Words from the Wise

Guest Post by Marcia Strykowski

Every day, more and more people take pen to paper (or put fingers to keys) in search of their inner muse. It takes a long time to become a skilled writer and nothing is more valuable than practice, studying great works, and joining a critique group. Meanwhile, for those who want a very basic mini-course, I thought I’d share my favorite writing tips. Rather than foolishly trying to improve on the masters, I searched through the hundreds of quotations already out there. It was difficult to narrow the list down, but I especially agree with the following words of wisdom. (I’ve also boldly added in one of my own suggestions at the end.)

author group 1
From their workspace to yours, from top left: F. Scott Fitzgerald, E. B. White, Ezra Pound, Mark Twain, Phyllis A. Whitney, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King.

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

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” Barbara Kingsolver

“If you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Stephen King

“Beginning writers must appreciate the prerequisites if they hope to become writers. You pay your dues—which takes years.” Alex Haley

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

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” William Faulkner

“You must want to 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 A. Whitney

“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” Henry David Thoreau

“My aim is to put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.” Ernest Hemingway

“I write as straight as I can, just as I walk as straight as I can, because that is the best way to get there.” H.G. Wells

“Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.” Ezra Pound

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Robert Frost

“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.” E.L. Doctorow

“As for the adjective, when in doubt leave it out.” Mark Twain

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekhov

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” Kurt Vonnegut

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” John Steinbeck

“There is no satisfactory explanation of style, no infallible guide to good writing, no assurance that a person who thinks clearly will be able to write clearly, no key that unlocks the door, no inflexible rules by which the young writer may steer his course. He will often find himself steering by stars that are disturbingly in motion.” E. B. White

“When you get in a tight place & everything goes against you, till it seems you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”  Harriet Beecher Stowe

“Shut down the internet, set a timer for 15 minutes, and write. Hopefully, when the timer goes off, you will be involved in your story enough to keep going.” Marcia Strykowski

Readers, share your favorite writing quotes in the comments!

This post originally appeared on Marcia’s blog. Thanks for visiting and sharing, Marcia!

Connect with Marcia Strykowski
Twitter: @ MarciaStry

marcia-promo-final-close-upMarcia Strykowski works at a public library. After earning her BS in Fine Arts, she worked for seven years in textbook publishing. She is a member of SCBWI. After numerous magazine and anthology contributions, CALL ME AMY was Marcia’s first novel. It was chosen for BankStreet College of Education’s Best Books of 2014. AMY’S CHOICE, a sequel to CALL ME AMY, was released the following year. Both tween novels were published by Luminis Books. You can find out more about Marcia and her books at www.marciastrykowski.com


  1. Thanks for sharing such a great collection of inspiring quotes 🙂 .

    Although not specifically about writing, I think this quote by Thomas H. Huxley applies:
    “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember this post from your wonderful Blog. I actually printed it out and shared it with my writing class at the time. I love seeing the quotes and the pictures of the other authors. I especially liked your quote! I also have enjoyed both of your books, Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice. I am looking forward to your third novel!
    Thank you for another great post! A wonderful guide to go by!


  3. I find this post fascinating. As a retiree that is now getting into the field of photography I find so many of these quotes relevant to my journey. Stephen King’s quote could easily be changed to “visit many photo/art exhibits and take a lot of photos.” The quotes by Alex Haley, E.B. White, and Barbara Kingsolver could ring true in so many different artistic fields (writing, painting, sculpting, etc.)

    This is a very thought provoking post. I am sure I will come back to it many times.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wonderful quotes! Love them all, but esp. the Faulkner, Chekhov.
    I love lots of quotes by Vonnegut. Here’s one: You develop a style from writing a lot.
    I have many others on my blog that I read often to inspire. I’ll have to add some of these. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mark Twain has the best advice! Two other favorites of mine are: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” & “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s