73 Writing Quips From Novelists, Authors, and Editors


Here are dozens of writing quips and tips from famous novelists, authors, and editors. I’ve been collecting writing quips for a few years now – and love the idea of sharing them!

Here’s a quip to get the ball rolling:

“Every morning or afternoon, whenever you want to write, you have to go up and shoot that old bear under your desk between the eyes.” – Robert Leckie. 





These quips and tips from published authors can help you shoot that bear and get writing…and so can Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark. It may be one of the best books I’ve ever read about the writing craft. 

And, here are writing quips from seriously successful authors… 

73 Writing Quips From Novelists, Authors, and Editors

“Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary action – truth is always subversive.” – Anne Lamott.

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” – James Thurber.

“What I did have, which others perhaps didn’t, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.” – Doris Lessing.

“Teach yourself to work in uncertainty.” – Bernard Malamud.

“I write a book or a short story three times. Once to understand her, the second time to improve her prose, and a third to compel her to say what it still must say.” – Bernard Malamud.



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“Advice to young writers? Always the same advice: learn to trust our own judgment, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad – including your own bad.” – Doris Lessing.

“I’m one of those people that believes you should start writing before you think you’re ready.” – Joseph Ellis.

“I hear people say they’re going to write. I ask, when? They give me vague statements. Indefinite plans get dubious results. When we’re concrete about our writing time, it alleviates that thin constant feeling of anxiety that writers have – we’re barbecuing hot dogs, riding a bike, sailing out in the bay, shopping for shoes, even helping a sick friend, but somewhere nervously at the periphery of our perception we know we belong somewhere else – at our desk!” – Natalie Goldberg

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C.S. Lewis.

“Know that you will eventually have to leave everything behind; the writing will demand it of you. Bareboned, you are on the path with no markers, only the skulls of those who never made it back – over and over again.” – Natalie Goldberg

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.” – John Steinbeck.

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” – Barbara Kingsolver.

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” – Mark Twain.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t know what that is. There are just certain little areas that I know I’m going to get through. It’s just a matter of finding a way.” – Elmore Leonard.

“All writers must go from now to once a upon a time; all must go from here to there; all must descend to where the stories are kept; all must take care not to be captured and held immobile by the past.” – Margaret Atwood.

“As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you.” – Elizabeth Gilbert.

“Other [writers] find excuses for not writing at the same time every day, balk at re-revising incessantly, or excuse themselves because their lives are beset by difficulty. I am deaf to that excuse because I worked with the most disadvantaged writer in history, Christy Brown, who had the use of his brain, the little toe on his left foot, and little else. I published five of Christy Brown’s books, one of which made the national bestseller lists. I urge you to see the video of a remarkable film called My Left Foot. It won an Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, who played Christy. The file may cure you of fishing for an excuse for not writing.” – Sol Stein.

“In the end, writing skills are mostly absorbed, not learned. Like learning to speak as a native speaker, learning to write well is not just learning a set of rules or techniques. It’s a huge, messy body of deep language, inspired by bits of readings, conversations, incidents; it’s affected by how you were taught and where you live and who you want to become. For every convention, there is another way that may work better. For every rule, there are mavericks who succeed by flaunting it. There is no right or wrong way to write, no ten easy steps.” – Philip Martin.

“When I’m scared – and I’m always scared when I have to face an audience, when I have to read a review, when I publish a book…then, I think of my grandfather. My grandfather was this strong, tough Basque who would never bend….What would he do? Well, he would go ahead, close his eyes, and drive forward. You do it and the spirit that is within you….is there.” – Isabelle Allende.

“We think writers should stop placing so much emphasis on ‘rejections.’ They’re not rejections – they’re business decisions. What if your attorney or massage therapist moped around in their bathrobes like writers do whenever they lost a potential client?” – Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell.

“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.” – Annie Dillard.

“When I am writing I am doing the thing I was meant to do.” – Anne Sexton.

“I hear people say they’re going to write. I ask, when? They give me vague statements. Indefinite plans get dubious results. When we’re concrete about our writing time, it alleviates that thin constant feeling of anxiety that writers have – we’re barbecuing hot dogs, riding a bike, sailing out in the bay, shopping for shoes, even helping a sick friend, but somewhere nervously at the periphery of our perception we know we belong somewhere else – at our desk!” – Natalie Goldberg.

“The most important thing for a writer is to be locked in a study…” – Erica Jong.

“There is so much about the process of writing that is mysterious to me, but this one thing I’ve found to be true: writing begets writing.” – Dorianne Laux.

“I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line…” – Yukio Mishima

“If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both – you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” – Ray Bradbury.

“What I did have, which others perhaps didn’t, was a capacity for sticking at it, which really is the point, not the talent at all. You have to stick at it.” – Doris Lessing.

