’ve been very cross and edgy with us and we notice you haven’t been writing. We wish you’d go back to the typewriter,” said L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time. “That did a lot of good for my false guilts about spending so much time writing. At that point, I acknowledged that I am a writer and even if I were never published again, that’s what I am.”
A writing quip from Walt Whitman:
- “The secret of it all, is to write in the gush, the throb, the flood, of the moment – to put things down without deliberation – without worrying about their style – without waiting for a fit time or place. I always worked that way. I took the first scrap of paper, the first doorstep, the first desk, and wrote – wrote, wrote…By writing at the instant the very heartbeat of life is caught,” said Whitman.
A writing quip from Anne Tyler:
- “For me, writing something down was the only road out…I hated childhood, and spent it sitting behind a book waiting for adulthood to arrive,” said Tyler. “When I ran out of books I made up my own. At night, when I couldn’t sleep, I made up stories in the dark.”
A writing quip from E.B. White (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray.)
- “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper,” said White, author of Charlotte’s Webb and Stuart Little.
On Finding Writing Mentors
A writing quip from Julia Cameron:
- “You are on the look out for experience, strength, and hope. You want to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly how disappointments have been survived,” said Cameron. “It helps to know that the greats have had hard times too and that your own hard times merely make you part of the club.”
On Accepting Yourself as a Writer
A writing quip from Natalie Goldberg (in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life).
- “We have to accept ourselves in order to write. Now none of us does that fully: few of us do it even halfway. Don’t wait for one hundred percent acceptance of yourself before you write, or even eight percent acceptance. Just write. The process of writing is an activity that teaches us about acceptance,” said Goldberg.
A writing quip from Anne Lamott (from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life – I think!)
- “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you insane your whole life,” said Lamott.
A writing quip from Margaret Atwood:
- “The fact is that blank pages inspire me with terror,” said Atwood. “What will I put on them? Will it be good enough? Will I have to throw it out?”
On Writing Ideas
A writing quip from John Updike (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray.)
- “A few places are especially conducive to inspiration – automobiles, church – public places. I plotted Couples almost entirely in church – little shivers and urgencies I would note down on the program, and carry down to the office Monday,” said Updike, author of dozens of novels, short stories, and non-fiction works.
A writing quip from Robert Cormier:
- “What if? What if? My mind raced, and my emotions kept pace at the sidelines, the way it always happens when a story idea arrives, like a small explosion of thought and feeling. What if? What if an incident like that in the park had been crucial to a relationship between father and daughter? What would make it crucial? Well, what if the father, say, was divorced from the child’s mother and the incident happened during one of his visiting days? And what if…” said Cormier, author of several novels, including I Am The Cheese.
A writing quip from Ernest Hemingway:
- “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you’re rewriting a novel you will never be stuck,” said Hemingway.
A writing quip from Sarah Ban Breathnach.
- “I approach my work with a passionate intensity, acting as if its success depends entirely on me,” says Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance. “But once I’ve done my best, I try to let go as much as possible and have no expectations about how my work will be received by the world.”
A writing quip from Joan Didion (from Shoptalk: Learning to Write With Writers by Donald Murray).
- “My writing is a process of rewriting, of going back and changing and filling in. In the rewriting process you discover what’s going on, and you go back and bring it up to that point. Sometimes you’ll just push through, indicate a scene or a character, leave a space, then go back later and fill it in,” said Didion.
A writing quip from Anne Lamott (from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing & Life).
- “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper,” said Lamott. “What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
Fellow scribes, what’s your favorite quotation about writing?