Inspired Every Morning

by James Scott Bell

“I only write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” – Peter De Vries

Anyone who’s written for any length of time knows there are times when the writing flows like the Colorado rapids. You whoop it up and enjoy the ride.

Sisyphus, Franz Stuck (1920)

Then there are times when it feels like you’re Sisyphus halfway up the mountain. You grunt and groan. But you keep pushing that boulder, because you know that writing as a vocation or career requires the consistent production of words.

What’s helped me in the Sisyphus times are writing quotes I’ve gathered over the years. I go to my file and read a few until I’m ready, as it were, to roll.

I’ve even contributed a couple of quotes that have found some purchase in cyberspace. The one that seems most widespread is this:

“Write like you’re in love. Edit like you’re in charge.”

There are, however, some writing quotes that are oft shared but were never said…or are misattributed. Two of them have been hung on Ernest Hemingway.

“Write drunk. Edit sober.” Nope, he never said that. Indeed, it would have horrified him. Hemingway was one of the most careful stylists who ever lived. He did his drinking after hours (and too much of it, as it turned out).

The other one is, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

It’s a great quote, but should be attributed to the legendary sports writer, Red Smith. Smith probably got the idea from the novelist Paul Gallico (author most famously of The Poseidon Adventure). This is from Gallico’s 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer:

It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.

(If you want to deep dive on the various attributions of the quote, go here.)

So how did this blood quote get attributed to Hemingway? I know the answer, for I am a skilled detective!

Actually, I am a Hemingway fan, so one day I decided to watch a TV movie about Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. The film, imaginatively titled Hemingway & Gellhorn, starred Clive Owen as Hemingway and Nicole Kidman as Gellhorn. As I recall, the movie is okay. But I do remember Owen delivering this line: “There’s nothing to writing, Gellhorn. All you do is sit at your typewriter and bleed.”

And there you have it. The script writers thought this quote, which they got from Red Smith, would be a perfect line for their rendition of Papa. And really, it might have been a line for him to utter, but for the fact that Hemingway did virtually all of his drafts in longhand.

Speaking of renditions of Hemingway on film, my favorite is Corey Stoll’s performance in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Allen and Stoll managed to capture Hemingway’s bluster without turning him into a cartoon. I especially love this exchange with Owen Wilson, who is a laid-back writer from our time transported back to the Paris of the 1920s, where Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others were all tossed together.

Now, back to business. Here are five of my favorite writing quotes:

Remember, almost no writer had it easy when starting out. If they did, everyone would be a bestselling author. The ones who make it are the stubborn, persistent people who develop a thick skin, defy the rejection, and keep the material out there. – Barnaby Conrad

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury

In a world that encompasses so much pain and fear and cruelty, it is noble to provide a few hours of escape, moments of delight and forgetfulness. – Dean Koontz

Keep working. Keep trying. Keep believing. You still might not make it, but at least you gave it your best shot. If you don’t have calluses on your soul, this isn’t for you. Take up knitting instead. – David Eddings

The first page of a book sells that book. The last page sells your next book. – Mickey Spillane

Your turn! Let’s get inspired. Share a favorite writing quote and why it speaks to you.

42 thoughts on “Inspired Every Morning

  1. Good quotes. I have far too many to list here, but among my favorites are these from Bradbury:

    “My stories have led me through my life. They shout, I follow. They run up and bite me on the leg — I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.”

    “Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”

    And finally

    “The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was 12.”

  2. Thanks for sharing those quotes, Jim, particularly the first one.

    This isn’t quite what you asked for but for some reason, it inspires me. It is usually attributed to Stephen King but it originated with Robert Bloch, who, for the uninitiated, wrote PSYCHO and many, many, other tales: “Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a glass jar on my desk.”

    Have a great week, Jim!

  3. I confess I didn’t verify attributions, but:
    “People don’t read books to get to the middle.” Mickey Spillane

    “The scariest moment is always just before your start.” Stephen King

    “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.” Harriet B. Braiker

    “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Flannery O’Connor

    And this, paraphrased from Nora Roberts/JD Robb (I think.) “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

  4. “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” ~ Steven King

    That has been my key to success my whole life.

    You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury

    And my corollary, to protect me from reality at night (said to my wife): “Let’s go to bed and get drunk on a book.”

    • Love the quote about table salt, Steve. Reminded me of Calvin Coolidge’s famous words: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

  5. I just spent the past several days attending the Writer’s Digest virtual conference, listening to people bitch about not being there in person while I thanked my lucky stars it was virtual so I could be there.

    Chris Bohjalian gave the keynote and he was awesome. Turns out he amassed 250 rejections before he sold anything and everyone told him to quit. I took pages of notes. This is my favorite.

    “In the middle of the night, are you called to your pen? If so, write. It’s what you love.”

