Some favorite writing quotes:

A compressed commonplace collection, below the fold:

“Via writing, we discover that here, in the sacred and provisional space of the story, the play, or the poem, there exist no strangers, only fellow creatures—others to be met, and engaged eye to eye.”

Eric Darton


“Any sorrow can be borne if a story can be told about it.”

Isak Dinesen


“A rabbi, whose grandfather had been a disciple of the Ba’al Shem, was asked to tell a story. ‘A story,’ he said, ‘must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself.’ And he told: ‘My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how the holy Ba’al Shem used to hop and dance while he prayed. My grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was so swept away by his story that he himself began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that day on, he was cured of his lameness. That’s the way to tell a story!’”

Martin Buber


“There is also the power of storytelling, and the whole magic of storytelling, which sustains your life so that you never succumb to the terrible despair of one who cannot see beyond today’s happenings. The magic of storytelling lies in the enjoyment of a flight of language that takes you into another realm.”

Anais Nin


“When the old man died, the shell was lost. In time, too, the shrine disappeared. All that remained was the story. But that is how it is with all of us: when we die, all that remains is the story.”

Diane Wolkstein


“The process of writing consists of errors – most of them necessary – of courage and indolence, despair and hope, of growing awareness, of sustained feeling (not thought) which leads nowhere, and suddenly what you thought was ‘nothingness’ turns out to be your own terrifying contact with the fabric of life. That moment of recognition, that nameless submersion in a nameless fabric, that moment of recognition (akin to revelation) must be received with the greatest innocence, with the same innocence with which we are born. The process of writing is difficult? That is like defining as difficult the extremely capricious and natural manner in which a flower is formed.”

Clarice Lispector


“Everything is autobiographical and nothing is true.”



“Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art; do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, but instead follow it down until you see in it the mystery of its own specificity and strength. Giacometti’s drawings and paintings show his bewilderment and persistence. If he had not acknowledged his bewilderment, he would not have persisted…Who but an artist fierce to know—not fierce to seem to know—would suppose that a live image possessed a secret? The artist is willing to give all his or her strength and life to probing with blunt instruments those same secrets no one can describe any way but with the instrument’s faint tracks.”

Annie Dillard


“You shall know the truth, and it shall make you odd.”

Flannery O’Connor


“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened, if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloud-shadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand, and it will not let you fall.”

Rainer Maria Rilke


Ajila min Shetan ~  hurrying is for Satan

Jordanian proverb


“Along the way, I’ve taken heart from a line of Galeano’s in “The Book of Embraces,” wherein he asks:  ‘Why does one write, if not to put one’s pieces together?’”

Eric Darton


“How do you start to write a play, Mr. Williams?”  “I start,” he said sharply, “with a sentence.”

Gore Vidal writing of playwright Tennessee Williams


“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives  learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers  stronger, brighter, deeper.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


“Never bring a cannon onstage unless you’re going to fire it.”

Theodore Morrison (paraphrasing Chekov)


“Poetry is a grave,
a grave made of wind.”

Mahmoud Darwish, A Horse for the Stranger


“With it, or on it.”

Spartan mothers to their sons, meaning:  come back from war carrying your shield, or being carried on it (do not surrender, die before you lose)


“A leader is best when people barely know he exists,

not so good when people obey and acclaim him,

worst when they despise him,

but of a good leader, who talks little,

when his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

they will all say ‘we did this ourselves.’”

Lao Tse


“Prescriptions are merely public confessions of prescriptionists…What is right for one individual may be wrong for the next; and what is sin and abomination to one may be a worthwhile part of the next individual’s life. The range of individual variation, in any particular case, is usually much greater than generally understood. Some of the structural characters in my insects vary as much as twelve hundred percent. This means that populations from a single locality may contain individuals with wings 15 units in length, and other individuals with wings 175 units in length. In some of the morphologic and physiologic characters which are basic to the human behavior which I am studying, the variation is a good twelve thousand percent. And yet social forms and moral codes are prescribed as though all individuals were identical; and we pass judgments, make awards, and heap penalties without regard to the diverse difficulties involved when such different people face uniform demands.”

Alfred Kinsey: entomologist, wasp taxonomist, and researcher on human sexual behavior (from Stephen Jay Gould: “Of Wasps and WASPS.” The Flamingo’s Smile.)


