'The novel is likely, if the best literary brains cannot be induced to return to it, to survive in some perfunctory, despised and hopelessly degenerate form, like modern tombstones, or the Punch and Judy show.’
George Orwell in 1936
'Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.'
'Reading a novelization of your own screenplay is like watching someone else kiss your girlfriend.’
'Books are fatal: they are the curse of the human race. Nine- tenths of existing books are nonsense, and the clever books are the refutation of that nonsense. The greatest misfortune that ever befell man was the invention of printing.'
'Some writers take to drink, others take to audiences.'
'I’m not saying all publishers have to be literary, but some interest in books would help.’
A N Wilson
'No regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones.'
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle
'All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time.'
'Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages - all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronised, put-down and underpaid person.'
Doris Lessing's writers' manifesto, courtesy of Rosemary Friedman in Writers' Forum
'Writers and politicians are natural rivals. Both groups try to make the world in their own images; they fight for the same territory.'
'The only reason for being a professional writer is that you just can't help it.'
'Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.'
'A writer’s ambition should be to trade 100 contemporary readers for 10 readers in 10 years’ time and for one in 100 years.’
'If you want to be considered a poet, you will have to show mastery of the petrarchan sonnet form or the sestina. Your musical efforts must begin with well-formed fugues. There is no substitute for craft... Art begins with craft, and there is no art until craft has been mastered.'
‘Literature nowadays is a trade… the successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets.’
George Gissing, writing in New Grub Street in 1895
'It's a delicious thing to write. To be no longer
yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating.'
Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran
'The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety not Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.'
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
'We all know that books burn - yet we have the greater knowledge that books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory... In this war, we know, books are weapons.'
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942
'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.'
'A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances in which it is used.’
Oliver Wendell Holmes
'Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none is undeservedly remembered.’
W H Auden
‘Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.'
'A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.’
'What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’
'Soundbite and slogan, strapline and headline, at every turn we meet hyperbole. The soaring inflation of the English language is more urgently in need of control than the economic variety.'
Trevor Nunn in the Evening Standard
'Every novel is an attempt to capture time, to weave something solid out of air. The author knows it is an impossible task - that is why he keeps on trying.'
'No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.'
H G Wells
'Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know men.'
'The attributes you need to be a travel writer are somewhat contradictory. For travel you need to be tough and resilient and to write you must be sensitive and sympathetic.’
Colin Thubron in the Independent on Sunday
Just how difficult it is to write biography can be reckoned by anybody who sits down and considers just how many people know the real truth about his or her love affairs.'
'A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes and the world he lives in changes but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly and having found what is true, to project it is such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.'
'To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.'
William Shakespeare (Dogberry in Much Ado about Nothing)
'All fiction is for me a kind of magic and trickery - a confidence trick, trying to make people believe something is true that isn't.'
'The act of writing is an act of optimism. You would not take the
trouble to do it if you felt that it didn’t matter.’
‘Writers seldom write the things they think. They
simply write the things they think other folks think they think.’
‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it ... and delete it before sending your manuscript to the press.'
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
There are two ways of speaking an audience will always like; one is to tell them what they don't understand; and the other is to tell them what they're used to.'
'Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct and watch the products of your own head.'
'A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.'
'An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterwards.'
F Scott Fitzgerald
'Writing a book is an adventure; it begins as an amusement, then it becomes a mistress, then a master, and finally a tyrant.'
'Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.'
'The really terrifying thing is that writing poetry is not something people necessarily get better at. There is no guarantee that they will exceed their early promise.'
British poet Jacob Polley
'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
'If you are going to make a book end badly, it must end badly from the beginning.'
Robert Louis Stevenson in a letter to J M Barrie
'Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.'
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
'Fool!' said my Muse to me,'look in thy heart and write.'
Sir Philip Sidney in Astrophel and Stella
'The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.'
'There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.'
H L Mencken
'The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.'
