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50 pieces of writing advice from authors

Writers – well, good writers anyway – understand words. They have this uncanny knack of knowing which one to use and when – and just think, there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of the blighters.

So, when a writer writes about writing, it’s worth taking note. Especially if you’re a budding man (or woman) of letters.

What follows are 50 priceless nuggets of wisdom, 50 slices of self-reflection, 50 explanations as to why writers write. Read, take heed, use and thank us when your novel sits proudly atop the best seller lists…

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(Images: Rex Features, Wiki Commons)

  • E. M. Forster

    E. M. Forster

    “The historian records, but the novelist creates.” More details

    E. M. Forster

    E. M. Forster

    “The historian records, but the novelist creates.”

  • Mark Twain

    Mark Twain

    “Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write… More details

    Mark Twain

    Mark Twain

    “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.”

  • Douglas Adams

    Douglas Adams

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make… More details

    Douglas Adams

    Douglas Adams

    “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

  • Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou

    “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story… More details

    Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou

    “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

  • Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    “Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself...… More details

    Harper Lee

    Harper Lee

    “Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself... It's a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”

  • George Orwell

    George Orwell

    “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like… More details

    George Orwell

    George Orwell

    “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with 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.”

  • Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway

    “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a… More details

    Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway

    “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

  • Virginia Woolf

    Virginia Woolf

    “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no… More details

    Virginia Woolf

    Virginia Woolf

    “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

  • Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison

    “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't… More details

    Toni Morrison

    Toni Morrison

    “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

  • Truman Capote

    Truman Capote

    “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's… More details

    Truman Capote

    Truman Capote

    “To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about, but the inner music that words make.”

  • Saul Bellow

    Saul Bellow

    “You never have to change anything you got up in the… More details

    Saul Bellow

    Saul Bellow

    “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”

  • Oscar Wilde

    Oscar Wilde

    “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.… More details

    Oscar Wilde

    Oscar Wilde

    “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

  • Anais Nin

    Anais Nin

    “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in… More details

    Anais Nin

    Anais Nin

    “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

  • Franz Kafka

    Franz Kafka

    “I write differently from what I speak, I speak… More details

    Franz Kafka

    Franz Kafka

    “I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.”

  • Robert Frost

    Robert Frost

    “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No… More details

    Robert Frost

    Robert Frost

    “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

  • William Faulkner

    William Faulkner

    “Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics,… More details

    William Faulkner

    William Faulkner

    “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.”

  • Hunter S Thompson

    Hunter S Thompson

    “Writing is the flip side of sex - it's good only when… More details

    Hunter S Thompson

    Hunter S Thompson

    “Writing is the flip side of sex - it's good only when it's over.”

  • Kurt Vonnegut

    Kurt Vonnegut

    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not… More details

    Kurt Vonnegut

    Kurt Vonnegut

    “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.”

  • Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    “I have nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to… More details

    Charles Dickens

    Charles Dickens

    “I have nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess that no one can ever believe this narrative, in the reading, more than I have believed it in the writing.”

  • Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman

    “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day,… More details

    Neil Gaiman

    Neil Gaiman

    “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”

  • Stephen King

    Stephen King

    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above… More details

    Stephen King

    Stephen King

    “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

  • William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare

    “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things… More details

    William Shakespeare

    William Shakespeare

    “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet's pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name.”

  • C.S. Lewis

    C.S. Lewis

    “You can make anything by writing.” More details

    C.S. Lewis

    C.S. Lewis

    “You can make anything by writing.”

  • John Steinbeck

    John Steinbeck

    “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how… More details

    John Steinbeck

    John Steinbeck

    “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

  • Albert Camus

    Albert Camus

    “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from… More details

    Albert Camus

    Albert Camus

    “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation… More details

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

    “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

  • Jack London

    Jack London

    “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it… More details

    Jack London

    Jack London

    “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

  • Herman Melville

    Herman Melville

    “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty… More details

    Herman Melville

    Herman Melville

    “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it.”

  • John Updike

    John Updike

    “Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity.… More details

    John Updike

    John Updike

    “Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better."

