The Writing Life

86 Pro Writing Quotes for Writers in 2019

Katelynn Watkins
Written by Katelynn Watkins

“Everyone’s a critic.” Never was there a truer statement when it comes to fiction writing.

But the creative community has plenty of constructive advice to give, too. Whether you’re working on your first manuscript, a piece of flash fiction, or your tenth novel, here are some words of wisdom to help take your creative fiction writing to the next level!

“The trouble with writing fiction is that it has to make sense, whereas real life doesn’t.”
― Iain M. Banks

“When well told, a story captured the subtle movement of change. If a novel was a map of a country, a story was the bright silver pin that marked the crossroads.”
― Ann Patchett

“You take people, you put them on a journey, you give them peril, you find out who they really are.”
― Joss Whedon

“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid… The story is the man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”
― Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder


“The vital power of an imaginative work demands a diversity within its unity; and the stronger the diversity the more massive the unity.”
― D.L. Sayers


“Fueled by my inspiration, I ran across the room to steal the cup of coffee the bookshelf had taken prisoner. Lapping the black watery brew like a hyena, I tossed the empty cup aside. I then returned to the chair to continue my divine act of creation. Hot blood swished in my head as my mighty pen stole across the page.”
― Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy

“Writing fiction feels like an adventurous act, nudging aside reality a word at a time.”
― James Van Pelt


“I can’t imagine anything more shallow or unsatisfying than the cult of realism in fiction that all one wants to do is to write about surfaces and words that people say, the looks on people’s faces, the clothes they’re wearing. When I think of the word fiction I think of someone at a desk, grappling with what are largely unseen, what I call the invisible world or the world of the mind. Fiction starts and for me never gets away from the realm of the mind and even when I read I can never forget that what I am reading is the product of a human hand and that behind what I’m reading is a human voice and I hear that voice in the sentences and phrases I read and being a curious human being I visualize, if I haven’t seen a photograph of the author, I visualize the possessor of that voice.”
― Gerald Murnane


“Action is the pulse of any good story, but the character is the heart. If the action has no consequence to the character, the story loses heart.”
― Linda Yezak


“… I was constantly trying to shoehorn characters into each other’s lives, planting them on street corners or in cafés together so that they could talk. So that they could explain things to each other, from across the great human divide. But it was all so contrived. Contrived and meddlesome, really, because sometimes you just have to let your characters get on with it, which is to say coexist. If their paths cross and they can teach each other something, fine. If they don’t, well, that’s interesting, too. Or, if it isn’t interesting, then maybe you need to back up and start again.”
― Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry


“We will, of course, without hesitation use art to parody, ridicule, debunk, or criticize ideologies–but this is very different.”
― David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays


“I still suspect that most people start out with some kind of ability to tell a story but that it gets lost along the way. Of course, the ability to create life with words is essentially a gift. If you have it in the first place, you can develop it; if you don’t have it, you might as well forget it.”

― Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose


“Memories are made in the creation of fictional characters.”
― Mitta Xinindlu


“Perhaps the critics are right: this generation may not produce literature equal to that of any past generation – who cares? The writer will be dead before anyone can judge him – but he must go on writing, reflecting disorder, defeat, despair, should that be all he sees at the moment, but ever searching for the elusive love, joy, and hope – qualities which, as in the act of life itself, are best when they have to be struggled for, and are not commonly come by with much ease, either by a critic’s formula or by a critic’s yearning.”
― Bill Styron


“Taken to the highest form, description should be both a window to the world and a mirror reflection the heart and soul of the point-of-view character.”
― Karen Azinger, Power Writing: Make Your Genre Fiction Soar: by the Author of The Silk & Steel Saga


“For example, instead of saying that it was a rainy night, you can say, “At night she could see from her window that the postcard-perfect sky from an hour ago had turned to a dark abyss filled with tar-black clouds that had just begun to weep heavily, as though completely devoid of any hope in the humankind beneath.”
― Pawan Mishra, On Writing Wonderfully: The Craft of Creative Fiction Writing


“Writing – the act of one person giving a piece of their soul to another.”
― J. Spredemann


“I read a few of those books on how to write a screenplay, but, just like I told you with the school thing, once again, most of those books are written by someone who’s never written a good script. You look at the writer’s credits and they’ve written one episode of The Golden Girls or something. People who write good scripts, write scripts. They don’t write books about writing scripts.”
― Rob Zombie


“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gift of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”
― Neil Gaiman, April 2013 introduction to Fahrenheit 451


“As a start-up writer, there is need for you to define your area of interest. You should know what inspires you to becoming a writer. Choose what interests you most and make it your pathway to achieving your dream, then work on it. Both fiction and nonfiction writers have everything in common – they are writers, authors, and the both achieve greatness and influence when they write prolifically.”
― Godspower Oparaugo, The ABC of Writing: The Simplest Method to Write Books


“Good fiction can help us to expand our circle of empathy to include people unlike ourselves.”
― Eitan Levy


“Novels don’t contain only exceptional situations, life or death choices, or major ordeals; there are also everyday difficulties, temptations, ordinary disappointments; and, in response, every human attitude, every type of behavior, from the finest to the most wretched… There are grown-ups who will say no, that literature is not life, that novels teach you nothing. They are wrong. Literature informs, instructs, it prepares you for life.”
― Laurence Cossé, A Novel Bookstore


“Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different iconography, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature. You have to be fairly dense to think that Gulliver’s Travels is only a story about a guy having a real fun time among big people and little people and horses and stuff like that. What the book was about was something else. Fantasy can carry quite a serious burden, and so can humor. So what you’re saying is, strip away the trolls and the dwarves and things and put everyone into modern dress, get them to agonize a bit, mention Virginia Woolf a few times, and there! Hey! I’ve got a serious novel. But you don’t actually have to do that.”

