What do great writers say about writing?

Toni Morrison writes some of the most brilliant prose I have ever read. She is one of my favorite writers.

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it: Toni Morrison.

Alexander Pope could take pomposity to levels that had never been reached before and have seldom been reached since. His essays and poetry were little more than a matted morass of verbosity, which is about as pompous as I can get. Back when we were struggling through his tantalizing little couplets in high school, I had an English teacher who told us that reading Alexander Pope was like being a prospector. “You have to dig through acres and acres of mud to find a single nugget.”

Pope did have a nugget or two with lines like: “A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits,” “an honest man’s the noblest work of God,” and “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

But we were knee deep, then neck deep, in the mud before we found them.

As a writer, I am still prospecting, and I have uncovered numerous little single and solitary nuggets that might make a difference in your quest for wisdom from those who have labored, who have written, and who have found an audience.

They are inspiration for us all to follow:

  • Maya Angelou: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
  • Madeleine L’Engle: You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.
  • J. D. Salinger: What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.
  • 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.
  • Stephen King: If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
  • Toni Morrison: If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
  • Mark Twain: The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
  • Saul Bellow: You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.
  • Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
  • Lloyd Alexander: Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.
  • Sylvia Plath: 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.
  • Philip Pullman: After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
  • Robert Frost: No tears in the writer, not tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
  • Jack Kerouac: One day, I will find the right words, and they will be simple.
  • Ray Bradbury: You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
  • Winston Churchill: History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
  • Stephen King: Fiction if the truth inside the lie.
  • Anton Chekhov: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
  • Charles Dickens: There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.
  • Stephen King: The road to hell is paved with adverbs.
  • Virginia Woolf: Writing is like sex. First, you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.
  • Isaac Asimov: If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.

And the closest old Alexander Pope ever came to advising a writer is this: At ev’ry word, a reputation dies.

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