20 Writing Quotes From Famous Authors – From Hemingway to Jong


These quotations about writing will inspire you to write more – they’re from famous authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Anne Lamott, Anne Tyler, Erica Jong, John Updike, Julia Cameron, Walt Whitman, and more.

quotations about writing from famous writers

A signed note from the late great Ernest Hemingway (image via ahis ghett, flickr)

To kick things off, here’s one my favorite writing quotes 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! Dillard’s motivation for struggling writers 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.”

Break free from the lure of TV, food, shopping, or endlessly surfing the internet, fellow scribes! Follow your dream of being a writer — do what you love to do.

It’s hard. I know.

If you need motivation, read 73 Ways to Fire Up (or Just Fire!) the Muse. I gathered writing quotes and advice from working writers, journalism professors, and bloggers — you’ll find inspiration there.

And may these quotes on writing help you achieve your goals…

Writing Quotes From Famous Authors

Unles otherwise specified, these quotations are from Shoptalk: Learning to Write with Writers by Donald Murray – a wonderful collection of quotes from successful authors.

For Discouraged, Rejected Writers

Erica Jong on writing problems:

  • “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.” (from The New Writer’s Handbook)

Madeleine L’Engle on discouragement:

  • “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.”

Writing Quotes to Inspire and Motivate

Walt Whitman on writing now now now!

Writing Quotes From Famous Authors

20 Writing Quotes From Famous Authors – From Hemingway to Jong

  • “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.

Anne Tyler on making up stories:

  • “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.”

E.B. White on waiting for the right (write) timing:

  • “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.

Quotes on Writing Better (Edit! Edit! Edit!)

Joan Didion on rewriting:

  • “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.

Anne Lamott on good writing:

  • “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 sh**ty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head. ~ from Bird By Bird – Some Instructions On Writing And Life – but I’m 100% sure Ernest Hemingway said it first.

Sarah Ban Breathnach on letting go of your writing:

  • “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.”

For practical writing advice, read Writing Tips From Famous Authors.

Quotes for Blocked Writers

Arthur Hailey on setting a daily word count:

Writing Quotations From Famous Authors

Writing Quotations From Famous Authors

  • “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.

Barbara Sher on taking action:

  • “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. (from I Could Do Anything…If Only I Knew What It Was!)

Mark Twain on giving it your best shot:

  • “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.

Quotes on Writing the Lead – Hook Your Reader

Nora Ephron on writing the lead:

  • “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.

Joan Didion on the first sentence:

  • “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

Quotes on Accepting Yourself as a Writer

Natalie Goldberg on self-acceptance as a writer:

  • “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. (from Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life).

Anne Lamott on perfectionism:

Margaret Atwood on the blank page:

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

Writing Inspiration – Quotes From Famous Authors

John Updike on inspiration:

writing quotations published authors

Writing Quotes From Famous Authors – From Hemingway to Jong

  • “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.

Robert Cormier on creativity and flow:

  • “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.

Ernest Hemingway on when to stop writing:

  • “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.

And finally, Julia Cameron on finding a writing mentor:

“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.”

For more writing quotes from famous authors, read 5 Writing Secrets From William Shakespeare.

May you write swiftly and easily, and find your identity in your writing.


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16 thoughts on “20 Writing Quotes From Famous Authors – From Hemingway to Jong

  • Laurie Post author

    Thanks for your comments! My favourite writing quote is about “using it up now” — don’t save your favourite scenes, characters, dialogues, or descriptions for sometime in the future. I can’t remember what famous author said that, but I actually apply it to my every day life, too.

  • anup

    Hi Laurie,thanks for a good and inspiring collection of quotes.My personal favourite is E.W.White’s,”A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

  • Derek

    I love this quote by E.B. White…

    “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.

    I love it because it applies not only to writing, but to many other aspects of life as well. You can wait around for perfect/ideal conditions, but the truth is those conditions never exist. So you just have take action and go for it.

  • Laurie Post author

    Thanks for your comments and information! I’m tempted to Katie’s info from Gartner in its own article – it’s got some fantastic tips and quotes. And, he’s a successful writer.

  • Michael M. Griffin

    Actually, my favorite quotation is the very first!
    “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.”
    Small things like housework will never equal a finished novel.

  • Art

    I agree with what Walt Whitman said. I write things on the spur of the moment. I often jot things down on scraps of paper as ideas come to me. I do my best writing while I am not at my desk. I take notes while I am out and about and finish it up when I get home. You catch life as it happens that way.

  • Katie

    Michael Gartner, legendary writer, gave a speech about fun writing at the writer’s workshop a few years ago. He laid out the writing technique in 12 easy steps.