“…That’s the point at which the hearer becomes implicated—when we recognize not so much a clear reflection of ourselves, as an aspect of our own adaptive behavior. And it seems to me that drama inheres in those moments of recognition of the self in other.”

Eric Darton


“Projections are part of the game. The audience members use what they take in to make the story they need at the moment. But the story-making process of good drama or literature can knock us off our center because the language opens us up, unwittingly, and sometimes unwillingly, to truths we’d rather not engage. So it’s at the level of language that political power receives its marching orders.”

Eric Darton


“There is the play, and then there is this oddly twentieth-century humor that works quite well in stand-up or in the midst of certain tedious social occasions, but often detracts from the play, even from the comedy, which I say should be built upon an absurd commitment to the circumstances and the truth of the characters – otherwise the laughs are gratuitous; they allow the audience to indulge in their basic dislike of the theater and let them off the hook of whatever the playwright is trying to convey – especially if he/she is challenging them to think. I would make no exception to this basic principle without a very strong reason, maybe something Brechtian – but I would have to be persuaded – before departing from it, and then I would make sure the departure was very conscious and purposeful.”

John Hadden


“If you are squeamish, don’t prod the beach rubble.”



“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.”

Marianne Moore


“My advice to young writers is, if you can’t marry money, at least don’t marry envy.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


“Fear and desire, like the classic ‘love’ and ‘strife,’ are always vying, no? Who can say which impulse has definitively got the upper hand? I’m of the mind that, looked at long wave, desire has the edge on fear. Otherwise, none of us would be here.”

Eric Darton


“I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free”

Nikos Kazantzakis (epitaph)


When asked ‘are you a god or a man?’ the Buddha replied: ‘I am awake.’



“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

George Eliot


“When I was young, the few older writers I knew were encouraging; and the writers who are my friends now are generous people with a strong sense of community. I keep away from writers who think art is a competition for fame, money, prizes, etc. What matters is the work.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


“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


“i am and we are blessed, lucky, or unique in that ability and drive to grab a pen and let life leak like so much blood onto the page, uninhibited by our own neuroses, egos, whatever.  in a way, in a damn (i was about to write “very”) important way, these intervening moments of life make that ability, that fortune stronger and more vital–our struggle becoming what we do on the page, our lives becoming those ink strokes.”

Micah Wyatt


“Most of us are so constructed that we try to take care of ourselves and save ourselves effort. But when you are too careful and you save yourself too much, you cease to be creative because there cannot be creation without a terrific amount of energy. Energy is like the heat which is required to weld things together, for creation is the welding of things that have not previously been united – making them fit together as a unit, making of them a new thing, a fresh thing.”

Nicolaides, The Natural Way to Draw


“Writing is my craft. I honor it deeply. To have a craft, to be able to work at it, is to be honored by it.”

Ursula K. Le Guin


“Keep your eyes like ice, heart like fire.”

Lama Surya Das, adapted from Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to come to America, who said: “My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes.”


“Do not be critics, you people, I beg you. I was a critic and I wish I could take it all back because it came from a smelly and ignorant place in me and spoke with a voice that was all rage and envy. Do not dismiss a book until you have written one, and do not dismiss a movie until you have made one, and do not dismiss a person until you have met them. It is a f***load of work to be open-minded and generous and understanding and forgiving and accepting, but, Christ, that is what matters. What matters is saying yes.”

Dave Eggers


Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.

Henry James


The reasonable man encounters circumstances and adapts himself to them. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt circumstances to himself. All progress depends upon the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw


“When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a
good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

Shunryu Suzuki, *Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind*


The obligation of the artist is not to solve the problem, but to state the problem correctly.

Anton Chekhov


Art itself may be defined as the single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.

Joseph Conrad


If you want to be a writer, then write. Write every day.

Samuel Johnson


You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke


“[You are complicit] in the creative act. The discoveries you make about your characters are most revealing if making them involves a search that forces you to face something you don’t want to face, something that causes you to want to flee—or at least shut off your laptop and go for a walk. Your job, of course, is to strap yourself in and keep writing. You’ve reached the point in the story where you have the opportunity to create something real. You’re steeping into terrain you only half-know. This is where you need to be. There can be no discovery in a world where everything is known. A crucial part of the writing endeavor is the practice of remaining in the dark.”

Robert Boswell


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

W. Somerset Maughm


“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

Oscar Wilde


“The supreme question of a work of art is: from how deep a life does it spring?”

James Joyce



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