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The Writer's Life > Brilliant Writing Quotes: Capote, Lamott, Dillard, Orwell & King

Brilliant Writing Quotes: Capote, Lamott, Dillard, Orwell & King

“I have the heart of a young boy,” said Stephen King. “I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Here are the best quotes about writing and creativity from Truman Capote, Margaret Atwood, Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Doris Lessing and more.

King’s “heart of a young boy” quip” isn’t just one of my favorite writing quotes, it’s also a brilliant play on words. Here’s an even more startling image from author and script writer Truman Capote: “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”

On a less startling note, I love what Doris Lessing was quoted as saying about succeeding as a writer: “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.” Is a Writer’s Personality the Key to Getting Published?

What is the most famous writing quote of all time? You get to decide!

28 famous authors are quoted in this post:

  1. Isabel Allende
  2. Margaret Atwood
  3. Truman Capote
  4. Anton Chekhov
  5. Joan Didion
  6. Annie Dillard
  7. George Eliot
  8. Zelda Fitzgerald
  9. Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. Natalie Goldberg
  11. Arthur Hailey
  12. Joseph Heller
  13. Ernest Hemingway
  14. John Irving
  15. Erica Jong
  16. Stephen King
  17. Anne Lamott
  18. Madeleine L’Engle
  19. Doris Lessing
  20. Philip Martin
  21. W. Somerset Maugham
  22. George Orwell
  23. Anne Tyler
  24. Mark Twain
  25. Jessamyn West
  26. E.B. White
  27. Walt Whitman
  28. Phyllis Whitney

Are you searching for the best or most famous writing quotes because you need motivation to write? Here’s an inspiring message from a teacher and bestselling author:

“Art is not about thinking something up,” writes Julia Cameron in How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy). “It is the opposite – getting something down.” This is more meaningful than it first appears. She is referring to the creative muse, Holy Spirit or universe writing through you.

Best Writing Quotes From Capote, King, Lamott, Orwell, and More

“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.

On creative writing (tips from Chekhov, Lamott, Whitman)

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

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you insane your whole life,” ~ Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird – Some Instructions On Writing And Life.

“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.

On the craft of writing (advice from Didion, Irving, Whitney)

“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.

“I always begin with a character, or characters, and then try to think up as much action for them as possible.” ~ John Irving.

“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.

On being a writer (secrets from Dillard, Goldberg, Irving, Maugham)

“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.

“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 in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

how to write when you have no ideas

“If you care about something you have to protect it. If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” ~ John Irving in A Prayer for Owen Meany.

“One of the amusements of being old is that I have no illusions about my literary position…I no longer mind what people think.” ~ W. Somerset Maugham.

Do you care what readers, editors and literary agents think? Read 5 Psychological Tips to Help Writers Cope With Rejection Letters.

On writer’s block (quotes from Hemingway, Jong, L’Engle, Updike, White)

“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.

“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.” ~ 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.

“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.

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

Are you waiting for the right time to write? Read Stopped Writing? How to Motivate Yourself to Start Writing Again.

On the writing process (tips from Atwood, Capote, Didion, Ephron, Malamud, Whitman)

“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.

“No one will ever know what writing In Cold Blood took out of me. It scraped me right down to the marrow of my bones. It nearly killed me. I think, in a way, it did kill me.” ~ Truman Capote.

“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.

“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.

“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 she must.” ~ Bernard Malamud.

“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.

On a writer’s voice and style (secrets from Capote, Dillard, Tyler)

“What I am trying to achieve is a voice sitting by a fireplace telling you a story on a winter’s evening.” ~ Truman Capote.

“The novel is a game or joke shared between author and reader.” ~ Annie Dillard.

“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.

On grammar and sentence structure (writing advice from Truman Capote)

“I think of myself as a stylist, and stylists can become notoriously obsessed with the placing of a comma, the weight of a semicolon.” ~ Truman Capote.

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.” ~ Truman Capote.

Are you an overwriter? Read 51 Commonly Over-Used Adverbs, Nouns, and Clichés in Writing.

On learning how to write (tips from Hemingway, Lamott, Martin, Tyler)

“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 sh*tty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.” ~ Anne Lamott in Bird By Bird – Some Instructions On Writing And Life. (This may be the most famous writing quote of all time; Ernest Hemingway said it first).

Habits of Highly Effective Writers

“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.

“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.

On fear and discouragement (writing advice from Allende, Atwood, L’Engle, Twain)

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

If you’re filled with self-doubt, read How Do You Stop Doubting Yourself as a Writer?

On writing discipline (tips from Dillard, Gilbert, Hailey, Heller, Orwell)

“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.” ~ Annie Dillard.

“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.

“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.

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” ~ Joseph Heller.

“The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write every time you have a free minute. If you didn’t behave that way you would never do anything.” ~ John Irving.

“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.

On getting published (encouragement from Ban Breathnach, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Twain)

“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.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot.

“By the time a person has achieved years adequate for choosing a direction, the die is cast and the moment has long since passed which determined the future.” – Zelda Fitzgerald.

“Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” ~  Mark Twain.

Do you think you’re not good enough to get published? Read The First Step to Gaining Confidence as a New Freelance Writer.

On being an author (writing quotes from Capote, Goldberg)

“I never read unpleasant things about myself.” ~ Truman Capote.

“Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.” ~ Truman Capote.

“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 in Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life.

8 ways NOT to be a writer from Julia Cameron

If writing quotes don’t motivate you, scare yourself into NOT doing things that wreck your dream of getting published. These tongue-in-cheek tips are from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity.

Best Writing Quotes From Capote, King, Lamott, Orwell, and More
  1. “Write long emails to your friends, instead of writing your novel.”
  2. “Focus on how much is left, not how much is done.”
  3. “Compare your work to the masterworks of the great masters.”
  4. “Surround yourself with jealous, blocked, negative companions.”
  5. “Invite houseguests for an extended stay.”
  6. “Rather than make art, read about art.”
  7. “Answer the phone every time it rings.”
  8. “Let the fear of freelance health care costs drive you back to corporate life.”

“I have learned, as a rule of thumb,” said Julia Cameron, “never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow.”

Do you want to be a writer? Read How to Stay Motivated to Keep Writing.

What’s your best or favorite quote about writing? Here’s mine: “Because how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard.

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35 thoughts on “Brilliant Writing Quotes: Capote, Lamott, Dillard, Orwell & King”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.”

  3. There is no such thing as a perfect writer, if there were the writer would not know rejection and their every book would win a Pulitzer Prize. Never focus on the reward of writing, focus on your story and you will succeed.

  4. It has always been my dream to become a Famous Author, i have even come up with some great ideas for books and pursued those ideas even though some of them don’t turn out well. The only thing i cant find an answer to is if ill be able to live off being an author? Even if i could how do i get my book published? So if you can answer these concerns i’d most appreciate it.