An Alphabet of Quotes


Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to the appropriate section of the collection. Quotes are organized by last name of writer. Warning: Some may be surprising, or coarse.

A play is fiction --and fiction is fact distorted into truth. (Edward Albee)

I start from experience and read. . .always between polarities -- loud and not-loud, young and old, spring and winter. If I can make black and white behave together instead of shooting at each other only, I feel proud. (Josef Albers) [painter]

Boozing does not necessarily have to go hand in hand with being a writer. . .I therefore solemnly declare to all young men trying to become writers that they do not actually have to become drunkards first. (Nelson W. Aldrich)

A classic is a book that's stood the test of time, a book that men and women all over the world keep reaching for throughout the ages for its special enlightenment. . .Classics open up your mind. Classics help you grow. Classics help you understand your life, your world, yourself. (Steve Allen)

Putting down on paper what you have to say is an important part of writing, but the words and ideas have to be shaped and cleaned, cleaned as severely as a dog cleans a bone, cleaned until there's not a shred of anything superfluous. (Maya Angelou)

The autobiographer looks at life through the lens of his or her own life and really uses herself or himself as the jumping-off place to examine the social mores and the economic and political climates. In a way, the autobiography becomes history as well as the story of one person, for it becomes the story of a family or the story of the state or nation. (Maya Angelou)

The greatest thing in style is to have a command of metaphor. (Aristotle)

Poetry is at bottom a criticism of life. (Matthew Arnold)

So, then, what is style? There are two chief aspects of any piece of writing: 1) what you say and 2) how you say it. The former is "content" and the latter is "style." (Isaac Asimov)

What we have not named as a symbol escapes our notice. (W. H. Auden)

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Some books are to be tasted; others swallowed; and some to be chewed and digested. (Sir Francis Bacon)

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. (Sir Francis Bacon)

Writers, like teeth, are divided into incisors and grinders. (Walter Bagehot)

Punctuation gives the silent page some of the breath of life. (Sheridan Baker)

Do not lose your personality and your voice in the monotone of official prose. You should work like a scholar and a scientist, but you should write like a writer, one who cares about the economy and beauty of language. (Sheridan Baker)

One writes from one thing only -- one's experience. (James Baldwin)

My writing table has seen all my wretchedness, knows all my plans, has overheard all my thoughts. (Honore de Balzac)

For several days after my first book was published I carried it about in my pocket, and took surreptitious peeps at it to make sure the ink had not faded. (James M. Barrie)

Writers have two main problems. One is writer's block, when the words won't come at all, and the other is logorrhea, when the words come so fast they can hardly get to the wastebasket in time. (Cecilia Bartholomew)

One great aim of revision is to cut out. In the exuberance of composition it is natural to throw in -- as one does in speaking -- a number of small words that add nothing to meaning but keep up the flow and rhythm of thought. In writing, not only does this surplusage not add to meaning, it subtracts from it. Read and revise, reread and revise, keeping reading and revising until your text seems adequate to your thought. (Jacques Barzun)

The reason why research is like sculpting from memory is that in neither is there a concrete visible subject to copy directly. The subject -- as sculptors themselves are fond of saying -- is hidden in the block of material. (Jacques Barzun)

On the day when a young writer corrects his first proof-sheet he is as proud as a schoolboy who has just gotten his first dose of the pox. (Charles Baudelaire)

All words are pegs to hang ideas on. (Henry Ward Beecher)

All of us collect fortunes when we are children -- a fortune of colors, of lights and darkness, of movements, of tensions. Some of us have the fantastic chance to go back to this fortune when grown up. (Ingmar Bergman)

Punctuation marks are the traffic signs and signals placed along the reader's road. (Theodore M. Bernstein)

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. (Derek Bok)

The "right" way means setting the words down as zestfully as possible, even if you must make changes later. (Frank Bonham)

Writing is nothing more than a guided dream. (Jorge Luis Borges)

Each piece of dialogue MUST be "something happening". . .The "amusing" for its OWN sake should above all be censored. . .The functional use of dialogue for the plot must be the first thing in the writer's mind. Where functional usefulness cannot be established, dialogue must be left out. (Elizabeth Bowen)

But in general, for the purposes of most novelists, the number of objects genuinely necessary for. . .describing a scene will be found to be very small. (Elizabeth Bowen)

The story must spring from an impression or perception pressing enough to have made the writer write. It should magnetize the imagination and give pleasure. (Elizabeth Bowen)

