Say What?

by Neeks

I went looking for some writing tips, some inspiration, some real words from “the greats” this morning.  As with anything you look up on the web there were a gazillion things to click on.  There were many repeated quotes; write what you know, every sentence should advance the story, be a sadist and kill your darlings, don’t correct or rewrite until you are done with the entire piece.  Wonderful advice to be sure, always timely and valuable.

There has to be more than that, what else do they say?  John Steinbeck and Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain.  Even Benjamin Franklin had something to say on the subject.  Some may recognize the old quote (or some variation of it) “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading or do things worth the writing,” by Benjamin Franklin, but he also coined this one:  “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”  Both are good but the second says a lot more to me as an author.

Here’s some of what I found, of course there isn’t room to list all of their wise words!


Kurt Vonnegut  – “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”

John Steinbeck – “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.”
(This one is another of the well-known quotes, but he qualified it with the last two sentences, I found it valuable).

Oscar Wilde – “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Phyllis Whitney – “You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price in disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft – then you can add all the genius you like.”

~ Last but not the least is my favorite, by none other than Mark Twain.

“Write without pay until somebody offers pay; if nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.”

Do you have a favorite quote, something you like to keep by your desk when you write? 

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22 Responses to “Say What?”

  1. I like the Oscar Wilde one best myself, it’s short and sweet and makes a good point.

    The Mark Twain one is quite harsh – ouch! 😉

  2. Love the Oscar Wilde quote. I don’t remember the source, but one of my favorites has always been, “You can’t do anything until you’ve done something first.”

  3. No favourite quote to draw upon, just various tips assembled into what works for me. I do wrote to get story down absent worry over wording, however, with novel writing I find there are stops where a retreat over material adds familiarity with characters as well as consistency, picking up things that need addressing or resolution. Usually this is around a third of the way in, and perhaps a second another third later. It might only be a read through with minor adjustments, but I find it a source of inspiration for the next stretch.

    • That is a really good point Nelle, about re-familiarizing oneself with the characters and details of the book. I have to do that with my longer “short” stories, and in doing so end up changing the beginning details to match where I’ve ended up later. You are right as well, it does produce a spark, a renewed effort in working on the piece.

      I think that it’s a common debate, the editing during or editing after issue. One way of doing things will never satisfy everyone and in this case shouldn’t. Part of the creative drive is the freedom to see things our own way and to communicate that to others. How we each do that is what makes us an artist with a unique voice.

  4. “There’s no such thing as an ‘aspiring writer’. You are a writer. Period.” – Matthew Reilly quoting an anonymous source in his interview at the back of Area 7. It sticks in my mind… and it give me license to call myself a writer! 😉
    But I love all of the above, too. Except Twain. his quote at face value is just wrong. I can’t saw wood to save myself.

  5. I love Oscar Wilde! All the other quotes are good too lol 🙂

    • Thanks, glad you liked them! Several of us Limebirds have done posts containing favorite quotes and such, if you want to look back at some of the previous articles. 🙂

  6. Yes, and if after three years you still are writing and want to continue without pay, then you’re a writer.

  7. I like the last bit of the Steinbeck one as well! And Mark Twain….ouchies!

  8. Hello. Neeks. I would wager that you have included the most important authors, and their words. You are discerning to the core! This post is similar to what I’ve decided to do — when I don’t know what my subject should be, I write about the not-knowing, and by the end of that post I have other subjects in mind. This is a terrific post, and words we all need to hear. Thanks!

  9. One thing I have learned: Writing is in the rewriting.
    Blessings – Maxi

  10. Wonderful quotes. That Oscar Wilde one is a great all-around quote, isn’t it. Mark Twain cracks me up–only he could get away with saying something like that. 🙂

    • I know, it cracked me up too. I think others may have taken it more literally, and he may have meant it more literally, I don’t know. Thanks for commenting 🙂

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