Grab a cup of tea or coffee and relax as you browse a collection of notable quotables and exceptional excerpts, compiled by Kimn Swenson Gollnick for The Write Place.
Inspirational Quotes - for writers and others.
Opening Lines - intriguing first lines of novels.
Book Excerpts - click on any item below:Descriptive passages
"The copy of the writing...was published to all people." --Esther 8:13
"Establish thou the works of our hands upon us." --Psalm 90:17
ON BEING A WRITER: "You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story." -- Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott (c.1994, Pantheon Books), p. 7
All writers know the mantra, "Write what you know." But writer Sandra Cisneros tells us to "Write what makes you different." In the helpful writing text, Write to Learn, author and writing teacher Donald M. Murray provides this list to help us take inventory of our extraordinary lives:
ON THE "WRITER'S EYE": "You can train yourself to see revealing specifics. A revealing specific is a detail, fact, quotation, word, phrase that gives off extra meaning. ...Writing seems to ring with authority just because it is specific." --Donald M. Murray, Write to Learn, p.98.
ON NARRATIVE IN NONFICTION: "We think of narrative as primarily a fiction technique, and when I first started teaching, narrative was not allowed in freshman English. Yet writing narrative is an essential skill for a nonficiton writer, too. In fact, all effective writing has an embedded narrative; the reader may not be aware of it, but the implied story keeps the reader's interest and moves the reader forward, toward the writer's meaning." --Donald M. Murray, Write to Learn, p.225.
ON WRITER'S BLOCK: "It never gets easier to write. All writers are masters of avoidance. ...some of that avoidance is good. E.B. White reminds us, 'Delay is natural to a writer. He is like a surfer--he bides his time, waits for the perfect wave on which to ride in. Delay is instinctive with him.' This waiting is purposeful.... Writers, of course, being writers, are never sure whether they are allowing their subjects to ripen properly or are just being lazy." Donald Murray's advice? "Write down the reasons you are not writing. Often when you see the problem you will be able to avoid it. You may realize that your standards are too high, or that you're thinking excessively of how one person will respond to your piece, or that you're trying to include too much. Once you have defined the problem, you may be able to dispose of it." --Donald M. Murray, Write to Learn, p.153-154.
FLANNERY O'CONNOR ON WRITING:"Of course, the more you write, the more you will realize the form is organic, that it is something that grows out of the material, that the form of each story is unique. A story that is any good can't be reduced, it can only be expanded. A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you." -- "Writing Short Stories" by Flannery O'Connor, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.1670.
"For my own part, I have a very high opinion of the art of fiction and a very low opinion of what is called the 'average' reader. I tell myself that I can't escape him, that this is the personality I am supposed to keep awake, but at the same time, I am also supposed to provide the intellectual reader with the deeper experience that he looks for in fiction. Now actually, both of these readers are just aspects of the writer's own personality, and in the last analysis, the only reader he can know anything about is himself." -- "Writing Short Stories" by Flannery O'Connor, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.1667.
"You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably no one else will." -- "Writing Short Stories" by Flannery O'Connor, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.1671.
"...One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. ...This is the only concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art." -- "Autobiographical Notes" by James Baldwin, In Depth: Essays for Our Time (c.1993, Thomson Heinle, 2nd edition.), p.65.
"...the root function of language is to control the universe by describing it." -- "Stranger in the Village" by James Baldwin, In Depth: Essays for Our Time (c.1993, Thomson Heinle, 2nd edition.), p.72.
"I have always felt charged with the safekeeping of all unexpected items of worldly or unworldly enchantment, as though I might be held personally responsible if even a small one were to be lost." -- "The Ring of Time" by E.B. White, In Depth: Essays for Our Time (c.1993, Thomson Heinle, 2nd edition.), p.711.
"A woman who writes is a writer by her own definition; but she is a woman writer by others' definitions. (Among these others are, of course, women.) ...The irony, of course, is that while there are 'women writers' there are not, and have never been, 'men writers.' ...(Hence the double-edged praise that befalls a woman writer when she is told, by men, that she writes 'like a man.' Which man? I always ask.)" -- "(Woman) Writer: Theory and Practice" by Joyce Carol Oates, In Depth: Essays for Our Time (c.1993, Thomson Heinle, 2nd edition.), p.509.