― Terry Pratchett


“A key reason one novel receives a one-star review while another gets top stars always boils down to the story-crafting of each. A novel written by an author who does not fully grasp the technical basics of writing fiction is the one likely to get that one-star review.”
― Harold Bascom


“Sometimes fiction was so powerful that it even had reverberations in the real world. When I went to London with Louise and Paul, we visited Sherlock Holmes’ house. Tourists from all over the world were there to see this house. But Sherlock Holmes never existed. Yet people come to see his typewriter, his magnifying glass, his deerstalker, his furniture, his interior, in a reconstruction based on Conan Doyle’s novels. People know this, yet they queue up and pay to visit a house that is just a meticulous recreation of a fiction.”
― Delphine de Vigan, D’après une Histoire Vraie


“You can not describe anything without betraying your point of view, your aspirations, your fears, your hopes. Everything.”
― James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son


“The joy of reading is in discovery; a good writer creates, “gaps, spaces, and absences,” in a richly layered text. He/she creates a desire in the reader to strive for meaning. Paradoxically, the writer guides the reader, but allows them some flexibility to recreate the text, thereby putting their own unique interpretation on what they have read.”
― Suzy Davies


“Commercial fiction writing – where my bread is buttered – is fairly straightforward. The writing is simply efficiency and story. The more you have of one the less you need of the other.”
― Joe Ducie


“I keep being told that my writing is getting better and better. – Now, at first I am thrilled by that, but then I think, Isn’t everybody’s? Do some authors grow cozy with their own style, and stay there? I think of writing fiction as an art form. As such, it’s a constant exploration of new and developing ideas. If any of my books were much like my others, I don’t think I’d even bother to write them.”
― Edward Fahey


“That’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
― Kelly Marcel & Sue Smith


“Writing is like making a delicious cake. Use the best ingredients, layer the flavors, and finish it with panache. If your product is made with good taste, people will ask for more.”
― Claudia McCants, Broken Angel


“Fiction is a careful combination of observation, inspiration, and imagination.”
― Luke Taylor


“Fiction must convince our bodies for it to have any chance of convincing our minds.”
― Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life


“She asserted that the best fictional detail was a chosen detail, not a remembered one – for fictional truth was not only the truth of observation, which was the truth of mere journalism. The best fictional detail was the detail that should have defined the character or the episode or the atmosphere. Fictional truth was what should have happened in a story – not necessarily what did happen or what had happened.”
― John Irving, A Widow for One Year


“Perhaps this is what Henry James meant when he talked about the “irresponsibility” of characters. Characters are irresponsible, art is irresponsible when compared to life, because it is first and foremost important that a character be real, and as readers or watchers we tend to applaud any effort made towards the construction of that reality. We do not, of course, indulge actual people in the world this way at all. In real life, the fact that something seems real to someone is not enough to interest us, or to convince us that that reality is interesting. But the self-reality of fictional characters is deeply engrossing, which is why villains are lovable in literature in ways that they are not in life.”
― James Wood, The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel

“I believe one of the important differences between creating literature and just telling a story around the campfire is that in literature you’re recreating the experience of life, not just relaying a ‘this happened, then that happened’ kind of narrative. The specific details and layers of depth that make the world of the story — and what the character is experiencing in that world — as real as possible are elements I love as a reader and, consequently, elements I strive to use effectively as a writer.”
― Lara Campbell McGehee


“Writing is a solitary business. It’s just you and your characters and a blank page you need to fill.”
― Shannon Celebi


“Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays


“J.R.R. Tolkien has confessed that about a third of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, some ruffian named Strider confronted the hobbits in an inn, and Tolkien was in despair. He didn’t know who Strider was, where the book was going, or what to write next. Strider turns out to be no lesser person than Aragorn, the unrecognized and uncrowned king of all the forces of good, whose restoration to rule is, along with the destruction of the evil ring, the engine that moves the plot of the whole massive trilogy, The Lord of the Rings.”
― Ansen Dibell, Plot


“If they are good characters, they have minds of their owns. If they are great characters, they go stomping off into the sunset and leave you to pick up the trash.”
― Wendi Kelly


“Good fiction is trawling back into the past and digging up the real characters who’ve influenced your entire being.”
― Ken Scott


“People say to me they don’t have time to write and I just look at them like they’re crazy. Like I have time to write?? If you want to be a writer there’s only one way to do it…make time to write.”
― D.A. Nelson