'Masterpieces are no more than the shipwrecked flotsam of great minds.'
'What is there to say, finally, except that pain is bad and pleasure good, life all, death nothing.'
'An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children.'
'Writing is very different to having your photo taken. You are exposing yourself more, not physically but emotionally.'
Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write.'
'Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.'
To create the literature of fact, we have to work like novelists in many ways. We select. We imagine.'
Historian Timothy Garton Ash on writing non-fiction in the Guardian Review
'The writer's intention hasn't anything to do with what he achieves. The intent to earn money or the intent to be famous or the intent to be great doesn't matter in the end. Just what comes out.'
Writing is the only profession where no-one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money'
'Inspiration is the act of drawing up a chair to the writing desk'
'I can make it longer if you like the style
I can it change round
and I want to be a paperback writer'
John Lennon & Paul McCartney
'A writer needs loneliness, and he gets his share of it. He needs love, and he gets shared and also unshared love. He needs friendship. In fact, he needs the universe. To be a writer is, in a sense, to be a day-dreamer - to be living a kind of double life.'
Jorge Luis Borges
'Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs.'
What I would say to a young person trying to become a writer is 'Don't. It won't make any difference because they'll do it anyway, but they really shouldn't.'
A L Kennedy
'When you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research.'
'There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings.'
'Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.'
'To finish is a sadness to a writer - a little death. He puts the last word down and it is done. But it isn't really done. The story goes on and leaves the writer behind, for no story is ever done.'
Many (modern novels) have a beginning, a muddle and an end.'
'The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.'
'There is no happiness in love except at the end of an English novel.'
'Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.'
'The proper study of mankind is books.'
'It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing. But I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.'
'The most original authors are not so because they advance what is new, but because they put what they have to say as if it had never been said before.'
'I get a lot of letters from people. They say "I want to be a writer. What should I do?" I tell them to stop writing to me and to get on with it.'
'I write for the same reason I breathe - because if I didn't, I would die.'
'Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about...)
C S Lewis
'There's more of yourself in a book than a play. that's why we know all about Dickens and not much about Shakespeare. Ben Jonson murdered people; Marlowe was a spy; Shakespeare just sat in the corner and took notes.'
Sir John Mortimer
I know that I'm a real writer because sometimes I write a story just because I want to; not because someone's told me to ... Nothing stops me writing except flu.'
'The purpose of writing is to make your mother and father drop dead with shame.'
J P Donleavy
'When I am dead, I hope it may be said: "His sins were scarlet, but his books were read".'
Hilaire Belloc - Epitaph
‘A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.’
‘When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.’
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
G K Chesterton
A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.
Dr Samuel Johnson
Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
Dr Samuel Johnson
As writers become more numerous, it is natural for readers to become more indolent. (The Bee No 175)
In reality, people read because they want to write. Anyway, reading is a sort of rewriting. ('Between Existentialism and Marxism')
I like to write when I feel spiteful: it's like having a good sneeze.
D.H.Lawrence letter 1913
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and others to be chewed and digested.
A writer's ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years' time and for one reader in a hundred years' time.
Arthur Koestler interview
Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.
Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid. (Of Praise)
No regime has ever loved great writers, only minor ones. (The First Circle)
All great truths begin as blasphemies.
Books will speak plain when counsellors blanch. (Of Counsel)
I shall christen this style the Mandarin, since it is beloved by literary pundits. It is the style of all the writers whose tendency is to make their language convey more than they mean to and more than they feel. It is the style of most artists and all humbug (Enemies of Promise)
When I was sitting writing 'The Shadow of the Glen' I got more aid than any learning would have given me from a chink in the floor of the old Wicklow house where I was staying, that let me hear what was being said by the servant girls in the kitchen. (Preface to The Playboy of the Western World)
Learn to write well, or not to write at all’
John Sheffield, First Duke of Buckingham and Normanby
A bad book is as much a labour to write as a good one.
Aldous Huxley, 1928