    Step 1: Report. Gartner emphasizes that a good writer should never leave out facts, details, quotes, and descriptions. He basically said not to get too caught up in perfect writing and forget the important facts that people actually want to know.

    Step 2: Read. Read anything and everything he says. Read news articles, fiction, nonfiction, magazines, etc. Read anything you can and as much as possible. I myself have been slacking on this, I read for class but that’s about it. I don’t have time to read for fun or long news articles. I read to stay informed but that’s about it. I should definitely read more, that’s a good goal for this summer!

    Step 3: Listen. To be able to report the facts, details, quotes, and descriptions, you have to listen for them and remember them. There is often a story beyond simply what the interviewee is telling you, it’s in their emotion.

    Step 4: Simplify: Gartner told a story about when he was just out of college and Barney Kilgore told him “the easiest thing for a reader to do is quit reading.” He never forgot that advice and thought about it during every story. Keep the reader interested, don’t bore them or make the story too complicated to follow. I’ve also been told this information in my Com 165 class and I feel it keeps me on track when writing stories.

    Step 5: Collaborate. Create a good relationship with your editor and talk to them about anything you need help with. A good editor can turn you into a great writer. Having a bad editor could distract you from your work.

    Step 6: Trust. Gartner said it great, “trust means honesty and respect, openness and courtesy. You simply cannot work with someone you don’t trust.” You need trust with your coworkers and your editor. You are all working for the same goal, to put out a great newspaper or news program, so you must trust each other to accomplish that goal.

    Step 7: Experiment. Experimenting keeps you from becoming a hack. It also keeps your readers interested and reading. Go away from the ordinary. Don’t be afraid to try something new, true it might fail, but it also might flourish, you never know if you don’t take that chance. This is something I need to do more in my writing.

    Step 8: Talk. Talk to others about your stories, especially the lead and the ending, or simply talk to yourself. Saying a sentence out loud makes it easier to hear how it flows with the rest of the paragraph or article. A story should flow like a song, have a ‘cadence.’ It might look good on paper, but reading out loud could shine a whole new light on the piece.

    Step 9: Pounce. Don’t let a good quote slip by. Use the quote in the best way. Quotes can go in many places in an article, but a good reporter knows where they’ll have the most effect. To be able to recognize a good quote you have to go back to step 3, listen.

    Step 10: Love. You must love writing and love reporting! If you don’t, you will never be a good writer. Gartner said, “if you don’t love at least 20% of you job, then just quit, find something else.” You also must love facts and be curious about everything, even things that don’t seem important.

    Step 11: Care. Care kind of goes along the lines of love. If you don’t care about what you’re reporting on then it will probably show in your writing, and the readers won’t care if you don’t care. If you care about a story, even a crappy one, you can make it interesting. Find the hidden detail that can make your story shine.

    Step 12: Balance. This is the final step of being a good writer. At least in the newspaper business, you cannot be a good writer if you write unfair stories. If you write unfair stories it ruins your credibility and that of the newspaper. And you will most likely lose your job. There is a lot that goes into being a good writer, 12 steps exactly, but according to Gartner, “there is nothing more satisfying, nothing more fun.”

  • Rick

    There has never been a truer quote for any writer than this:

    “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.”

  • Morgan @ Kissy Kissy Baby Clothes

    Gotta love the one about the first sentence; I do guest blogging to promote my blog about organic baby clothing, and I can totally relate to being stuck with the first sentence.

  • Bob

    I really enjoyed reading the various quotes in your post, ‘20 Writing Quotes From Famous Authors – From Hemingway to Jong”. I particularly like Ernest Hemingway; I have read quite a few of his books and I have also been fortunate enough to visit his home in Key West, Florida.

  • Rich @ cad support

    Love the list. Favorite quote is “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper,”. Very inspirational and true. Thanks.

  • Manjusha@English Grammar

    I absolutely liked this post. My favorite is ‘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.’

    It really strikes a chord with me. Although I am not a fiction writer, writing is what I do to make a living. Very often I have to neglect housework so that I can finish my writing assignments on time. I never regret it, but my family isn’t always happy with that.

  • UPPAL

    Hi Laurie,thanks for a good and inspiring collection of quotes.My personal favourite is E.W.White’s,”A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
    I think to be a good writer and to achieve ‘flow’ in your writing, you need to develop the quality of total absorption, so much so that you may become oblivious of your surrondings while engaged in the writing process.However it requires mental training and absolute devotion to your craft.
    My latest post: Why Should you Watch TV?

  • Vidya Sury, Freelance Writer and Professional Blogger

    I enjoyed the list. My favorite is Mark Twain’s “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. Thank you, Laurie.