Writing: to put words to paper (or computer screen) is a kind of communication where one expresses thoughts and another reads and responds. We often write instead of just speak because we want our words to be more thoughtful or more lasting. What have some writers and others said about the work of writing?

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Ideas may drift into other minds, but they do not drift my way. I have to go and fetch them. I know no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere.

— A. A. Milne

When we speak, in gestures or signs, we fashion a real object in the world; the gesture is seen, the words and the song are heard. The arts are simply a kind of writing, which, in one way or another, fixes words or gestures, and gives body to the invisible.

— Alain (Émile-Auguste Chartier)

Living gives you a better understanding of life. I would hope that my characters have become deeper and more rounded personalities. Wider travels have given me considerably greater insight into how cultural differences affect not only people, but politics and art.

— Alan Dean Foster

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

— Albert Camus

The author of the Iliad is either Homer or, if not Homer, somebody else of the same name.

— Aldous Huxley

A bad book is as much of a labor to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author’s soul.

— Aldous Huxley

Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.

— Alice Walker

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially. You may read selections to sensible women, — if young the better.

— Amos Bronson Alcott

The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.

— Anaïs Nin

Anyone can see that to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the knee in the kitchen, with constant calls to cooking and other details of housework to punctuate the paragraphs, was a more difficult achievement than to write it at leisure in a quiet room.

— Anna Garlin Spencer

And when her biographer says of an Italian woman poet, ‘during some years her Muse was intermitted,’ we do not wonder at the fact when he casually mentions her ten children.

— Anna Garlin Spencer

The writing day can be, in some ways, too short, but it’s actually a long series of hours, for months at a time, and there is a stillness there.

— Anne Enright

I feel incredibly successful. I make a living as a writer and am able to help support a big family, my church, my bleeding-heart causes.

— Anne Lamott

Too often, I think, children are required to write before they have anything to say. Teach them to think and read and talk with self-repression, and they will write because they cannot help it.

— Anne Sullivan

She regarded me as a piece of fiction — like one of her novels — that she could edit and improve.

— Anthony West, about his mother, Rebecca West

I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.

— Audre Lorde

Black writers, of whatever quality, who step outside the pale of what black writers are supposed to write about, or who black writers are supposed to be, are condemned to silences in black literary circles that are as total and as destructive as any imposed by racism.

— Audre Lorde

The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us — we start editing ideas before we have them.

— Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

No Black woman writer in this culture can write ‘too much’. Indeed, no woman writer can write ‘too much’ … No woman has ever written enough.

— bell hooks

Even those who write against fame wish for the fame of having written well, and those who read their works desire the fame of having read them.

— Blaise Pascal

When all is said and done, the invention of writing must be reckoned not only as a brilliant innovation but as a surpassing good for humanity. And assuming that we survive long enough to use their inventions wisely, I believe the same will be said of the modern Thoths and Prometheuses who are today devising
computers and programs at the edge of machine intelligence.

— Carl Sagan, Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand upon those who wrote them.

— Charles Caleb Colson

I am neither a man nor a woman but an author.

— Charlotte Brönte

In books, as in life, there are no second chances. On second thought: it’s the next work, still to be written, that offers the second chance.

— Cynthia Ozick

Novelists go about the strenuous business of marrying and burying their people, or else they send them to sea, or to Africa, or at the least, out of town. Essayists in their stillness ponder love and death.

— Cynthia Ozick

Anyone who believes you can’t change history has never tried to write his memoirs.

— David Ben Gurion

For most digital-age writers, writing is rewriting. We grope, cut, block, paste, and twitch, panning for gold onscreen by deleting bucketloads of crap. Our analog ancestors had to polish every line mentally before hammering it out mechanically. Rewrites cost them months, meters of ink ribbon, and pints of Tippex. Poor sods.

— David Mitchell

Those truly linked don’t need correspondence.
When they meet again after many years apart,
Their friendship is as true as ever.

— Deng Ming-Dao

One of the obligations of the writer is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language.

— Denise Levertov

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education — sometimes it’s sheer luck, like getting across the street.

— E. B. White

You can teach someone who cares to write columns, but you can’t teach someone who writes columns to care.

— Ellen Goodman

The reason one writes isn’t the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

There was never a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn’t be. He is too many people if he’s any good.

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

The human race may be compared to a writer. At the outset a writer has often only a vague general notion of the plan of his work, and of the thought he intends to elaborate. As he proceeds, penetrating his material, laboring to express himself fitly, he lays a firmer grasp on his thought; he finds himself. So the human race is writing its story, finding itself, discovering its own underlying purpose, revising, recasting a tale pathetic often, yet none the less sublime.

— Felix Adler

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.

— Flannery O’Conner

You ask me why I do not write something…. I think one’s feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.

— Florence Nightingale

I am writing in the garden. To write as one should of a garden one must write not outside it or merely somewhere near it, but in the garden.

— Frances Hodgson Burnett

It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Of all that is written, I love only what a person has written with his own blood.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

A great value of antiquity lies in the fact that its writings are the only ones that modern men still read with exactness.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

A diary means yes indeed.

— Gertrude Stein

A part of you wants to write and a part of you doesn’t—there’s always a conflict as to which of you is running the writing. The part representing internalized goals and a personal standard of perfection has grandiose plans for your career, wants the story to be a work of art. Your controlling authoritarian spirit wants you to apply willpower and discipline; it wants you to produce and to be efficient about it. The rebel doesn’t like to be forced and absolutely balks at any discipline. It hates iron-clad schedules and routines set for specific hours and, when left on its own, will sabotage the clock. Your struggle to find a methodology, a way of working, is constant. Balancing these aspects of spirit isn’t easy. Writing is like pulling miles of entrails through your mouth.

— Gloria Anzaldúa

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.

— Gloria Steinem

Good things, when short, are twice as good.

— Gracián

Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does.

— Groucho Marx

Criticism is prejudice made plausible.

— H. L. Mencken

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by … religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need.

— Harvey Cox

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.

— Henry David Thoreau

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.

— Isaac Asimov

I start with a tingle, a kind of feeling of the story I will write. Then come the characters, and they take over, they make the story.

— Isak Dinesen
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