Free Advice for Writers

by Joe Moore

By the time you read this I’ll be in the air and won’t be able to respond to any comments. So instead, I have gathered together quotes from notable authors filled with free advice to anyone crazy enough to get into this writing business. Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” — George Orwell

“Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.” — David Ogilvy

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do 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

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

“Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.” — Paul Theroux

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” — Mark Twain

“The first draft of everything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Harper Lee

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do.” — William Zinsser

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or it doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” — Neil Gaiman

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ― Ray Bradbury

“Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.” — Anne Enright

“If writing seems hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things people do. – William Zinsser19. Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” — Kurt Vonnegut

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Write drunk, edit sober.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” – Oscar Wilde

“Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously.” – Lev Grossman

Have I missed any of your favorite free advice?

19 thoughts on “Free Advice for Writers

  1. “Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.” ― Neil Gaiman

    This quote is a good frame of reference for a recent Kill Zone post about writing for the market/awareness of market and writing what you want to write. Every person has a unique slant on them and that’s the strength to play too. It may not always result in dollars, but it is an honest reflection of the writer.

    • Good one. I need to write that one on an index card and tape it at eye level on the back wall of desk.

  2. Variously ascribed, but I think I saw it in the Red Smith Reader: “You just sit at the typewriter and stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.”

    And this, I have no idea who said it but it’s the truest thing about writing, and marriage: “The hardest thing about being a writer is convincing your wife you’re working when you’re staring out the window.”

  3. These are wonderful, Joe. Kurt Vonnegut explains why I HATE semicolons.
    My favorite quote is from a Ziggy cartoon: “How nice a writer’s life would be — without the the writing.”

  4. Great collection, Joe. Added it to my permanent file of favorite writing quotes. Will be forwarding Vonnegut’s advice to several friends who insist on using semicolons.

  5. I like writer quotes, Joe. Some good ones here. But poor Hemingway keeps getting things attributed to him wrongly. Like “write drunk, edit sober.” Hemingway never said it or wrote it. He was too meticulous a craftsman, even s***** first drafts.

    The other thing he never said or wrote is the bit that all you have to do to write is “sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” That was actually a quote by sports writer Red Smith (who said “open a vein”), but the writers of the TV movie about Hemingway came up with that line to make him sound cool. Only problem, it didn’t sound like Hemingway!

  6. A writer friend of mine once told me, “Throw a lot of spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.” Sometimes you have to try different things until you find your writer voice.

  7. We Leprechauns have some sayings about writing too, since writing and storytelling and such is what we Irish have done forever more.

    “Dip they pen in thine own ink pot, that thy telling may be on the spot.”
    Finnol The Wise, 325 AD

    “Letters come not from the will of the quill, but from the will of the Bill that holds the quill still.”
    Ailbe the Bland 32 BC

    “If ye climbs a high mountain in search of a tale, don’t fall off, or get knocked over by a goat, or get eaten by a bear, cuz then you can’t finish. But if you do, make sure you take somehow with you that you trust, someone you trust that is to change the tale such that your dying screams get translated to a warrior’s roar.”
    Carrick of Munster 810 AD, while hiking the mountains with his friend Clooney the Whiny after searching for signs of Viking invaders but only finding a very angry he-goat who took a distinct dislike to Clooney when he slipped off a rock and bumped into the goat, which then proceeded to butt him straight off the edge of a cliff at the bottom of which was a rather hungry bear who was quickly not so hungry anymore once Clooney stopped screaming.

    And of course one that is currently relevant writing advice especially for Mr. Basil

    “Don’t take writing advice from our brother Boffin, unless you are writing a story about boogers, cuz that’s all he really knows much about.”
    Gnilli Redbeard, 2015, last Tuesday.

    • Wow Berthold, with all those typos you should’a added this one:
      “Whisky after writing.”

  8. “Nobody knows anything.”

    That’s William Goldman on the movie biz, perhaps even better applied to the novel-writing biz. Proof statement: “The Help” was rejected by 45 agents before it landed.

  9. Some of these made me laugh out loud, Joe. I was trying to find one, I think a quote by Hemingway, along the lines of, “Anyone who says they want to be a writer, but isn’t writing, doesn’t.” Having come up dry in that search, I’ll recall another one of his quotes: “My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.” That one’s very apropos for me right now, considering it’s holiday season and I’m on an island surrounded by people drinking neon drinks topped off with tiny umbrellas. Hope your travels are taking you someplace fun and relaxing, Joe!

  10. Pingback: Inspiring Quotes for Writers | allbettsareoff

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