Why all this insistence on the senses? Because in order to convince your reader that he is THERE, you must assault each of his senses, in turn, with color, sound, taste, and texture. If your reader feels the sun on his flesh, the wind fluttering his shirt sleeves, half your fight is won. The most improbable tales can be made believable, if your reader, through his senses, feels certain that he stands at the middle of events. He cannot refuse, then, to participate. The logic of events always gives way to the logic of the senses. (Ray Bradbury)

A science fiction story is just an attempt to solve a problem that exists in the world, sometimes a moral problem, sometimes a physical or social or theological problem. (Ray Bradbury)

I define science fiction as the art of the possible. Fantasy is the art of the impossible. (Ray Bradbury)

Every writer and artist wonders what in the world people of other professions can find to live for. (Gerald Brennan)

I like the concentration, the crush; I like working with language, as others like working with clay, or notes. (Gwendolyn Brooks) [When asked why she wrote poetry]

All poetry is putting the infinite within the finite. (Robert Browning)

Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows, and of lending existence to nothing. (Edmund Burke)

A man's style in any art should be like his dress -- it should attract as little attention as possible. (Samuel Butler)

The purpose of life is a life of purpose. (Robert Byrne)

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There is only one trait that marks the writer. He is always watching. It's a kind of trick of the mind and he is born with it. (Morley Callaghan)

The latest incarnatioin of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change. (Joseph Campbell)

History is the biography of great men. (Thomas Carlyle)

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you CAN make the words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be the master -- that's all. (Lewis Carroll)

Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen. (Willa Cather)

Too much information is rather deadening. (Willa Cather)

I was dizzy as a dervish, as weak as a worn-out washer, as low as a badger's belly, as timid as a titmouse, and as likely to succeed as a ballet dancer with a wooden leg. (Raymond Chandler, The Little Sister)

When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball. (Raymond Chandler)

Achilles exists only through Homer. Take away the art of writing from this world, and you will probably take away its glory. (Francois Rene de Chateaubriand)

Talent is nothing but long impatience. (Francois Rene de Chateaubriand)

Falsehood is a critical element in fiction. Part of the thrill of being told a story is the chance of being hoodwinked. . .The telling of lies is a sort of sleight of hand that displays our deepest feelings about life. (John Cheever)

I let myself go at the beginning and write with an easy mind, but by the time I get to the middle I begin to grow timid and to fear my story will be too long. . .That is why the beginning of my stories is always very promising and looks as though I were starting on a novel, and the middle is huddled and timid, and the end fireworks. (Anton Chekhov)

A book is like a garden carried in the pocket. (Chinese proverb)

The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes. (Agatha Christie)

I got into my bones the essential structure of the normal British sentence -- which is a noble thing. (Winston Churchill)

This is the sort of English up with which I will not put. (Winston Churchill) [comment in margin of document -- it refers to a proofreader's excessive nicety in avoiding placing a preposition at the end of a sentence]

Writing a book was an adventure. To begin with it was a toy, an amusement; then it became a mistress, and then a master, and then a tyrant. (Winston Churchill)

The short words are best and the old words are the best of all. (Winston Churchill)

Grammar is to a writer what anatomy is to a sculptor, or the scales to a musician. You may loathe it, it may bore you, but nothing will replace it, and once mastered it will support you like a rock. (B. J. Chute)

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth. (Jean Cocteau)

Don't tell 'em -- SHOW 'em! (George M. Cohan)

That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Prose. . .words in their best order. Poetry. . .the best words in the best order. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Poetry does not necessarily have to be beautiful to stick in the depths of our memory. (Colette)

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice. (Cyril Connolly)

My task. . .is, by the powers of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel -- it is, before all, to make you see. (Joseph Conrad)

A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. (Joseph Conrad)

I am convinced that all writers are optimists whether they concede the point or not . . . How otherwise could any human being sit down to a pile of blank sheets and decide to write, say two hundred thousand words on a given theme? (Thomas Costain)

In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, in Australia you have to explain what a writer is. (Geoffrey Cottrell)

The rules of grammar exist in large part to permit readers and writers to operate from a shared set of expectations. (Michael Crichton)

The more that is revealed of the situation. . .by the opening lines of the play, the better...And revealed not by explanation, but by the natural impulsive speech of the characters telling each other things they do not know but want to know. (Rachel Crothers)

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By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. (Roald Dahl)

Perhaps all writers could benefit from Rodney Dangerfield's advice about jokes:

Ya gotta go from one to three, y'know? Like, a
joke is like one, two, three, but if you give'em
two, that's the time to think, it loses the zing,
know what I mean? Ya go one-three, they have to
put it together themselves, ya leave out two,
right? They figure it out, they go "Aha!"
THEY'RE smart! Then they like ya even more. With
a really sophisticated audience you can go from
one to four and leave out two AND three.

