It's never been a better time to be a writer --or aspire to become one.
Platforms like LinkedIn, Medium, and WordPress have placed millions of dollars of technology, and the power that once only belonged to major publishing and media firms, into the hands of millions of writers -- entirely for free.
But technology can only take a writer so far. Writing is an art and a craft that needs to be developed through deliberate practice and study over a long period of time. Fortunately, some of the world's greatest writers, the ones who mastered the craft and whose names have been passed down to us through time, gifted us not only with their stories. Many of them took time in-between the creation of their novels and short stories and poems to codify their writing philosophies, their writing strategies, and their writing habits.
Some of these authors recorded their thoughts on writing in books, some as essays, and some as letters to their friends, lovers, and editors.
If you're ever in need of inspiration or just want a few quick tips to help keep your words flowing onto the screen, just dip into the wisdom of these great authors. Here are 50 nuggets of writing wisdom from some of the greatest authors of all time:
"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect."
"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple."
--Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write."
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."
"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
--Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."
--Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
--Henry David Thoreau
"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
--Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades
"Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."
--Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
"Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college."
--Kurt Vonnegut Jr., A Man Without a Country
"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in."
--Robert Louis Stevenson
"You can make anything by writing."
"A word after a word after a word is power."
"Tears are words that need to be written."
"You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write."
"Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money."
"To survive, you must tell stories."
--Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before
"Always be a poet, even in prose."
"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."
"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."
"I write to discover what I know."
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."
― John Steinbeck
"A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time--proof that humans can work magic."
― Carl Sagan
"Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish."
― Hermann Hesse
"Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing."
― Norman Mailer
"Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write."
― Rainer Maria Rilke
"As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand."
― Ernest Hemingway
"A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends."
― Friedrich Nietzsche
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative."
-- Elmore Leonard
"Writers live twice."
-- Natalie Goldberg
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme."
"Words are a lens to focus one's mind."
- Ayn Rand
"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within."
"Writing is its own reward."
"A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God."
"I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged."
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
"Half my life is an act of revision."
"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good."
"Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being."
--A. A. Milne
"When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time. "
“[A] quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business.” – A.A. Milne
Chances are you too know a few famous quotes, but you probably don’t use them. I know so, because I’m guilty of neglecting quotes on the GRE.
So, why should you use essay quotes on the GRE? To start with, the right use of quotes in essays augments the power of your arguments and makes your essays appear more convincing. Plus, essays with quotes tend to score better than essays without them, because of the initial impact the use of quotes create on the reader, and help strengthen your point.
But we need to exercise prudence. Only use quotes as is, if you are convinced that paraphrasing would lower the impact or change the meaning of the original author’s words or when the argument could not be better expressed or said more succinctly.
Here is how you make sure you are doing it right.
How do I incorporate quotes into my essay?
At times, an essay can appear painfully discorded if the quotations are out of place or if the essay is too stuffed with quotes.
So, what should you do to avoid this?
A great quote plays one or more roles from the following:
- creates the initial impact on the essay grader
- makes your essay look more promising and interesting
- establishes credibility
- concludes the essay with a point to contemplate
If the quote doesn’t serve any of the above then you are forcing it into the essay and this could do more harm than good.
You should start writing your essay with a quote that lays foundation to the main idea behind the essay. This can have a major impact on the evaluator. You can also comment on the quotation in this introductory paragraph if you wish. Either way, to get a perfect score on the GRE essay, use a relevant quote strategically but don’t force it into the essay.
Can I alter the structure of the quotation?
Using the exact words from the original source is called quoting. You should quote when you believe that the way the original author expresses an idea is the most effective way to communicate the point you wish to make. If you want to borrow an idea from the author but don’t put the idea in their exact words, then it’s called paraphrasing. (but remember that you still have to cite the original author even when you are paraphrasing)
For example, Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” You can alter the quotation on your own according to the passage, by saying: ‘To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous quote, “It is easier to trust when you can verify.”‘ By doing this, you are not only citing the original author, but also gaining extra points for using your own version of the quote.
