to quote or not to quote

There’s some kind of weird po-mo pastiche education to be garnered from quotations. It’s as if we get this window in the soul of the speaker, but really, to be cynical, what we are getting is a quaint aphorism devoid of context. For instance, you hear people quote Polonius’s “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” advice to Laertes from Hamlet all the time, but you never really sense that they’ve thought at all about Polonius’s character here and what a farce he can be. Anyway, with that note, here are some quotes on writing that I happened across through the blessings of the Google God, and only because I completely identify with them, context or not.

Get Started

  • “The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
    (William Goldman)
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write.”
    (Paul Rudnick)
  • “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
    (Mary Heaton Vorse)
  • “One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.”
    (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  • “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
    (Mark Twain)


Capture Ideas

  • “I carry a notebook with me everywhere. But that’s only the first step. Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
    (Sue Grafton)
  • “In writing, there is first a creating stage–a time you look for ideas, you explore, you cast around for what you want to say. Like the first phase of building, this creating stage is full of possibilities.”
    (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  • “Actually ideas are everywhere. It’s the paperwork, that is, sitting down and thinking them into a coherent story, trying to find just the right words, that can and usually does get to be labor.”
    (Fred Saberhagen)
  • “Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written.”
    (Walter Benjamin)
  • “I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as writer’s block; the problem is idea block. When I find myself frozen–whether I’m working on a brief passage in a novel or brainstorming about an entire book–it’s usually because I’m trying to shoehorn an idea into the passage or story where it has no place.”
    (Jeffery Deaver)


Cope with the Badness

  • “We can’t be as good as we’d want to, so the question then becomes, how do we cope with our own badness?”
    (Nick Hornby)
  • “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
    (Octavia Butler)
  • “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.”
    (Anna Quindlen)
  • “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
    (Margaret Atwood)
  • “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
    (James Thurber)
  • “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'”
    (Maya Angelou)
  • “I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.”
    (Roy Blount, Jr.)
  • “Lower your standards and keep writing.”
    (William Stafford)


Establish a Routine

  • “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”
    (William Faulkner)
  • “And I’m a slow writer: five, six hundred words is a good day. That’s the reason it took me 20 years to write those million and a half words of the Civil War.”
    (Shelby Foote)
  • “I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind or if I’m sick or well.”
    (Arthur Hailey)
  • “All through my career I’ve written 1,000 words a day–even if I’ve got a hangover. You’ve got to discipline yourself if you’re professional. There’s no other way.”
    (J.G. Ballard)
  • “I write 2,000 words a day when I write. It sometimes takes three hours, it sometimes takes five.”
    (Nicholas Sparks)
  • “I have to get into a sort of zone. It has something to do with an inability to concentrate, which is the absolute bottom line of writing.”
    (Stephen Fry)
  • “Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.”
    (Barbara Kingsolver)



  • “If you want to write, write it. That’s the first rule.”
    (Robert Parker)
  • “My block was due to two overlapping factors: laziness and lack of discipline.”
    (Mary Garden)
  • “Planning to write is not writing. Outlining–researching–talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
    (E. L. Doctorow)
  • “If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not–and the odds are against it–go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper–write.”
    (J. B. Priestly)
  • “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.”
    (Gertrude Stein)
  • “The writer’s duty is to keep on writing.”
    (William Styron)
  • “Read a lot. Write a lot. Have fun.”
    (Daniel Pinkwater)

Compiled by Richard Nordquist

Author: Ashleigh Rajala

Ashleigh Rajala is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous journals, both online and in print. She is passionate about using story-telling to build community in Surrey BC, where she lives and works on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.

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