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. (Peter De Vries)

A word is dead
When it is said,
Some say.
I say it just
Begins to live
That day.
(Emily Dickinson )

If. . .it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. (Emily Dickinson)

All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. (Joan Didion)

So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. . .Perhaps it never did snow that August in Vermont; perhaps there never were flurries in the night wind, and maybe no one else felt the ground hardening and summer already dead even as we pretended to bask in it, but that was how it felt to me, and it might as well have snowed, could have snowed, did snow. (Joan Didion)

I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. (Joan Didion)

It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

A dramatist should ask himself three questions: In this situation, what should I do? What would other people do? What ought to be done? (Alexandre Dumas)

Contrast is the dramatist's method. (Lord Dunsany)

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All good writing begins with information. (Caroline Eckhardt)

The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. (Albert Einstein)

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion. (T.S. Eliot)

My greatest trouble is getting the curtain up and down. (T.S. Eliot)

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. (T.S. Eliot)

All great speakers were bad speakers at first. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Some books leave us free and some books make us free. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Language is the archives of history. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Good writing is a kind of skating which carries off the performer where he would not go. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words. (Paul Engle)

Good stories tend to follow UNIVERSAL themes, such as goodness winning over evil. (Laura Engleman)

Only the educated are free. (Epictetus)

If you wish to be a writer, write. (Epictetus)

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Good description supports your writing -- it doesn't overwhelm it. (Jan Farrington)

Facts, then, aren't enough for interesting autobiography, we need to have stories built around them. (Jan Farrington)

The science fiction writer's job is to take us out of ourselves and our world, to challenge the 'givens,' the 'predictables' of our lives.

Good science fiction excites and challenges the reader, gets the brain cells vibrating to the music of ideas. (Jan Farrington)

Like the painter [painting a self-portrait], you are both artist and subject when you write your autobiography. (Jan Farrington)

Like other artists, the playwright creates a plan that must be carried out by other people. (Jan Farrington)

We like plays that grip our emotions, plays in which something happens -- wrongs are righted, maidens saved, murdered fathers revenged. (Jan Farrington)

Details of character and dialogue give life and reality to the 'artifice' of stage drama. (Jan Farrington)

Plotting is the art of including only what should be there. (Jan Farrington)

That's a very good way to learn the craft of writing -- from reading. (William Faulkner)

Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency. . .to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; 'The Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies. (William Faulkner)

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good. (William Faulkner)

It begins with a character usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does. (William Faulkner)

When I have got a lot of it down, the policeman has got to come in and say, "Now look here, you've got to give this some sort of unity and coherence and emphasis," the old grammatical rules -- and then the hard work begins. (William Faulkner)

A combed writing will cost both sweat and the rubbing of the brain. And combed I wish it, not frizzled or curled. (Owen Fellthan)

In most lives insight has been accidental. We wait for it as a primitive man awaited lightning for a fire. But making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, the essence of human intelligence: to forge links; to go beyond the given; to see patterns, relationship, context. (Marilyn Ferguson)

Good writers will, indeed, do well to imitate the ingenious traveller. . .who always proportions his stay in any place. (Henry Fielding)

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

About ADJECTIVES: all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats's "Eve of Saint Agnes." A line like: "The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass" is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement -- the limping, trembling, and freezing is going on before your eyes. (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

It is nonetheless the best usage that decides the meaning of words. (Wilson Follett)

The choosing among words is made by every user of the language, and not exclusively by professional speakers and writers. (Wilson Follett)

How do I know what I think until I see what I say? (E. M. Forster)

"The king dies and the queen died" is a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. (E. M. Forster)

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. (Gene Fowler)

All there is to writing is having ideas. To learn to write is to learn to have ideas. (Robert Frost)

A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. (Robert Frost)

Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. (Robert Frost)

Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. (Robert Frost)

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As a man lives and thinks, so he will write. (John Galsworthy)

Every nightmare hints at the secret reserves of imaginative power in the human mind. What the stalled or not-yet-started writer needs is some magic for getting in touch with himself, some key. (John Gardner)

