One of my favourite writers, Stephen King, is famous for saying, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.” He’s known for writing every day. Of course, every writer has to develop their own practice and rhythms. The point is to be inspired by the thoughts and works of others in order to find your own way.
However, writers shouldn’t be held hostage by the whims and caprice of their motivation. We should learn to write every day, even when we don’t feel inspired.
So in that vein, I’ve collected 15 inspirational quotes for writers that will hopefully spark your creative imagination. And if not that, then light a small fire in your writerly heart, a fire that can be fanned and ignite something bigger as you continue to grow as a writer.
#1. “Good writing has an aliveness that keeps the reader reading from one paragraph to the next.”
– William Zinnser
This quote is from the classic writing manual On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction. With its focus on practical and actionable tips, writers learn how to tighten their prose and keep readers engaged. It’s that concept of ‘aliveness’, the story breathing itself into being through words, that inspires me to keep refining my sentences.
#2. “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
– Ursula K. Leguin
However, without a good story, one that engages, immerses, terrifies, and delights, gorgeous prose is a lost cause. Lisa Cron’s book Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to go Beyond Outlining and Writing a Riveting Novel is an amazing book on writing that lays out what a story actually is. Story is more than just the plot. It’s how those external events affect the protagonist who is pursuing a difficult goal. All good stories have this inner layer, even thrillers.
#3. “You fail only if you stop writing.”
– Ray Bradbury
Fear of failure is a classic blockage for creatives (for anyone really). It’s easy to compare our works in progress to the polished and finished books we love to read. But those authors have dedicated writing practices and daily word count goals that they stick to. The key to outsmarting this fear is to realize that what you produce will never quite live up to how you imagined it, and that’s okay. You just need to write, revise, and keep honing your craft.
Related Post: How to Start a Daily Writing Routine
#4. “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
– Anais Nin
There is a secret language at the heart of every expressive act. Every novel moves on multiple levels, and often writers write stories to express what they can’t otherwise say. It could be a way to grieve, a way to capture slivers of experience, or a way to express a social critique. Stories are vessels.
#5. “Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.”
– Charles de Lint
Often writers will come up with a great story idea, but immediately backtrack, thinking that someone must have already written it. This quote reminds us that no one will have told this story with the experiences you’ve had, that make your story inevitably unique. As we learn from the Hero’s Journey, there is a basic structure but an infinite variety of combinations and modes of delivery. So go ahead and write your story!
#6. “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.”
– Beverly Cleary
Unlike some more instrumentalist writers, I think if you have a story in you, you should write it. Even if your goal is not to be on a best seller list or gain a massive audience, there is value in expressing yourself. Writing should be an act of joy.
#7. “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman
If writing makes you come alive, even if you never make a dime from anything you write, it’s still valuable that you write. Humans are hardwired to tell stories and consume them. So go for it, even if it’s in secret and just for you.
#8. “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
– Stephen King
King is the master of horror, and his characters are so compelling that they almost always end up on the big screen. Try to write deeply flawed characters who have a longing for something more that propels them on a difficult journey. Sometimes the scariest monsters have the most ordinary veneer.
Related Post: Top 6 Books on Writing to Improve Your Writing Craft
#9. “If I see an ending, I can work backward.”
– Arthur Miller
Don’t worry if you don’t know your ending. This should not stop you from starting! A lot of writers, notably ‘pantsers’ (those that supposedly do minimal outlining), claim to write into the dark, as if the process of writing the story reveals the story to them. In some ways it’s not up to us where it ultimately leads. But if you do have an ending in mind, work backwards from it. Writing doesn’t have to be done in chronological order, after all.
#10. “I think the whole glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.”
– Sherwood Anderson
Although the act of writing is solitary, it involves projecting ourselves into imagined realities and lives. But it also draws on our deeply social nature and our wealth of accumulated life experiences that we then infuse into our writing.
#11. “In a story, if we’re not feeling, we’re not reading. It is emotion rather than logic, that telegraphs meaning, thus emotion is what your novel must be wired to transmit, straight from the protagonist to us.”
– Lisa Cron
Our culture prizes logic over emotion. The lovely thing about creative expression in writing is that emotion is valuable; it is at the heart of storytelling.
#12. “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
– Henry David Thoreau
Being concise is harder than it seems. It’s not to say that long writing and elaborately worded sentences is wrong, but often cutting back and simplifying is a great strategy for writing. Ask yourself, “What is the one kernel of truth I’m trying to convey?” and cut everything else.
#13. “Poetry creates the myth, the prose writer draws its portrait.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre
Crafting poetry is an amazing exercise for improving your prose. In this quote, the poetic springs from the eternal and the prosaic is its elaboration in everyday language.
#14. “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin
This wonderful quote from Ursula K. Le Guin expresses what in literary theory is called Reader Response. The way that the reader is implicated in the story is crucial since without a reader no story can live. As you set out to write your book, have an ideal reader in mind.
#15. “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
– Neil Gaiman
Some writers tend to edit and re-edit the first one or two pages (or chapters) of their story endlessly. It is better to keep moving and write your first draft as fast as possible. A good outline or story concept will be a huge help, but don’t let this become fodder for resistance.
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