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. "
How to Use Quotes Effectively
Most, if not all, of your college professors will require you to use research material as a vital component of your writing. However, this process is not as simple as cutting and pasting sentences (or even worse, paragraphs) from the original texts into your essay. You need to do more than just parrot information; simple cutting and pasting resorts in an incoherent flow of information in which the diction becomes nearly schizophrenic—literally, a confusion of voices. Technically, an isolated quotation is called a “free-standing quote.” It is essential, therefore, for you to integrate quotations into your writing so that the essay flows as smoothly as possible.
Let’s say you have to write an essay on creativity for your Introduction to Psychology course, and you have decided to make creative writing your focus. While you were researching, you came across a certain quote that you feel would work effectively in a paragraph in which you analyze the relationship between creativity and perceptiveness.
Before you try to place the quote in your essay, you need to understand two things: what the quote literally means and how the quote will fit with the context of your paragraph and essay. The quote will not help your essay if you are unsure of its specific meaning, so be sure to understand any complex vocabulary or ideas. Second, the placement of quotes should not be haphazard; you should have a definite, specific purpose for placing each quote. Without such a purpose, your essay will seem random, a quality successful writing does not possess.
Here is an original quote and three ways to incorporate it into your text.
Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of “profound insight,” but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets.
1. Use a simple introductory phrase.
According to Adam Phillips, the former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital in London and the author of many influential books on psychoanalysis, “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (4). [MLA]
According to Phillips (2001), “being a good poet makes you a good psychologist […] but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (p. 4). [APA]
Here we’ve used a simple “according to” phrase to introduce the quote, and we’ve used ellipses with brackets to use part of quote that we may find most emphatic. Note the ellipses are in brackets. Any change you make to the original quote, changes of verb tense, capitalization, etc, need to be bracketed. Also, you do not need to introduce or end your quotes with ellipses; they are only used with quotes to indicate omitted information in the middle. In addition to citing our source, we have also qualified our author. Rather than just providing the name, we have provided relevant context, which strengthens our essay by providing credibility.
2. Use an independent clause and a colon.
Creativity is ripe with paradox. For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips 4). [MLA]
Creativity is ripe with paradox. For example, artists often have a complex understanding of human nature while those who have studied human nature often have no artistic ability: “Being a good poet makes you a good psychologist, it is suggested, one capable of ‘profound insight,’ but being a good psychologist doesn’t seem to make people good poets” (Phillips, 2001, p 4). [APA]
The key here is to make sure you have a complete sentence (independent clause) preceding the quote. If you do not have an independent clause before the quote, the sentence is a fragment.
3. Incorporate the quote into the context of your sentence.
While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips 4). [MLA]
While “being a good poet” may turn an otherwise uneducated person into “a good psychologist,” the authors of many scholarly texts would not be able to craft a metaphor if their lives depended on it (Phillips, 2001, p 4). [APA]
This technique is the most sophisticated, but it also has potential for mishap: be sure to make all your verb tenses and pronouns consistent. If the quote uses a plural verb while your sentence has a singular subject, your sentence will be incorrect grammatically. Either use brackets to change certain parts of the original quote, or change your sentence to match the quote. Either way, consistency is the goal.
Those are three different ways in incorporating quotations into the flow of your essay (thus avoiding the weakness of free-standing quotes). Which of the three ways is the best? A well-written documented essay will have examples of all three types, depending on the context of the quote.
You should also be aware of block quotes. Any quote that fills more than three lines of your paper needs to be offset (blocked) from the rest of your essay.
As a final note, always remember to cite the quotes correctly with parenthetical citations and a works cited page.
Phillips, Adam. “Poetry and Psychoanalysis.” Promises, Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature. New York: Basic, 2001. 1-34. [MLA]
Philips, A. (2001). Poetry and psychoanalysis. Promises, promises: Essays on psychoanalysis and literature (pp 1-34). New York: Basic. [APA]