The true writer's joy in the fictional process is the pleasure in discovering, by means he can trust, what he believes and can affirm for all time. (John Gardner)

How to teach rigor while preserving imagination is an unsolved challenge to education. (R. W. Gerard)

A work of art is never finished; it's abandoned. (Andre Gide)

Only the mediocre are always at their best. (Jean Giraudoux)

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater. (Gail Godwin)

The writer creates, and as he does, he plays a role or assumes a voice. (Robert M. Gorrell)

Writing is a form of therapy: sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint, can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in the human situation. (Graham Greene)

Language develops by a felicitous misapplication of the words. (J. B. Greenough)

Autobiography is an unrivaled vehicle for telling the truth about other people. (Philip Guedalla)

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Just get into the habit of putting words down, and try not to miss a day. (Emily Hahn)

You need three things in the theater -- the play, the actors, and the audience, and each must give something. (Kenneth Haigh)

Words seem like drops of water in a stream that has its own wholeness and its own motion. (Donald Hall)

When we put words together -- adjective with noun, noun with verb, verb with object -- we start to talk to each other. (Donald Hall)

When you've got a thing to say,
Say it! Don't take half a day.
When your tale's got little in it,
Crowd the whole thing in a minute!
Life is short -- a fleeting vapor --
Don't you fill the whole blamed paper
With a tale which, at a pinch,
Could be cornered in an inch!
Boil her down until she simmers,
Polish her until she glimmers.
(Joel Chandler Harris)

A good writer, like a good pianist, needs daily practice and a love of the art for its own sake. (G.B. Harrison)

It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds as we wish. (S. I. Hayakawa)

The more a man writes, the more he can write. (William Hazlitt)

Poetry is simply the most beautiful, impressive, and wisely effective mode of saying things. . . (Heinrich Heine)

In daily life language is important, if not in itself, then as a symptom. (Mark Helprin)

First, there must be talent. . .Then there must be discipline. . .Then there must be. . .and absolute conscience. . .to prevent faking. (Ernest Hemingway)

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. (Ernest Hemingway)

My working habits are simple: long periods of thinking, short periods of writing. (Ernest Hemingway)

One of the difficulties in the language is that all our words from loose using have lost their edge. (Ernest Hemingway)

Everyone my age had written a novel and I was still having difficulty writing a paragraph. (Ernest Hemingway)

Prose is architecture not interior decoration. (Ernest Hemingway)

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all happened to you, and afterwards it all belongs to you. (Ernest Hemingway)

I always rewrite each day up to the point where I stopped. When it is all finished, naturally you go over it. You get another chance to correct and rewrite when someone else types it, and you see it clean in type. The last chance is in the proofs. You're grateful for these different chances. (Ernest Hemingway)

Write hard and clear about what hurts. (Ernest Hemingway)

There are stories in everything. I've got some of my best yarns from park benches, lampposts, and newspaper stands. (O. Henry)

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanging; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.)

A. E. Housman wrote that when he was asked to define "poetry," he "replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us."

Poetry is not the thing said, but the way of saying it. (A. E. Housman)

Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. . .The seat of this sensation is the pit of the stomach. (A. E. Housman)

I think that to transfuse emotion -- not to transmit thought but to set up in the reader's sense a vibration corresponding to what was felt by the writer -- is the peculiar function of poetry. (A. E. Housman)

I like density, not volume. I like to leave something to the imagination. The reader must fit the pieces together, with the author's discreet help. (Maureen Howard)

The old idea that words possess magical powers is false; but its falsity is the distortion of a very important truth. Words do have a magical effect -- but not in the way that the magicians supposed, and not on the objects they were trying to influence. Words are magical in the way they affect the minds of those who use them. (Aldous Huxley)

Words are tools which automatically carve concepts out of experience. (T. S. Huxley)

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I have a tendency, after a play of mine is produced, to look back on it disparagingly, seeing only its faults; before production, I see only its virtues. (William Inge)

In an art form like film-making, we know that editing and revising cannot be dismissed as superfluous, for they are an integral part of the whole process. In fact, what we eventually see on the screen is not what was filmed, but what was edited. (William Irmscher)

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In a play, certainly, the subject is of more importance than in any other work of art. Infelicity, triviality, vagueness of subject, may be outweighed in a poem, a novel, or a picture, by charm of manner, by ingenuity of execution; but in a drama the subject is of the essence of the work--it is the work. If it is feeble, the work can have no force; if it is shapeless, the work must be amorphous. (Henry James)

