Deb Molly’s Inspirational Quotes for Writers

2012 Debutante Molly BackesMost writers I know collect writing quotes. Some hang them near their writing desks, tape them to their laptops, copy them into their journals. Others put them all in one document which they re-read before each writing session. My best friend and I used to trade them like baseball cards, and when I taught middle school I had a whole bulletin board of inspirational quotes to brighten up the room.

So today, for your inspirational enjoyment, I thought I’d share some of my current favorites. Enjoy!

Go into yourself.  Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.  This above all — ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? …And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity….

Rainer Maria Rilke

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If you’re not scared when you’re writing, you’re not working hard enough. You must be enormously afraid. But keep going.

Mark Baechtel

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“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer. 

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.” 

(from Madeline L’Engle, Writer of Children’s Classics, Is Dead at 88)

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“Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist—but don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you…. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write.”

— Hemingway to Fitzgerald

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Every universe, our own included, begins in conversation.

Michael Chabon

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To be nobody but yourself

in a world which is doing its best, night and day,

to make you everybody else, means to fight

the hardest battle any human can ever fight,

and never stop fighting.

ee cummings

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Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. You feel dull, you have a headache, nobody loves you, write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not – and the odds are clearly against it – go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the very challenge of the paper – write.

J.B. Priestley

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Being a successful writer is 3% talent, 7% hard work, 11% luck, and 79% not being distracted by the Internet.

Drachen Jager

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You have to sing every day so you can build up to being, you know, Amazingly Brilliant.

Mick Jagger

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You have to give away your TV, you have to read out loud two hours a day minimum. 

You have to walk the hills alone and always carry a notebook.

Kate Braverman

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[The young poet] should stay the hell out of writing classes and find out what’s happening around the corner. And bad luck for the young poet would be a rich father, an early marriage, an early success, or the ability to do anything very well.
Charles Bukowski
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I’m a writer.  I don’t cook and I don’t clean.

Dorothy West

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…there was never a world for her

Except the one she sang and singing, made.

Wallace Stevens

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Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable.

Brenda Ueland

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Do not fear mistakes – there are none.

Miles Davis

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One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.

Andre Gide

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Me fail English?  That’s unpossible!

Ralph Wiggum

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Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. 

E.L. Doctorow

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The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world.

Natalie Goldberg

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Keep your balance, know that you are greatly loved no matter what, and whether or not you see the light, it’s there.

Gail Gregory

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The imagination needs moodling –  long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering.

Brenda  Ueland

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The whole act [of writing] consists not in evoking the unexpected, but in evoking with a perfection and accuracy beyond expectation the very image that has haunted us all our lives.

CS Lewis

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Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.

Anton Chekhov

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I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound as they fly by.

Douglas Adams

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If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do for them is to present them with copies of ‘The Elements of Style’. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

Dorothy Parker

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In life, we are all in the gutter.  Some of us just tend to look up at the stars.

Oscar Wilde

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Continue under all circumstances. 

Don’t be tossed away — don’t let anything stop you. 

Make positive effort for the good. 

Katagiri Roshi

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Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t work writing for anything but the money.

Jonathan Franzen

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 THIS IS INSTEAD OF TELEPHONING BECAUSE I CANT LOOK YOU IN THE VOICE. I SIMPLY CANNOT GET THAT THING DONE YET NEVER HAVE DONE SUCH HARD NIGHT AND DAY WORK NEVER HAVE SO WANTED ANYTHING TO BE GOOD AND ALL I HAVE IS A PILE OF PAPER COVERED WITH WRONG WORDS. CAN ONLY KEEP AT IT AND HOPE TO HEAVEN TO GET IT DONE. DONT KNOW WHY IT IS SO TERRIBLY DIFFICULT OR I SO TERRIBLY INCOMPETANT = DOROTHY.

(Dorothy Parker, telegram to her editor Pascal Covici)

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If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.

John Irving

Do you have a favorite writing quote (or two)? Share in the comments, please! I’m always looking for new ones!

5 thoughts on “Deb Molly’s Inspirational Quotes for Writers

  1. Papa Hemingway: “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Of course. 😉

    Cheers!

    (Okay, okay. While I truly enjoy Hemingway’s sentiment, I don’t tend to follow his advice. All the time. Not unless a good plot idea hits me after cocktail hour…)

  2. “Ideas not coupled with action never become bigger than the brain cells they occupied” Which is (amazingly enough) from a fortune cookie.

  3. Gah, I’m so bad at remembering quotes I love that apply to writing. I may just have to print this post out, Molly, and viola! Problem solved! These are wonderful!

  4. “You have to give away your TV, you have to read out loud two hours a day minimum.” That scares me. Especially the TV part.

    I recently reread The Things They Carried, my favorite book of all time, and my favorite book about writing. Even though it’s not technically about writing, it’s about writing. This time around, I was especially struck by this passage:

    “I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I’m still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it’s an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. In a way, I guess, she’s right: I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That’s the real obsession. All those stories.”

  5. InspirationalQuotations” is a collection of beautifulinspirational quotes that explores ways to bring greater joy and happiness into your life.

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