Advice about art from a fiction character? Photographer Robert Kincaid tells Francesca, "'That's the problem in earning a living through an art form. You're always dealing with markets, and markets--mass markets--are designed to suit average tastes. That's where the numbers are. That's the reality, I guess.'" -- The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (c.1992, Warner Books), p. 51.
"Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it's the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. ...The deeper I become entangled in the process of getting a sentence right in its syllables and rhythms, the more I learn about myself." -- Mao II by Don Delillo (c.1991, Viking Penguin), p. 48.
"But his chief trouble was that he did not know any editors or writers. ...He began to doubt that editors were real men. They seemed cogs in a machine. That was what it was, a machine. He poured his soul into stories, articles, and poems, and entrusted them to the machine. He folded them just so, put the proper stamps inside the long envelope along with the manuscript, sealed the envelope, put more stamps outside, and dropped it into the mailbox. It traveled across the continent, and after a certain lapse of time the postman returned him the manuscript in another long envelope, on the outside of which were the stamps he had enclosed. There was no human editor at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of cogs that changed the manuscript from one evenlope to another and stuck on the stamps. It was like the slot machines wherein one dropped pennies, and, with a metallic whirl of machinery had delivered to him a stick of chewing gum or a tablet of chocolate. It depended upon which slot one dropped the penny in, whether he got chocolate or gum. And so with the editorial machine. One slot brought checks and the other brought rejection slips. So far he had found only the latter slot." -- Martin Eden by Jack London (c.1909, reprinted 1993, Viking Penguin), p.160-161.
GERTRUDE STEIN ON MONEY (notice her existential, stream-of-consciousness style she calls "automatic writing," and her aversion for punctuation):
"About every once in so often there is a movement to do away with money. [President] Roosevelt tries to spend so much that perhaps money will not exist, communists try to live without money but it never lasts because if you live without money you have to do as the animals do live on what you find each day to eat and that is just the difference the minute you do not do that you have to have money and so everybody has to make up their mind if money is money or if money isn't money and sooner or later they always do decide that money is money." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.42)
ON DISTRACTION: "That is the trouble with a distraction. A distraction is to avoid the consciousness of the passage of time. That is the trouble with any Utopia, any system, as soon as it is a system it is not a distraction and so it does not any longer make it possible not to know the passage of time." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.61)
ON WRITER'S BLOCK: "All this time I did no writing. I had written, and was writing nothing. Nothing inside me needed to be written. Nothing needed any word and there was no word inside me that could not be spoken and so there was no word inside me. And I was not writing. I began to worry about identity. I had always been I because I had words that had to be written inside me and now any word inside could be spoken it did not need to be written. I am I because my little dog knows me. But was I I when I had no written word inside me. It was very bothersome." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.66, emphasis added)
ON IDENTITY: "And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an autobiography you do not of course you do not really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do not remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right. You are of course never yourself." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.70)
ON HISTORY: "The Civil War seems far away now but then it seemed quite near. If your grandfather was an oldish man when your mother was born and you are the youngest of a number of children it is extraordinary how few generations can cover the history of civilization." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.152)
ON WRITING: "I like writing, it is so pleasant, to have the ink write it down on the paper as it goes on doing. ...I do not correct, I sometimes cut out a little not very often and not very much but correcting after all what is in your head comes down into your hand and if it has come down it can never come again no not again." --Gertrude Stein in Everybody's Autobiography (p.320)
J.R.R. Tolkien: "At seven, he wrote his first story about a 'green great dragon.' His mother told him that one should say 'a great green dragon' instead. He wondered why that had to be so. From the beginning, words intoxicated him." --On Writers & Writing, compiled by Helen Sheehy & Leslie Stainton (c.1999).
"In my own business of publishing, one watches with growing dismay the ersatz quality of bookmaking, the vanishing forever of traditional linotype faces, and the degeneration of paper. Over the past few decades, there has been a collapse of the sense of pride in craftmanship, of the sense of excellence. Usually, this has nothing to do with money. A rough, early Mickey Mouse short--any one of them!--is superior to the animation that is currently manufactured for television. We are in the dark McDonald's age of the quick and easy." --Maurice Sendak, Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures (c.1998, Noonday Press/Farrar Straus and Giroux), p. 117.