The main object of the novel is to represent life. . .The success of a work of art, to my mind, may be measured by the degree to which it produces a certain illusion; that illusion makes it appear to us for the time that we have lived another life -- that we have had a miraculous enlargement of experience. (Henry James)

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. (Thomas Jefferson)

Four. That's what I want you to remember. If you don't get your idea across in the first four minutes, you won't do it. Four sentences to a paragraph. Four letters to a word. The most important words in the English language all have four letters. Home. Love. Food. Land. Peace. . .I know peace has five letters, but any damn fool knows it should have four. (Lyndon Johnson) [advice to his speechwriters]

Language is the dress of thought. (Samuel Johnson)

Read over your composition, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. (Samuel Johnson)

The greater part of a writer's time is spent reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book. (Samuel Johnson)

Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth. (Samuel Johnson)

I do think that the quality which makes a man want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure and is masochistic. Like one of those guys who has a compulsion to take his thing out and show it on the street. (James Jones)

You will not find poetry anywhere unless you bring some of it with you. (Joseph Joubert)

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Inside every man there is a poet who died young. (Stefan Kanfer)

Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity -- it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost as a remembrance. (John Keats)

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
(Rudyard Kipling)

Poetry is a kind of gasp, and there it is, a spark on the page.
Fiction, on the other hand, is like swamp fire. (Joy Kogawa)

The advice I would offer to any writer is that even when you think you have revised your book to the point where you cannot look at it again, it is time to sit down and revise it some more. (Michael Korda)

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The novel is the highest example of subtle interrelatedness that man has discovered. (D. H. Lawrence)

To write well it is first necessary to have something to say. (Stephen Leacock)

The classics are only primitive literature. They belong to the same class as primitive machinery and primitive music and primitive medicine. (Stephen Leacock)

I believe every space and comma is a living part of the poem and has its function, just as every muscle and pore of the body has its function. And the way the lines are broken is a functioning part essential to the life of the poem. (Denise Levertov)

First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. . .We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand. (C. Day Lewis)

A book is a mirror: If an ass peers into it, you can't expect an apostle to look out. (G. C. Lichtenberg)

Writing is thinking. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. (Jack London)

All things are symbols. (Henry W. Longfellow)

All books are either dreams or swords. (Amy Lowell)

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A poem should not mean/But be. (Archibald MacLeish)

The idea is to get the pencil moving quickly. . .To write a scene, work up a feeling: ride in on it. (Bernard Malamud)

I love the pleasures of the short story. One of them is the fast payoff. Whatever happens happens quickly. The writer mounts his personal Pegasus, even if it is an absent-minded nag who never made it on the race track, an ascension occurs and the ride begins. The scenery often surprises, and so do some of the people one meets. Somewhere I've said that a short story packs a self in a few pages predicating a lifetime. The drama is tense, happens fast, and is more often than not outlandish. In a few pages a good story portrays the complexity of a life, while producing the sunrise and effect of knowledge -- not a bad payoff. (Bernard Malamud)

I try to be as ruthless as possible. I ask myself of each sentence, "Is it clear? Is it true? Does it feel good?" And if it's not, then I rewrite it. (William Manchester)

Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, than nothing at all. (Katherine Mansfield)

The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books. (Katherine Mansfield)

When I have no idea, I gnaw my nails and invoke the aid of Providence. (Brander Matthews)

Almost all great writers have as their motif, more or less disguised, the "passage from childhood to maturity," the clash between the thrill of expectation and the disillusioning knowledge of the truth. Lost Illusion is the undisclosed title of every novel. (Andre Maurois)

A piece of writing takes exactly as long as it needs to be done right. (Norma Fox Mazer)

I think the world is run by "C" students. (Al McGuire)

Poetry is fact given over to imagery. (Rod McKuen)

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. (Herman Melville)

I'm a lousy writer; a helluva lot of people have got lousy taste. (Grace Metalious)

I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters. (James Michener)

The shadow of a cornstalk on the ground is lovely, but it is no denial of its loveliness to see as one looks on it that it is telling the time of day, the position of the earth and the sun, the size of our planet and its shape, and perhaps even the length of its life and ours among the stars. (Arthur Miller)

I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music. (Joan Miro)

The point of good writing is knowing when to stop. (L.M. Montgomery)

To know one thing, you must know the opposite. . .Just as much, else you don't know that one thing. (Henry Moore)

