It's never been a better time to be a writer --or aspire to become one.
Platforms like LinkedIn, Medium, and WordPress have placed millions of dollars of technology, and the power that once only belonged to major publishing and media firms, into the hands of millions of writers -- entirely for free.
But technology can only take a writer so far. Writing is an art and a craft that needs to be developed through deliberate practice and study over a long period of time. Fortunately, some of the world's greatest writers, the ones who mastered the craft and whose names have been passed down to us through time, gifted us not only with their stories. Many of them took time in-between the creation of their novels and short stories and poems to codify their writing philosophies, their writing strategies, and their writing habits.
Some of these authors recorded their thoughts on writing in books, some as essays, and some as letters to their friends, lovers, and editors.
If you're ever in need of inspiration or just want a few quick tips to help keep your words flowing onto the screen, just dip into the wisdom of these great authors. Here are 50 nuggets of writing wisdom from some of the greatest authors of all time:
"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect."
"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."
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
"One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple."
--Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write."
"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."
"Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window."
"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
--Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
"Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced."
--Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live."
--Henry David Thoreau
"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people."
--Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades
"Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."
--Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
"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 Jr., A Man Without a Country
"Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly."
"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in."
--Robert Louis Stevenson
"You can make anything by writing."
"A word after a word after a word is power."
"Tears are words that need to be written."
"You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write."
"Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money."
"To survive, you must tell stories."
--Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before
"Always be a poet, even in prose."
"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster."
"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."
"I write to discover what I know."
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."
― John Steinbeck
"A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time--proof that humans can work magic."
― Carl Sagan
"Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish."
― Hermann Hesse
"Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing."
― Norman Mailer
"Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write."
― Rainer Maria Rilke
"As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand."
― Ernest Hemingway
"A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends."
― Friedrich Nietzsche
"The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do."
"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative."
-- Elmore Leonard
"Writers live twice."
-- Natalie Goldberg
"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme."
"Words are a lens to focus one's mind."
- Ayn Rand
"I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within."
"Writing is its own reward."
"A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God."
"I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged."
"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
"Half my life is an act of revision."
"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good."
"Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being."
--A. A. Milne
"When you make music or write or create, it's really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you're writing about at the time. "
Most people look at their bank accounts with great attention and assess how much money they have to spend, to invest, and to give away… But, they don’t look at their time the same way, and end up wasting this incredibly valuable resource. In fact, time is much more valuable than money because you can use your time to make money, but you can’t use money to purchase more time.
Time is the great equalizer… Each day has only 24 hours - nobody has any more than anyone else. Everyone, from poets to presidents, fills those hours, one after the other, until they are all filled up. Every single minute is unique, and once gone, can never be regained.
When you look at someone who has accomplished a lot, you can be pretty sure that he or she has spent considerable amounts of time mastering the required skills, filling hours upon hours with hard work. There are those who look at others’ accomplishments and say, “I had that idea, “ or “I could have done that.” But ideas are cheap and intentions are just that. If you don’t invest the time needed to achieve those goals then all you have are empty ambitions.
People often say, “I don’t have the time to…” Fill in the blank with whatever you like: exercise, make dinner, write a book, start a company, run for political office. What makes these people think that they have less time than anyone else? Of course they don’t. We all have the same 24 hours in each day and make real decisions about how we spend them. If you really want to get in shape, then carve out time to exercise. If you want to write a book, then pick up a pen and do it. And, if you want to run for president, then get started. It isn’t going to happen if you plan your day around your favorite TV shows or spend hours updating your Facebook page. These are entertaining distractions that eat up your irreplaceable time.
I teach a course on creativity and innovation at Stanford University. During a workshop on how to brainstorm I often give the following prompt: There aren’t enough hours in a day. Come up with creative solutions to this dilemma. The brainstorming results in a an endless list of solutions – from the practical to the preposterous – demonstrating that there are lots of ways to extract more from each hour, each day, and each year. Some of the most interesting solutions involve figuring out how to do two things at once. I know many people who have successfully incorporated this approach into their own lives.
For instance, I met a woman named Audrey Carlson several years ago who was struggling to figure out how to spend time with her friends and take care of her growing family. She started a group called “Chop and Chat.” Every Sunday six friends got together to cook at a member’s home. Each member brought the ingredients to make a different recipe that was then split into six portions. Members took home six different main courses for the week. Chop and Chat was an inventive way for the women to cook together, socialize, and prepare meals for their families.
Another example is venture capitalist Fern Mandelbaum. You would assume that meetings with Fern take place in her office… and you’d be wrong. Fern is an avid athlete and her meetings take place on hiking paths. Everyone who knows Fern knows to wear walking shoes and carry a bottle of water to their meetings in anticipation of a strenuous hike. Fern finds that this strategy is a great way to get to know each entrepreneur while also getting exercise.
There is an oft-quoted saying that "time is money." You can interpret this to mean that time is a valuable currency. In fact, each day another 24 hours is deposited into each of our “bank accounts.” We get a choice about how to spend these hours. We decide how much we spend right away, how much gets invested for the future, and how much we give away. The worst choice is to waste these hours by letting them slip away.
It is almost noon, and I have 12 more hours to invest today!
Tina Seelig is the author of What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, published by HarperCollins.