#1 “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” -Joss Whedon
Oh, Joss Whedon. If ever there was an author who could transform a tale into a cult following, it’s him. His followers, readers, and wannabes love him and his creations with a fervor. Captain Mal Reynolds. Loki. These are imperfect heroes we can’t help but love.
Whedon’s beautifully written and too-soon-killed single-season show, Firefly earned him a mass of fervent followers who pine for Firefly 13 years later. Other internationally bestselling authors call Whedon “Master.” What more is there to say about Joss Whedon?
If this quote is the key to his success, writers everywhere should take note.
If you never watch another television show or movie, watch this one before you die: Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
#2 “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” -Toni Morrison
Readers know Nobel Prize winning author, Toni Morrison for her vivid dialogue and detailed characters. But she’s a big name for writers too. And not just because she reigns with literary fame. This quote from Morrison is inspiring for many a writer because it underscores what really matters when it comes to writing: passion for your subject matter.
What better reason to write a story, and what better way to take the temperature of the market, than to write the story you want to read?
Read the book that Toni Morrison wrote because she wanted to read it: Beloved.
#3 “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!” -William Faulkner
Another Nobel Prize winner, William Faulkner wrote American classics like The Sound and the Fury and Light in August. Here he reminds us that writing is a skill, not a talent. Good to remember when we’re sure our writing isn’t good enough. Because we can always get better as long as we write. Faulkner agrees.
Our next writer, Ernest Hemingway, bashed Faulkner’s luxurious prose. See what the fuss was about in William Faulkner’s Light in August.
#4 “The first draft of anything is shit.” -Ernest Hemingway
Wise words from Nobel and Pulitzer winner, Ernest Hemingway. To accept the shitty first draft is the first step to becoming a writer. Better if you can accept it even as you write it. Because any writing process is a long one. There’s writing. And rewriting. And then rewriting again. And with so many steps, why strain to write something great in the first draft?
So take a page from Papa, and write that shitty first draft. What greater freedom is there in writing?
Read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast to see snippets of his first draft alongside the finished work.
#5 “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” -Stephen King
Who hasn’t heard of, Stephen King? Prolific is an understatement when it comes to King. His 54 novels, 200 short stories, and smattering of screenplays have earned him awards and nominations.
But it’s his On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft that writers love most. That’s where writers find gems like this quote, where he reminds us that sometimes good writing is as simple as clear language.
Pick up Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of The Craft.
#6 “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov
No list of author quotes would be complete without this gem from Anton Chekhov. As master of the short story, Chekhov understood the concept of “show, don’t tell.” And here he demonstrates that sometimes elusive concept to great effect.
The best thing about this quote is that Chekhov uses the concept to demonstrate itself. He doesn’t just say “show, don’t tell.” He shows us how with vivid imagery.
Steal those famous writing skills from Stories of Anton Chekhov.
#7 “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” -Jack London
Ah, the good ole days. Digging for gold, writing magazine fiction for fortune and fame, and no indoor plumbing. Those were the days of Jack London, one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide fame and fortune from fiction.
London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang top many a child’s reading list today. But London wasn’t just a writing phenomenon. The California Writers Club credits Jack London for their start in 1909. And his advice to writers puts the question of inspiration to bed. You can’t just wait for inspiration. Sometimes you have to go after it with a stick.
See where it all started for Jack London with his novel, The Call of the Wild.
#8 “Writing is like making love. Don’t worry about the orgasm, just concentrate on the process.” -Isabel Allende
Whether it’s in orgasms or writing, to focus on the finish is to make the finish harder to reach. That’s from Presidential Medal of Freedom and National Literature Prize winner, Isabel Allende.
You’ve read what Allende teaches writers about writing here before. She straddles that perfect line between commercial success and critical acclaim. And any writer would do well to listen to her.
Read Isabel Allende’s award-wing novel The House of the Spirits.
#9 “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” -Neil Gaiman
At first, this quote seems simple. Gaiman says that to write, you just write. And then you realize what he really offers here is a paradox. That writing is both easy and hard at the same time. Or maybe it isn’t a paradox, you think, because what Gaiman is really saying is that writing may be simple but it isn’t easy. Or is he?
And then it hits you. Because if someone can write a quote that has this many meanings and this many paradoxical concepts in a single sentence, maybe you can’t trust anything he says. Or maybe you trust everything.
Either way, Neil Gaiman has something to say about writing. You’ll just have to figure out what is for yourself.
Pick up Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, the book behind the movie.
#10 “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” -Nathaniel Hawthorne
Best known for his classic novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne knew a thing or two about writing. This quote is one to keep in your back pocket whenever writing gets tough or when another writer makes writing look easy. If it’s easy to read, it was hard to write. Enough said.
Read this classic? See why it’s famous. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
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