Scheir M’s Quotes on Writing

“A writer never forgets the first time he acepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal a the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafon, in the opening paragraph of his novel The Angel’s Game


“I could have a blog! I have thoughts!”

Amy Adams as writer Julie Powell, in the film Julie & Julia


“Writing is hard work, and if anything’s true about the process, it’s the fact that a good story is hard to find and even trickier to get on paper. What’s less romantic than staring alone at a blank screen? And edgy? I’ve changed the cat litter becasue I didn’t know what my characters were going to say next.”

Adam Johnson, from his essay, “A Call for Collaboration”


“Maybe you can’t control when inspiration will strike, but there is something to be said for the discipline of showing up so that when it comes around you’ll be there waiting.”

Dan Kennedy, from his essay “Welcome. Grab a Broom.”


“If the first step is empathy, the second step is invisibility. You get so far inside the profile material that the person you’re interviewing forgets you’re there. And then the story writes itself. For no matter how hard your garden-variety celebrity will try to project a suave, united front, a public excursion plus ego will unravel it.”

Howard Hunt, from his essay, The Invisible Narrator


“I’m a little out of practice at the moment when it comes to my writing, because I got that first proverbial break and instead of writing and staying in practice and shape, I immediately and accidentally took a break. And I’ve kind of been sitting here since. Between books one and two.”

Dan Carpenter, from his essay, “Welcome. Grab a broom.”


“If and when he ever gets his narrative s— together, Will Chase might tell the Story of the Three Floods more or less like this–freely changing names, roles, settings, and any other elements large or small as his by-then-more-seasoned muse sees fit, neither to protect the innocent nor to shield the blamable, but simply to make the tale more tellworthy.”

John Barth, from his novel Where Three Roads Meet


10 rules for novel-writing, from Mark Twain’s essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” (read further at The Happiness Project ; also, the essay appears to be reproduced in its entirety here):

Large rules:
1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausibly set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

Little rules:
7. An author should say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

8. Use the right word, not its second cousin.

9. Eschew surplusage.

10. Not omit necessary details.

–Mark Twain


Not a quote, just a link to Pat Holt’s Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do). OK, if you really want a quote, here it is:

“The list also could be called, ’10 COMMON PROBLEMS THAT DISMISS YOU AS AN AMATEUR,’ because these mistakes are obvious to literary agents and editors, who may start wording their decline letter by page 5. What a tragedy that would be.”

Pat Holt, publishing professional and book blogger


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde


“Know the story–the whole story, if possible–before you fall in love with your first sentence, not to mention your first chapter. If you don’t know the story before you begin the story, what kind of storyteller are you? Just an ordinary kind–making it up as you go along, like a common liar.”

John Irving


Stumbled across this one in my notebook; it’s a quote from the enchanting book A Room With A View, and while it’s not directly about writing, I think it describes my ideal stance for writing…

“There is a certain amount of kindness, just as there is a certain amount of light…We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things, because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm–yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

E.M. Forster


Write it well, write it poorly, write it with margin notes and incomplete sentences; just get it down.

Jennifer R. Hubbard


“A lot of people ask me, if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, ‘How to Build a Boat.”

Stephen Wright


Don Draper: We now have a benefit. We just have to figure out how to put it into words. Have another go at it.
Peggy Olson: I will work on that, Mr. Draper.
Don Draper: Peggy, just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will…jump up in your face.

-advice on writing advertising copy from Mad Men, (episode: Indian Summer, 2007), with Jon Hamm as Don Draper and Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson


Macaulay Connor: What’s this? Is it my book?
C. K. Dexter Haven: Yes.
Macaulay Connor (in a drunken slur): C. K. Dexter Haven you have unsuspected depth!
C. K. Dexter Haven: Thanks, old chap.
Macaulay Connor: But have you read it?
C. K. Dexter Haven: When I was trying to stop drinking, I read anything.
Macaulay Connor: And did you stop drinking?
C. K. Dexter Haven: Yes. Your book didn’t do it though.

-from The Philadelphia Story (1940), with Jimmy Stewart playing Macaulay Connor and Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven


“A buyout offords you a soft transition, Rick. You’re going to be fine.”
“Yeah, right–what paper’s going to hire me at my age?”
“Well, maybe not a paper…but you can blog! You’ll have that golden credit: ‘Formerly with The Washington Post!”
“There are 110 million bloggers.”
“Exactly–it’ll make you stand out!”

-Garry Trudeau, 2/26/09 Doonesbury strip


“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Wilbur, the prize-winning pig, from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web


  1. memyselfandotherthings said,

    November 13, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Love these quotes:)

    • scheirmad said,

      November 13, 2009 at 10:44 am

      You know, I just realized that I’m on a streak of reading novels about writers–“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (about a journalist), “Atonement” (about the beginning and end of a writer’s career), and now “The Angel’s Game” (about an amazingly talented writer whose career is taking the most interesting and mysterious turns). Maybe I should stop reading about writing and write something!

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