Quotes About Writing

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A hidden nerve is what every writer is ultimately about. It’s what all writers wish to uncover when writing about themselves in this age of the personal memoir. And yet it’s also the first thing every writer learns to sidestep, to disguise, as though this nerve were a deep and shameful secret that needs to be swathed in many sheaths.
Andre’ Achman – A Literary Pilgrim Progresses to the Past, NYT, 8-28-2000

Writers the most learned, the most accurate in details, and the soundest in tendency, frequently fall into a habit which can neither be cured nor pardoned,—the habit of making history into the proof of their theories.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) History of Freedom and Other Essays, Ch 8, (1907)

A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation.
Joseph Addison (1672-1719) – The Spectator (1711-12), No. 291 February 2, 1712.

Good books, like good friends, are few and chosen; the more select, the more enjoyable.
A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)Quoted in Solace and Companionship of Books, ed. A. Ireland, London, 1883, p. 265.

The great artist is the simplifier.
Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881) – Amiel’s Journal, 1849-1872, 25 Nov, 1861, pub 1883, tr. Mrs. Humphrey Ward

I’m a bit of a grinder. Novels are very long, and long novels are very, very long. It’s just a hell of a lot of man-hours. I tend to just go in there, and if it comes, it comes. A morning when I write not a single word doesn’t worry me too much. If I come up against a brick wall, I’ll just go and play snooker or something or sleep on it, and my subconscious will fix it for me. Usually, it’s a journey without maps but a journey with a destination, so I know how it’s going to begin and I know how it’s going to end, but I don’t know how I’m going to get from one to the other. That, really, is the struggle of the novel.
Martin Amis (1949-) – “The Pros and Cons of Martin Amis,” Graham Fuller interviews Amis in Interview magazine (v. 25.5, May 1995)

The greatest thing by far is to have a command of metaphor. This alone cannot be imparted by another; it is the mark of genius, for to make good metaphors implies an eye for resemblances.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) – Poetics (1459a4)

A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) – The art of Rhetoric

In general, what is written must be easy to read and easy to speak; which is the same.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) – The Art of Rhetoric, tr H.C. Lawson-Trancred, Ch 3, Sect. 5

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) -Life, Jan. 1984

A word after a word
after a word is power.
Margaret Atwood (1939- ) “Spelling,” Margaret Atwood: works and impact ed. Reingard M. Nischik, Camden House, 2000

Our sufferings and weaknesses, in so far as they are personal, are of no literary interest whatsoever. They are only interesting in so far as we can see them as typical of the human condition.
W.H. Auden – The Dyer’s Hand, (1962)

Before you begin to write a sentence, imagine the scene you want to paint with your words. Imagine that you are the character and feel what the character feels. Smell what the character smells, and hear with that character’s ears. For an instant, before you begin to write, see and feel what you want the reader to see and feel.
Othello BachHow to Write a Great Story, Choice Books, 1999.

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) – Essays – “Of Studies,” (1597-1625).

The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.
Walter Bagehot (1826 – 1877) – The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, Volume 10, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915, p217

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders.
Walter Bagehot (1826 – 1877) – The first Edinburgh Reviewers, in Estimates of Some Englishmen and Scotsmen, London, 1858, p34.

I am a galley slave to pen and ink.
Honore de Balzac – letter to Madame Zulma Carraud, 2 July 1832