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. . .It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy. (Edward P. Morgan)

Truth is always twins. (Christopher Morley)

Write with information, not words. (Donald Murray)

Write from abundance. (Donald Murray)

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Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It is like passing around samples of one's sputum. (Vladimir Nabokov)

Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him. (Vladimir Nabokov)

Poetry involves the mysteries of the irrational perceived through rational words. (Vladimir Nabokov)

3 R's remedial, repetitious, and rote
TLC thinking, learning, creating
--John Naisbitt, Reinventing the Corporation

Being a speaker of English you have an intuitive knowledge of the patterns of the English sentence and the ability to fit the thousands of words you know into these patterns. (Beth Neman)

We have art in order not to die of the truth. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Every word is a preconceived judgment. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

We. . .write to heighten our own awareness of life. . .We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection. . We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. . .to expand our world, when we feel strangled, constricted, lonely. . .When I don't write I feel my world shrinking. I feel I lose my fire, my color. (Anais Nin)

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The appeal of writing is primarily the investigation of mystery. (Joyce Carol Oates)

One old lady who wants her head lifted wouldn't be so bad, but you multiply her two hundred and fifty thousand times and what you get is a book club. (Flannery O'Connor)

Poet Frank O'Hara once said, "At times when I would rather be dead the thought that I could never write another poem has so far stopped me."

Memory is a crazy woman that hoards colored rags and throws away food. (Austin O'Malley)

Take some wood and canvas and nails and things. Build yourself a theater, a stage, light it, learn about it. When you've done that you will probably know how to write a play. (Eugene O'Neill)

I do not worry or even think of spelling, grammar, paragraphing, or punctuation (except periods) at this point. . .In the early throes of an idea there is for me only grammar of the mind, which is a flow of thought, as natural and precise as the flow of a river to the sea. (Mary O'Neill)

Poet/teacher Joel Oppenheimer gave the following workshop lecture on structure: "Every poem (or story) has a beginning, a muddle, and an end."

Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything avoidably ugly? (George Orwell)

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are
used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you
can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.
(George Orwell)

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I am sorry for the length of my letter, but I had not the time to write a short one. (Blaise Pascal)

While you are studying [and] observing. . . do not remain content with the surface of things. Do not become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate the mystery of their origin. (Ivan Pavlov)

A plot is two dogs and one bone. (Robert Newton Peck)

A good writer writes with a camera, not a pen. (Robert Newton Peck)

At its most effective, a symbol is like a many-faceted jewel: it flashes different colors when turned in the light. (Laurence Perrine)

Poetry is that which is lost in translation. (Laurence J. Peter)

There should never be an incident, a scene, a comment in your story that doesn't move it toward its climax. (Judson Philips)

My next thought concerned the choice of an impression, or effect, to be conveyed: and here I may as well observe that, throughout the construction, I kept steadily in view the design. (Edgar Allan Poe)

Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words. (Edgar Allan Poe)

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance. (Alexander Pope)

Words are like leaves; and where they most abound, much fruit of sense is rarely found. (Alexander Pope)

Certain writing friends whose judgments I admire have told me I lack detail, exact observation of the physical world, my people hardly ever have features, or not enough -- that they live in empty houses, etc. At one time, I was so impressed by this criticism, I used to sit on a camp stool before the landscape and note down literally every object, every color, form, stick, and stone before my eyes. But when I remembered that landscape later it was quite simply not in those terms that I remembered it, and it was no good pretending I did, and no good attempting to describe it because it got in the way of what I was really trying to tell. (Katherine Anne Porter)

If I didn't know the ending of a story, I wouldn't begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it. I know where I'm going. I know what my goal is. (Katherine Anne Porter)

The extreme expression of the Kalahari Bushman's spirit was in his stories. The story was his most sacred possession. Those people knew what we do not: that without a story, you have not got a nation, or a culture, or a civilization. Without a story of your own to live, you haven't got a life of your own. (Laurens van der Post) [in Patterns of Renewal]

Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. (Ezra Pound)

Literature is news that STAYS news. (Ezra Pound)

Rhythm is form cut into time. (Ezra Pound)

A short story is. . .frequently the celebration of character at bursting point. (V. S. Pritchett)

Our passions shape our books, repose writes them in the intervals. (Marcel Proust)

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What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window. (Burton Rascoe)

I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me. (Max Reger) [German composer to a critic]

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. (Jules Renard)