  6. Not specifically a writing quote, but my very favorite inspiration:

    “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

  7. Reading that David Eddings quote, it gave me all the writing inspiration I need. I can’t/don’t want to knit, so thanks, I’ll stick with my writing. 😎

    • Ha! Reminds me of one of those inspirational quotes from The Most Interesting Man in the World commercials. About life he said, “Find out what it is in life you don’t do well, and then don’t do that thing.”

    • Really fun, with a lot of inside jokes if you know the literary history of the time and some of the things the people said. As he sits down with Hemingway, Owen Wilson says he’s a big Mark Twain fan, and you might even say all American literature started with Huckleberry Finn. That, of course, is something Hemingway later said. So Owen Wilson gave him the idea!

  8. One of my all-time favorite quotes is: “Be courageous and try to write in a way that scares you a little.” – Holley Gerth

    I’ve included a few others in tomorrow’s post. 😀

    Loved the Jim Bell quote video! Now, I’ve got to watch Midnight in Paris.

  9. My oh my! Which one? Choices, choices. I have a file on my laptop where I plunk quotes. JSB, your list is now living there. 🙂

    Here’s one of my all-time favorites:

    I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on until I am. — Jane Austen

  10. Inspiring post, Jim, filled with great quotes.

    A quote that never fails to fire me with enthusiasm:
    “Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate, when you write.” Barbara Ueland.

    Her call to abandon crab-like caution because of the fear of potentially writing a bad story, a dull story, or a story that becomes the subject of scorn, never fails to inspire me. Be bold, like a lion or a pirate.

    • Her book, If You Want to Write, was an early inspiration to me, Dale.

      “Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”

  11. On wrong attributions, one lady on a Yahoogroups reading list I belong to had a quote randomizer on her email signature line, and a quote which frequently came up was about the joy of chocolate by Charles Dickens. Chocolate during Dickens’ time was primarily a drink served to rich ladies for breakfast, not a guy drink or treat, so I knew it had to be wrong. I spent several interesting hours doing searches on Dickens and quote databases. I finally found the error. The quote about chocolate was directly above a quote by Dickens on a quote database. His name managed to end up on the quote at a flower store website, and it spread like wildfire elsewhere. Sherlock Holmes might not be proud of me, but he would be amused.

    I always shared two correctly attributed quotes with my writing students at the end of every course. Here they are.

    “I’m just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun. I don’t think they ever go smoothly. It’s work. It should be work. It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you’re probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it’s a good concept.” Nora Roberts in an interview with the “Hagerstown Herald-Mail.”

    “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.” THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

  12. Uplifting post & comments, Jim. I’d like to add one that applies to pretty much every life venture, especially writing. “Ya gotta wanna.” This comes from Jimmy Pattison who is a Vancouver billionaire businessman / philanthropist. It’s the burning desire. Ya gotta wanna. And ya gotta do the work.

    • Thanks, Garry. Reminded me of:

      “You must want it enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft—then you can add all the genius you like.” — Phyllis Whitney

  13. Off topic, but quote from the other end of the spectrum spoken by Michael Caine in Pulp (a comedy about a writer, directed and written by Mike Hodges, and the polar opposite of the previous year’s violent noir masterpiece Get Carter, also directed by Hodges and starring Caine): “The writer’s life would be ideal but for the writing,” which sums up how I feel most days. Yet, thanks to inspiring quotes from JSB (and your books; I have several), I persevere. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Joe. Your quote reminded me of a popular one that several writers have used over the years. No one, apparently, can nail down the original, and there are several versions of “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.”

      On Colorado rapids days, I love writing…on Sisyphus days, I love having written.

  14. In exploring the depths of the characters I create, I all too often recognize some part of myself I need to rediscover or empty internal spaces that need filling. My favorite quotes echo those thoughts.

    “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
    ~ Stephen King

    “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. ” ~ Joss Whedon

    When you’re editing write the following words onto a Post-it note in big red letters and stick it on your monitor: ‘Who Cares?’. If something has no bearing on the story, leave it out. ~ Stuart MacBride

  15. Thinking about writing isn’t writing. Planning to write isn’t writing. Neither is talking about it, posting about it, or complaining about how hard it is. These may be part of the process. But only writing is writing
    Jack Ketchum

    For those who may not be familiar with real horror novels (no slashers or piles of dead teenagers), Mr. Ketchum wrote (among other great books) “The Girl Next Door”.

    I think the quote speaks for itself. It helped me solve my biggest writing problem, doing it.

  16. My favorite inspiration quote comes from a scientist. Who are, of course, creative souls.

    “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”
    ― Linus Pauling

    And know when to throw the bad ones away.

    • Exactly, Kris. That’s why I advocate making lists of possibilities before setting off in the scene direction. It’s usually the 4th or 5th brainstorm that brings the gold.

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