  • Raymond Carver

    Raymond Carver

    “Every great or even every very good writer makes the… More details

    Raymond Carver

    Raymond Carver

    “Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications. It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.”

  • Joseph Conrad

    Joseph Conrad

    “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power… More details

    Joseph Conrad

    Joseph Conrad

    “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel - it is, before all, to make you see.”

  • Frank Herbert

    Frank Herbert

    “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you… More details

    Frank Herbert

    Frank Herbert

    “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    “A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also… More details

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    Friedrich Nietzsche

    “A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.”

  • W. Somerset Maugham

    W. Somerset Maugham

    “There are three rules for writing a novel.… More details

    W. Somerset Maugham

    W. Somerset Maugham

    “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

    “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” More details

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Nathaniel Hawthorne

    “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

  • Dorothy Parker

    Dorothy Parker

    “I hate writing, I love having written.” More details

    Dorothy Parker

    Dorothy Parker

    “I hate writing, I love having written.”

  • G.K. Chesterton

    G.K. Chesterton

    “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a… More details

    G.K. Chesterton

    G.K. Chesterton

    “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    "When I sit down to write, which is the essential… More details

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    "When I sit down to write, which is the essential moment in my life, I am completely alone. Whenever I write a book, I accumulate a lot of documentation. That background material is the most intimate part of my private life. It's a little embarrassing - like being seen in your underwear It's like the way magicians never tell others how they make a dove come out of a hat.”

  • Martin Amis

    Martin Amis

    “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink… More details

    Martin Amis

    Martin Amis

    “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.”

  • Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood

    “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that… More details

    Margaret Atwood

    Margaret Atwood

    “The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”

  • Charles Bukowski

    Charles Bukowski

    “Great writers are indecent people they live unfairly… More details

    Charles Bukowski

    Charles Bukowski

    “Great writers are indecent people they live unfairly saving the best part for paper. Good human beings save the world so that bastards like me can keep creating art, become immortal. If you read this after I am dead it means I made it.”

  • J. P. Donleavy

    J. P. Donleavy

    “Writing is turning one's worst moments into money.” More details

    J. P. Donleavy

    J. P. Donleavy

    “Writing is turning one's worst moments into money.”

  • Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe

    “Words have no power to impress the mind without the… More details

    Edgar Allan Poe

    Edgar Allan Poe

    “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.”

  • Jane Austen

    Jane Austen

    “For my own part, if a book is well written, I always… More details

    Jane Austen

    Jane Austen

    “For my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.”

  • Vladimir Nabokov

    Vladimir Nabokov

    “Literature was not born the day when a boy crying… More details

    Vladimir Nabokov

    Vladimir Nabokov

    “Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.”

  • James Baldwin

    James Baldwin

    “Unless a writer is extremely old when he dies, in which… More details

    James Baldwin

    James Baldwin

    “Unless a writer is extremely old when he dies, in which case he has probably become a neglected institution, his death must always be seen as untimely. This is because a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of Success.

  • Honore de Balzac

    Honore de Balzac

    “If the artist does not fling himself, without… More details

    Honore de Balzac

    Honore de Balzac

    “If the artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work, as Curtis flung himself into the yawning gulf, as the soldier flings himself into the enemy's trenches, and if, once in this crater, he does not work like a miner on whom the walls of his gallery have fallen in; if he contemplates difficulties instead of overcoming them one by one... he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent.”

  • Philip K. Dick

    Philip K. Dick

    “Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do… More details

    Philip K. Dick

    Philip K. Dick

    “Science fiction writers, I am sorry to say, really do not know anything. We can't talk about science, because our knowledge of it is limited and unofficial, and usually our fiction is dreadful.”

  • Christopher Hitchens

    Christopher Hitchens

    “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases… More details

    Christopher Hitchens

    Christopher Hitchens

    “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay.”

  • Sylvia Plath

    Sylvia Plath

    “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if… More details

    Sylvia Plath

    Sylvia Plath

    “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

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