We are drowning in information and starving for knowledge. (Rutherford D. Rogers)

Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them. (John Ruskin)

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Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. (Carl Sandburg)

Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen during a moment. (Carl Sandburg)

Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands, and goes to work. (Carl Sandburg)

The forms of the short, written poem as they have been developed in English over the past few centuries can be usefully seen as compressed, truncated, or fragmented imitations of other verbal forms, especially the play, story, public oration, and personal essay. (Robert Scholes)

Writing is not a mystery. It is a craft like any other, and it can be learned. (Robert Scholes and Nancy R. Comley)

I think of myself as writing for one person, that one perfect reader who understands and loves. (Anne Sexton)

And from the reader's point of view, punctuation provides a map for one who must otherwise drive blindly past the by-ways, intersections, and detours of a writer's thoughts. (Mina P. Shaughnessy)

You must not suppose because I am a man of letters that I never tried to earn an honest living. (George Bernard Shaw)

The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and for all time. (George Bernard Shaw)

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. (Percy Bysshe Shelley )

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

Each of us as he receives his private trouncings at the hands of fate is kept in good heart by hearing of the moth in his brother's parachute and the scorpion in his neighbor's underwear. (N. F. Simpson)

Writing has power, but its power has no vector. Writers can steer the mind, but they can't direct it. Times change things, God changes things, the dictators change things, but writers can change anything. (Isaac Bashevis Singer)

In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style. (Sydney Smith)

In the greatest art, one is always aware of things that cannot be said. . .of the contradiction between expression and the presence of the inexpressible. Stylistic devices are also techniques of avoidance. The most potent elements of a work of art are, often, its silences. (Susan Sontag)

One must learn by doing the thing; though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. (Sophocles)

It is with words as with sunbeams -- the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn. (Robert Southey)

Those big-shot writers . . . could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar. (Mickey Spillane)

Writing itself is one of the great, free human activities. There is scope for individuality, and elation, and discovery. In writing, for the person who follows with trust and forgiveness what occurs to him, the world remains always ready and deep, an inexhaustible environment, with the combined vividness of an actuality and flexibility of a dream. Working back and forth between experience and thought, writers have more than space and time can offer. They have the whole unexplored realm of human vision. (William Stafford)

It is like fishing. But I do not wait for very long, for there is always a nibble -- and this is where receptivity comes in. To get started, I will accept anything that occurs to me. Something always occurs, of course, to any of us. We can't keep from thinking. (William Stafford)

My question is "when did other people give up the idea of being a poet?" You know, when we are kids we make up things, we write, and for me the puzzle is not that some people are still writing, the real question is why did the other people stop? (William Stafford)

To put a sentence together is like climbing a mountain range. (Wilbur Steele)

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. (Sir Richard Steele)

I began to wonder about this time just what one saw when one looked at anything, really looked at anything. (Gertrude Stein)

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)

There are a lot of other things besides nouns. (Gertrude Stein)

I see but one rule: to be clear. (Stendhal)

The poet is the priest of the invisible. (Wallace Stevens)

When I say writing, O believe me, it is rewriting that I have chiefly in mind. (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Writing's deeper function is to serve as a way to find shapes and names for the world as you have come to know it; to find on paper what you know and feel. (Peter Stillman)

I write fiction because it's a way of making statements I can disown, and I write plays because dialogue is the most respectable way of contradicting myself. (Tom Stoppard)

Vigorous writing is concise. (William Strunk)

A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short or that he avoid all detail. . but that every word tell. (William Strunk)

Form ever follows function. (Louis Henri Sullivan) ["Form follows function" was the motto of the Bauhaus afterwards]

Proper words in their proper places make the true definition of style. (Jonathan Swift)

If it were a rainy day, a drunken vigil, a fit of the spleen, a course of physic, sleepy Sunday, an ill run at dice, a long tailor's bill, a beggar's purse, a factious head, a hot sun, costive diet, want of books, and a just contempt for learning -- but for these. . .the number of authors and of writing would dwindle away to a degree most woeful to behold. (Jonathan Swift)

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Truth looks tawdry when she is overdressed. (Rabindranath Tagore)

What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve, mold, coil, polish, and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, fugues of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth I must try to reach and realize. (Dylan Thomas)

My education was the liberty I had to read indiscriminately and all the time, with my eyes hanging out. (Dylan Thomas)

Poetry is trouble dunked in tears. (Gwyn Thomas)