"Fiction begins where human knowledge begins--with the senses." --Flannery O'Connor, quoted in The Best Writing on Writing, Volume II, edited by Jack Heffron (c.1995, Story Press), p. 199
"Writing a story is like climbing a rock face that has few handholds; you have to be able to focus a great deal of strength through small muscles, holding on, pushing up while leaning out, almost as if you were lying on the surface of the sea and trusting it not to take you under, and using your experience and intuition at once--doing what you know well while discovering as you do it how to work new surfaces." --A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life, Frederick Busch (c.1998, St. Martin's Press), p. 49
"When you've decided what your characters want and are striving for, you have the conflict that propels them forward." --Olga Litowinsky, Writing and Publishing Books for Children in the 1990's (c.1992, Walker & Co.), p. 59
"There is more treasure in books than in
all the pirates' loot on Treasure Island . . .
and best of all, you can enjoy these riches every day."
--Walt Disney (1901 - 1966)
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." --Albert Einstein (1879-1955), On Science
"Your success as a writer will probably not depend on how well you write so much as in how you handle rejections." --Gilbert Morris, PhD., How To Write and Sell A Christian Novel
"A writer strives to express a universal truth in the best possible way that he can; in the way that rings the most bells in the shortest amount of time." --William Faulkner, as quoted in On Being A Writer
"Often you must turn your stylus to erase, if you hope to write anything worth a second reading." --Horace (65-8 B.C.), SATIRES
"The key to revision is learning what the story is trying to do, rather than what you're trying to do with the story." --Chris Offutt, quoted in Writers Ask, quarterly newsletter of Glimmer Train Press, Inc. (c.1999, Issue No. 2, p.9).
"Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody." --Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Well begun is half done.
--Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Beatrix Potter kept a diary from age 15 to age 27. In it, she revealed her independent spirit twoard art school:
"I don't want lessons, I want practice. I hope it is not pride that makes me so stiff against teaching, but a bad or indifferent teacher is worse than none." --Beatrice Potter, quoted in Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures by Maurice Sendak (c.1998, Noonday Press/Farrar Straus and Giroux), p. 65.
"For a man [or woman] to write well, there are required three necessaries: to read the best authors, observe the best speakers, and much exercise of his own style." --Ben Johnson, Discoveries
"Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors." --Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
"We can't all and some of us don't. That's all there is to it." --Eeyore (A.A. Milne)
In soloing--as in other
activities--it is far easier to
start something than it is to finish it.
"Comparison is the source of all unhappiness." --Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)
"No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made silently." --Agnes DeMille (1909- )
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." --Aesop (mid-sixth century B.C.)
"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." --Mark Twain (1835-1910)
"Stand with anybody that stands right...and part with him when he goes wrong." --Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
"A rich man is one who spends his life in kindness making friends." --Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann and author of the Raggedy Ann Stories
Men build too many walls and not enough bridges." --Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
"Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none." --William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
They may forget what you said, but they will
how you made them feel.
--Carl W. Buehner
"The great doing of little things makes a great life." --Eugenia Price
"Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures." --Jessamyn West
"The worth of a book is what you can carry away from it." --James Bryce
"The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances. We carry the seeds of the one or the other about with us in our minds wherever we go." --Martha Washington
"...forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a different past..." --Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies (c.1998, Pantheon Books), p. 213
"All that is not eternal is eternally out of date." --C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)
"Procrastination is the thief of time." --Edward Young (1683-1765)
"You [an aspiring writer] can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room." --Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
"The future belongs to those who prepare for it." --Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something--anything--down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft--you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft--you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed or even...healthy." --Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird (c.1994, Pantheon Books), p. 25-26
Regarding Ernest Hemingway: "Here is language with which to depict tragedy.... 'Hills Like White Elephants,' in which a very selfish young man tries to persuade a young woman to have an abortion convenient for him, can teach a beginning writer more about metaphor and about creating dialogue than a semester's attendance at one of several writing workshops I admire." -- A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life, Frederick Busch (c.1998, St. Martin's Press), p. 233
"Herein lies the essential difference between fiction and nonfiction: Nonfiction tells us what is wrong and how to fix it; fiction holds a mirror up to our lives and allows us to apply the truth in an infinite number of individual ways." --Penelope J. Stokes, Writing and Selling the Christian Novel (c.1998, Writer's Digest Books), p. 5-6
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
--Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
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