“All good writing is built one good line at a time,” said Kate Braverman. “You build a novel the same way you do a pyramid. One word, one stone at a time, underneath a full moon while the fingers bleed.”

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark,” said Henry David Thoreau.

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain.

“I shall live badly if I do not write.” – Francoise Sagan.

“Think of everything that happens at the very beginning of a story: The reader makes decisions about the story. They haven’t yet committed to completing it and they are feeling their way around how much they want to commit. Your reader is not a penniless and weary traveler who will be happy to take any bed you can offer. They are discerning, with plenty of money for a night’s sleep and if you show them something uninspired, they’re off to the next inn. You have to work to get them to stay with you.” – Brandi Reissenweber.

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” – James Michener.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling.

“Know that you will eventually have to leave everything behind; the writing will demand it of you. Bareboned, you are on the path with no markers, only the skulls of those who never made it back – over and over again.” – Natalie Goldberg

“For many writers – professional writers – writing faster is simply a matter of survival. Writing faster can mean the difference between making a go of a challenging career as an author versus going back to your old job as an accountant or asking ‘Smoking or non-smoking’ down at Bob’s Big Boy. Writer’s block, you might even say, is a luxury that real writers can’t afford.” – David Fyxell.

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book: give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.” – Annie Dillard.

“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.” – Arthur Hailey.

“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.” – Nora Ephron.

“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.” – Joan Didion.

“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. 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.” – Erica Jong.

“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. 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.” – Madeleine L’Engle.

“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.” – Walt Whitman.

“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. 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.” – Anne Tyler.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White.

“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price in disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft – then you can add all the genius you like.” – Phyllis Whitney.

“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. 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.” – Julia Cameron.

“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.” – Natalie Goldberg.

“The fact is that blank pages inspire me with terror. What will I put on them? Will it be good enough? Will I have to throw it out?” – Margaret Atwood.

“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.” – John Updike.

“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…” – Robert Cormier.

“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.” Ernest Hemingway.

“I approach my work with a passionate intensity, acting as if its success depends entirely on me. “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.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach.

“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.” – Joan Didion.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper. 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.” – Anne Lamott.

“I think marriage and writing books are very difficult to combine. If things don’t go well between you, then there’s a tendency for the partner to blame it on the book, and quite right. The person a writer marries is forced to take a certain role in relation to the writer, and may not like that role. It happens with all creative people, actors, musicians…but writers are particularly difficult, because they have to be so solitary.” – Jill Robinson.

“As a profession, freelance writing is notoriously insecure. That’s the first argument in its favor. For many reasons, a few of them rational, the thought of knowing exactly what next year’s accomplishments, routine, income, and vacation will be – or even what time I have to get up tomorrow morning – has always depressed me.” – Gloria Steinem.

“I’ve never been able to force a novel. I always had the sense something being given to me. You can’t sit around and wait until inspiration strikes, but neither can you force into being something that isn’t there.” – Margaret Laurence.

“Don’t write down to your readers. The ones dumber than you can’t read.” –  Jack Bickham.

“Writers have to get used to launching something beautiful and watching it crash and burn. They also have to learn when to let go control, when the work takes off on its own and flies, farther than they ever planned or imagined, to places they didn’t know they knew. All makers must leave room for the acts of the spirit. But they have to work hard and carefully, and wait patiently, to deserve them.” – Ursula Le Guin.

“Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent.” – Anne Lamott. 

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.  ~Toni Morrison

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.  ~Anton Chekhov

Every writer I know has trouble writing.  ~Joseph Heller

I’d rather be caught holding up a bank than stealing so much as a two-word phrase from another writer.  ~Jack Smith

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.  ~Agatha Christie

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.  ~Henry David Thoreau

It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.  ~Sinclair Lewis

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially.  ~A. Bronson Alcott

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.  ~George Orwell

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. – Jessamyn West



SheBlossoms Laurie Pawlik Kienlen


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8 thoughts on “73 Writing Quips From Novelists, Authors, and Editors

  • Chris B.

    “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.” — AJ Liebling

  • Jen

    Really great collection of quotes here, very inspiring! I have a lot of ideas buzzing in my head but keep putting off the very act of putting words onto paper. I guess the best step is to overcome doubts and just dive into it.

    I particularly like the idea of writing the book as if it is just for your eyes only – “You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” – Erica Jong.

  • Laurie PK

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Bike Parts!

    Figuring out what to say when you want to comment on a blog post or article is tough — I know! Many times I want to comment on a blogger’s post, but I have no idea what I want to say. But, just saying “cool blog” is fantastic when all else fails 🙂
    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..8 Ideas for Blog Posts or Magazine Articles at Halloween =-.

  • Bike Parts

    Hey there, I stumbled upon your web site a few weeks ago and have got through all the posts and comments slowly. I decided I might write my firstcomment. Unsure of what to say but here goes. Cool blog. Will come back soon to hear what else youve got to tell me.