A journal is a repository for all those fragmentary ideas and odd scraps of information that might otherwise be lost and which some day might lead to more "harmonious compositions." (Henry David Thoreau)

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. (Henry David Thoreau)

Too much polishing and you spoil things. There's a limit to the expressibility of ideas. You have a new thought, an interesting one. Then, as you try to perfect it, it ceases to be new and interesting, and loses the freshness with which it first occurred to you. You're spoiling it. (Leo Tolstoy)

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them. (Mark Twain)

On Writing: here and there a touch of good grammar for picturesqueness. (Mark Twain)

As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out. (Mark Twain)

Use the right word, not its second cousin. (Mark Twain)

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter -- 'tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. (Mark Twain)

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Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what one is saying. (John Updike)

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Take eloquence and wring its neck. (Paul Verlaine)

I used my daughter's crayons for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle. (Kurt Vonnegut)

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A symbol serves to combine heart and intellect. (Robert Penn Warren)

Words should be an intense pleasure just as leather should be to a shoemaker. (Evelyn Waugh)

A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. (Max Weinreich)

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft. (H. G. Wells)

Whatever our theme in writing, it is old and tired. Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new; but that is enough. (Eudora Welty)

A story is not the same thing when it ends as it was when it began. (Eudora Welty)

Location pertains to feelings -- feelings are bound up in place. (Eudora Welty)

She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong. (Mae West)

The effect produced by a short story depends almost entirely on its form. (Edith Wharton)

Any rapidly enacted episode. . .should be seen through only one pair of eyes. (Edith Wharton)

There is simply a better chance of doing well if the writer holds a steady course, enters the stream of English quietly, and does not thrash about. (E.B. White)

Language is not an abstract construction of the learned, or of dictionary-makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground. (Walt Whitman)

Books are to be called for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half sleep, but, in the highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself. (Walt Whitman)

Every great man has his disciples, and it is always Judas who writes the biography. (Oscar Wilde)

Anyone can make history. Only a great man can write it. (Oscar Wilde)

A mask tells us more than a face. (Oscar Wilde)

A dramatist is one who believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it. (Thornton Wilder)

Our Town is not offered as a picture of life in a New Hampshire village; it is an attempt to find a value above all price for the smallest events in our daily life. (Thornton Wilder)

A convention is an agreed-upon falsehood, a permitted lie. (Thornton Wilder)

Characterization in a play is like a blank check which the dramatist accords to the actor for him to fill in. (Thornton Wilder)

Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one's own character to himself. (Tennessee Williams) [stage directions for A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof]

It is, perhaps more than anything else, the arrest of time which has taken place in a completed work of art that gives certain plays their feeling of depth and significance. (Tennessee Williams)

No ideas but in things. (William Carlos Williams)

A poem is a small machine made of words. . .Its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character. (William Carlos Williams)

The only human value of anything, writing included, is intense vision of the facts. (William Carlos Williams)

In one sense, my whole effort for years might be described as an effort to fathom my own design, to explore my own channel, to discover my own ways. . .I believe I have found my own language, I think I know my way. (Thomas Wolfe)

The quality of my memory is characterized, I believe, in a more than ordinary degree by the intensity of its sense impressions, its power to evoke and bring back the odors, sounds, colors, shapes, and feel of things with concrete vividness. (Thomas Wolfe)

There were lists of the rooms and houses in which I had lived or in which I had slept for at least a night, together with the most accurate and evocative descriptions of those rooms I could write--their size, their shape, the color and design of the wallpaper, the way a towel hung down, the way a chair creaked, a streak of water rust upon the ceiling. (Thomas Wolfe)

Facts must be manipulated; some must be brightened; others shaded; yet, in the process, they must never lose their integrity. (Virginia Woolf)

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. (William Wordsworth)

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Writing is like a pet that sometimes sits around and mopes and sometimes growls and snaps, but which can be a great companion, and, with care and patience, do some amazing tricks. (Alan Ziegler)

Sometimes an artistic moment in writing can come from an out-and-out mistake, even a typo, though it takes talent to recognize it. W. H. Auden typed "ports have names for the sea" in his poem "Journey to Iceland" when he meant to type "poets have names for the sea." He kept the typo.
--Alan Ziegler, The Writing Workshop, Vol. 1 (p. 103)

Clear thinking becomes clear writing: One can't exist without the other. (William Zinsser)

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Revised: on 8 August 2001.

Graphic Letters from Rozie's AlphaBytes.