How many quotes should I use?
If you deploy a lot of quotations in your essay, it appears as though several people are talking about the topic apart from yourself. This would downplay your own voice and leaves little room for your own ideas. It is your essay and it should be your voice that needs to be heard, not some notable/famous person’s. Quote as infrequently as possible. So, don’t cram every quote you know into the essay. As a rule of thumb, refrain from using more than 2 quotes in any essay. (One in the introductory paragraph and the other if necessary in the conclusion)
How do I introduce the quote in my own words?
The last thing you would want is get your score cancelled on account of plagiarism. It’s highly recommended that you cite the author of the quotation. If you don’t cite, you may give the impression that you claim to be the original author and that could result in plagiarism. You should place the quote in double quotation marks. Here is an example usage citing the author:
Thomas Jefferson once said “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.”
Categorization of GRE Essay Topics
The fascinating thing about the GRE essay topics is that they’re already published on the official ETS website. This may sound crazy because giving out the questions in advance is not normal. Now, use this to your advantage. You can find all the GRE essay topics on the official ETS website.
But there’s a catch! You were expecting a few, right?
Well, there are close to 200 topics in all – far too many to practice responses in advance. Also, practicing each of these topics is not advisable as it is going to take a lot of time and effort and there is no point in mugging them up. You could as well spend this time on learning some math. However, there’s a good news. Just scanning through these two lists will give you an excellent idea of the types of issues and arguments that show up on test day.
I just made things a bit easy for you, though. Most of the topics that show up on the GRE essay section can be broadly grouped into five categories.
- Sciences and Technology
So, next time when you practice writing an essay response, make sure you write at least one essay from each of these categories. And memorize a few quotes related to each one of these topics, as they will be handy.
List of most useful essay quotes
I’ve compiled a list of easy-to-digest quotes that should help you write the perfect essay. Bookmark this page NOW for future reference.
The following quotes from great thinkers have been selected based on their relevance to common GRE essay topics and for their ease of usage.
- The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance – Socrates
- A people that value its privileges above its principles soon loses both – Dwight D. Eisenhower
- In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is – Yogi Berra
- A little inaccuracy can sometimes save a ton of explanation – H.H Munro
- Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction – E. F. Schumacher
- A consensus means that everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually – Abba Eban
- Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good – Mohandas Gandhi
- Whatever government is not a government of laws, is a despotism, let it be called what it may – Daniel Webster
- Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws – Plato
- Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing – Theodore Roosevelt
- It is dangerous to be right, when the government is wrong – Voltaire
- The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object – Thomas Jefferson
- No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation – Woodrow Wilson (28th U.S President)
- The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work – Emile Zola
- The world is full of educated derelicts – Calvin Coolidge
- A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a change to get its pants on – Winston Churchill
- It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog – Mark Twain
- Life contains but two tragedies. One is not to get your heart’s desire, the other is to get it – Socrates
- If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning – Aristotle Onasis
- Men are not disturbed by things, but the view they take of things – Epictetus
- As a rule, men worry more about what they can’t see than about what they can – Julius Caesar
Now, these are a handful of quotes. The goal is to memorize 5 or 6 of your favorite quotes so you’ll be able to contextually fit one into the essay on the test day. While practicing, you may look at the list of quotes found above however, if you can remember a specific quote apposite to your essay topic, try to use it – one quote for every essay.
For those avid writers, who believe the number of quotes above are too low, we have the right tool for you. Ellipsoid created a random quote generator tool that draws 5 famous quotes from Goodreads every time you reload the page. The good news is these 5 quotes are always theme based so you know where to use them.
Writing essays isn’t all about the substance. It’s the basics that many of us forget. If you are going to put in the time to practice writing essays, might as well maximize the score you could get by deploying a quote in your essays.
So, what’s your favorite quote?