Writers on Writing

It’s fun to read the words of other writers when they talk about writing. That’s why I click on dozens of writer’s blogs every day. It’s also why I have an ongoing collection of quotations by writers. Some in my collection are just plain funny, some are serious, and some can teach valuable lessons. It makes no difference if the words were said by famous writers or by writers we may not have encountered before.

Below are writers’ quotations I’ve picked up recently from various sources. You might get a bit of inspiration from them, as I have.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Put the argument into a concrete shape, into an image, some hard phrase, round and solid as a ball, which they can see and handle and carry home with them, and the cause is half won.

Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

If you cry “Forward!” you must without fail make plain in what direction to go. Don’t you see that if, without doing so, you call out the word to both a mond and revolutionary, they will go in directions precisely opposite?

(I tried without success to find out what the word “mond” means, but even without knowing the meaning, I believe I get the gist of what Chekhov is saying. Still, I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who can supply the word’s precise meaning).

Lord Byron 1788-1824

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.

Lavinia Goodell (Junior editor, Harper’s Bazaar, 1866, and later, Wisconsin’s first woman lawyer)

Critics are by no means the end of the law. Do not think all is over with you because you articles are rejected. It may be that the editor has his drawer full, or that he does not know enough to appreciate you, or you have not gained a reputation, or he is not in a mood to be pleased. A critic’s judgment is like that of any intelligent person. If he has experience, he is capable of judging whether a book will sell. That is all.

Diane Hartman (In her Denver Post review of columnist William Safire’s book, “Watching My Language”)

“Your column is a pack of damn lies,” a reader wrote to William Safire about a political piece he did in the New York Times.
Brushing aside the stern criticism, Safire immediately debated whether it should be damn, the way it sounds, or damned, as the past participle of the verb, to damn. The ed on some words is simply slipping away, he points out. We’re seeing more barbecue chicken, whip cream and corn beef. His conclusion: “Ears are sloppy and eyes are precise; accordingly, speech can be loose but writing should be tight.”

Mark Twain 1835-1910

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

And another by Mark Twain:

To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.

And finally, two views of deadlines:

Rita Mae Brown (The Sister Jane Foxhunting Mysteries, The Mrs. Murphy Books)

A deadline is negative inspiration. Still, it’s better than no inspiration at all.

Douglas Adams (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxdy

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Do you have some favorite writer’s quotations to share? We’d love to read them here.

© 2008 by Laverne Daley

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