I've had a request for the novelist-related quotes I collect from authors and sometimes artists. So here they are below. I've got 68 now, which I've been collecting off and on for the last few years, grouped into a few topic areas. A close reading will reveal that some of the quotes contradict, while some reinforce others. Hope you find something useful ...


"I hold my inventive capacity on the stern condition that it must master my whole life, often have complete possession of me, make its own demands on me, and sometimes for months together put everything else away from me ...Whoever is devoted to an Art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it and to find his recompense in it." — Charles Dickens

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” — Richard Bach


"Don't loaf and invite inspiration. Light after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it." — Jack London

"Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience." — Henry David Thoreau

"The actual process of writing ...demands complete, noiseless privacy, without even music; a baby howling two blocks away will drive me nuts." — William Styron

“If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework . . . you can still be writing, because you have that space.” — Joyce Carol Oates

"The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes." — Agatha Christie

"When my horse is running good, I don't stop to give him sugar." — William Faulkner


“Make ’em laugh; make ’em cry; make ’em wait.” — Charles Reade

"To write it, it took three months; to conceive it—three minutes; to collect the data in it—all my life." — F. Scott Fitzgerald

"To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world." — Salman Rushdie

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." — Marcel Proust

“ . . . [T]o me the details tell everything. One detail can tell more than any descriptive passage in general, you know. That’s the way my eye sees, so I just use it.” — Eudora Welty

"To project yourself into a consciousness of a person essentially your opposite requires the audacity of great genius; and even men of genius are cautious in approaching the problem." — Henry James

"I only mark that the sign of a masterly writer is his power to break his mould callously." — Virginia Woolf

"I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." — Pablo Picasso

"My theory was that readers just thought that they cared about nothing but the action; that really although they didn't know it, they cared very little about the action. The thing they really cared about, and that I cared about, was the creation of emotion through dialogue and description." — Raymond Chandler

"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around." — George Orwell

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." — George Orwell

"Immerse men in those universal and extreme situations which leave them only a couple of ways out, arrange things so that in choosing the way out they choose themselves, and you've won–the play is good." — Jean-Paul Sartre

"The human brain is the laziest apparatus in the world. If you start to revise before you’ve reached the end, you’re likely to begin dawdling with the revisions and putting off the difficult task of writing. Unless I find I’ve made some drastic mistake in characterization or basic structure, I never go back until I’ve written the last page." — Pearl S. Buck

"Whatever the thing you wish to say, there is but one word to express it, but one word to give it movement, but one adjective to qualify it; you must seek until you find this noun, this verb, this adjective ...When you pass a grocer sitting in his doorway, a porter smoking a pipe, or a cab stand, show me that grocer and that porter...in such a way that I could never mistake them for any other grocer or porter, and by a single word give me to understand wherein the cab horse differs from fifty others before or behind it." — Gustave Flaubert

"Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels." — Francisco de Goya

"Anybody can have ideas—the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph." — Mark Twain

“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.” — Mickey Spillane

"My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying." — Anton Chekhov

"The best stories don't come from 'good vs. bad' but from 'good vs. good." — Leo Tolstoy

"A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others." — William Faulkner

"We are as much informed of a writer's genius by what he selects as by what he originates." — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

"The artist contrives means and marshals forces that the beholder takes for granted and that the bungler never discovers for himself. The artist is always scheming to conquer his material and his audience. When we speak of his craft, we mean quite literally that he is crafty." — Jacques Barzun

"There is no iron that can enter the human heart with such stupefying effect, as a period placed at just the right moment." — Isaac Babel

"A novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past." — Vladimir Nabokov

"Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about." — W. H. Auden

"If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write." — W. Somerset Maugham

"To write well, express yourself like common people, but think like a wise man. Or, think as wise men do, but speak as the common people do. " — Aristotle

"Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it." — William Faulkner

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." — James Joyce

"I try to leave out the parts that people skip." — Elmore Leonard

"Write what you like; there is no other rule." — O. Henry


"My task…is to make you hear, to make you feel—and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything." — Joseph Conrad

“One of the obligations of the writer is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"A writer is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul." — Leo Tolstoy

"Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but moulds it to its purpose. The nineteenth century, as we know it, is largely an invention of Balzac." — Oscar Wilde

"The business of the poet and novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." — Thomas Hardy

“Most writers are trying to find out what they think or feel . . . not simply working from the given, but toward the given, saying the unsayable and steadily asking, ‘What do I really feel about this?’ ” — Robert Penn Warren

“Logic! Good gracious! What rubbish! How can I tell what I think till I see what I say?” — E.M. Forster

"I never know what I think about something until I read what I've written on it." — William Faulkner

"One can’t think without images: If you wish to be a philosopher, write novels." — Albert Camus

“But words are things, and a small drop of ink,

Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces

That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.”

— Lord Byron

“The plot is the line on which I hang the wash, and the wash is what I care about.” — Robert B. Parker

"I don't think any good book is based on factual experience. Bad books are about things the writer already knew before he wrote them." — Carlos Fuentes

"Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we pound out tunes fit to make bears dance, when what we want is to win over the stars." — Gustave Flaubert

"A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it." — William Styron

"He who does not expect a million readers should not write a line." — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

"If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away." — Victor Hugo


"Artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are supersensitive. They keel over like canaries in coal mines filled with poison gas, long before more robust types realize that any danger is there." — Kurt Vonnegut

"No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness." — Aristotle

"The writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master—something that at times strangely wills and works for itself." — Charlotte Bronte

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." — Henry David Thoreau

"All I've ever had is the talent to turn a phrase until it catches the light." — Clive James

"No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self-deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind." — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft." — H.G. Wells


"Somebody said to me, 'But the Beatles were anti-materialistic.' That's a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, 'Now, let's write a swimming pool.'" — Paul McCartney

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

Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases

And never tip his golden cup empty towards the moon!

Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed — Li Po


"The unraveling of a riddle is the purest and most basic act of the human mind." — Vladimir Nabokov

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Comment by Paul McGoran on July 14, 2008 at 9:08am
Thanks for these, Eric. Loved the Chandler quote on the creation of emotion.
Comment by Joy Calderwood on April 16, 2007 at 1:25am
Thank you for sharing your years of collecting these quotes, Eric!

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