Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Quotes to Write By

I love to read quotes of famous people on almost every subject. As an avid history buff I lean toward military leaders like George S. Patton in comments like this:

A pint of sweat, saves a gallon of blood.

Better to fight for something than live for nothing.

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.

The Roosevelt family produced some good orators. Teddy once said:

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

And Franklin offered:

I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.


Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.

You don’t have to be smart or a good person to come up with a good quote. Here’s the perfect example:

“If what you did yesterday seems big, you haven't done anything today.”
Lou Holtz

And of course the art and craft of writing has produced a number of worthy remarks. I like the ones focusing on the importance of editing.

I can't write five words but that I change seven.
- Dorothy Parker

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
- Truman Capote

But other aspects of writing have been covered from a number of angles:

All the information you need can be given in dialogue.
- Elmore Leonard

Remarks are not literature.
- Gertrude Stein

The only way to learn to write is to write.
- Peggy Teeters
Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil - but there is no way around them.
- Isaac Asimov

What about you? Do you have a favorite quote?


  1. "Think more, write less."
    --literary agent Ben Camardi

  2. I am supposed to be a writer, and unless I do a little writing everyday it’s hard to tell that’s what I am.
    -Otis Twelve


    I have had it with writers who talk about how painful and harrowing and exhausting and almost impossible it is for them to put words on paper and how they pace a hole in the carpet, anguish writ large on their marshmallow faces, and feel lucky to have written an entire sentence or two by the end of the day....

    To which I say: Get a job. Try teaching eighth-grade English, five classes a day, 35 kids in a class, from September to June, and then tell us about suffering.

    The fact of the matter is that the people who struggle most with writing are drunks. They get hammered at night and in the morning their heads are full of pain and adverbs. Writing is hard for them, but so would golf be, or planting alfalfa, or assembling parts in a factory.

    -Garrison Keillor

    Keillor's full essay here.

  3. "There's a fine line between stupid and clever."

    Spinal Tap

  4. Yep.

    Goddess Nora Roberts:

    I can fix a bad page, but I can't fix a blank page.

  5. "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels."

    —Faith Whittlesey

    "The penalty of success is to be bored by the people who used to snub you."

    —Lady Astor

  6. All good words to live by. I like the Spinal Tap nod, Karen.

  7. Truman Capote's assessment of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" is classic:

    "That's not writing--that's typing."

  8. In order to write a book, it is necessary to sit down (or stand up) and write. Therein lies the difficulty.
    -Edward Abbey

    The first draft of anything is shit.
    -Ernest Hemingway

    Not all who wander are lost.
    -J.R.R. Tolkein
    (When asked "occupation" for my last high school class reunion booklet, I replied "Tilting at Windmills")

  9. “If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.” -- Joyce Carol Oates

  10. "Everything is difficult before it is easy."

    -written on my boss's whiteboard

  11. Daisy, You either have a good boss or someone else is writing on his white board.

    I like all of these quotes.


  12. “Better to die on one's feet than to live on one's knees.”
    -Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria)

  13. My favourite is

    "If you want something done, give it to someone who's busy."

    But i have no idea who made it up. Maybe it was me!


  14. One that I keep above my desk, though I don't need to anymore since it is committed to memory:

    "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

    ~Nathaniel Hawthorne