“Editing fiction is like using your fingers to untangle the hair of someone you love.”
― Stephanie Roberts


“To be stories at all they must be a series of events: but it must be understood that this series – the plot, as we call it – is only really a net whereby to catch something else.”
― C.S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature


“A related question is where in time to begin. Should you begin far back in a character’s past and move forward, or should you begin in the present and make use of flashbacks only where necessary? … If the material with which you want to open the story is from the character’s deep past, then there has to be an important relationship between what has happened in the past and what is about to happen. In other words, is the material with which you open the story an arrow pointing toward the unified effect?”
― Julie Checkoway, Creating Fiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs


“Your choice of genre has ramifications for the story. Fun ramifications. Ramifications that will help you accomplish what it is you’re hoping to do with this novel… It’s all about the impact of your core story idea. What genre would give your idea the maximum support in your effort to accomplish the things you love about it?”

– Jeff Gerke, Write Your Novel in a Month


“Writers write about how it feels to be human. Just as a sommelier must attune to the subtle difference between hints of peach or orange in a pinot gris, writers must attune to the subtle difference between lust and desire or outrage and disgust.”

– William Kenower, Fearless Writing


“You know, there are no rules. Whether [or not] I hit the keyboard, I’m writing in my head. I’m working on my books all the time. I write best in short, intense periods. A period, say, of three or four months – very intense work. And then I draw back and read, and I do other things. Again, I don’t think there’s any rule to any of this. It’s the greatest profession because you do it all in your own way.”

– Anne Rice 


“If I write in public, every time I need to know what a character is doing with his hand or foot, I can look up and study people and find compelling gestures that I can harvest. Writing in public gives you that access to a junkyard of details all around you.”

– Chuck Palahniuk 


“Plainspoken writing looks easy. But to write plainly, transparently, takes modesty, discipline and saintly restraint. The result goes down like a glass of clean cold water, and is hard to argue with.”

– Peter Selgin, 179 Ways to Save a Novel


“The triumph is to hold a finished novel in your hand that’s going to be published in four or five months and that it’s not awful. The triumph is that it’s not awful.”

– Anne Lamott 

“There’s this feeling in the world that artistic ability is just a gift and there’s nothing else to it. I think it’s a skill set. It’s no different than math. It’s a thing you need to learn how to do – you need to practice it.”

– Andy Weir


“If the protagonist is the most important character in your story, your antagonist should be willing to fight for the same distinction. In sports, playing a tough competitor helps you up your game, and your hero needs a powerful opponent to up his game as well. Too many antagonists are poorly drawn – cardboard villains who do not pose a threat worthy of your protagonist or your story. Create a complex and well-rounded villain.”

– Paula Munier, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings


“As a man, you know who is right and who is wrong; you have to judge. As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.”

– Ernest Hemingway


“Stories come out of living, and looking, and reacting, and observing and thinking. I can’t explain what the source is… That’s the experience of being alive and trying to render it coherent somehow.”

– Jhumpa Lahiri


“Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. Exercise the writing muscle every day.”

– Jane Yolen


“The X factor on every page is, does the writer love what they’re writing about? Anything you love that you’ve read in your life, from page 1, you feel the writer’s passion. That’s the thing that you can’t put your finger on.”

– Brad Meltzer


“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.”

– Sylvia Plath 


“Ideas come from everywhere, provided that you’re thinking about everything that happens to you as a potential story. I like to think that the difference between storytellers and nonstorytellers is that we storytellers, like fishermen, are constantly dragging an “idea net” along with us. Other people pass through their lives and never notice how many stories are going on all around them; we, however, think of everything as a potential story.”

– Orson Scott Card, Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction 


“Falsely straining yourself to put something into a book where it doesn’t really belong, it’s not doing anybody any favors. And the reader can tell.”

– Margaret Atwood


“Writing is at its best – always, always, always – when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”

– Stephen King


“What happens is that I find characters that I both love and worry about. And then I have to keep writing to see if they’re going to be ok or not.”

– Wally Lamb


“Try to develop steady work habits, but keep to it. Don’t be thin-skinned or easily discouraged because it’s an odds long proposition; all of the arts are.”

– John Updike


“You write every day. You make it a point of sitting down and writing even if you have absolutely nothing in your mind to write. The act of sitting there and trying to produce something is really important.”

– Dave Barry 


“Ask yourself the vital question: why now? Why is this story happening now? Why do we, the audience, need to see the story that’s happening now – what is the value of us entering the world at this point in time? This will help you figure out the shift in the status quo that led us here. It’s not just about an inciting incident, but about the prominence and urgency of the problem.”

– Chuck Wendig, Damn Fine Story 


“When you create foreboding, remember to think about atmosphere and mood. Invoke the senses. Think about how you can use sound – like the plaintive cawing of seagulls or a crying child – or smell – think of what kind of effect a foul odor will have on a character. Foreboding happens in the moment; you don’t have to make good on it the way you do if you use foreshadowing. You’re painting an atmosphere to establish a feeling of unease and worry in the reader.”

– Jordan Rosenfeld, Make a Scene, Revised and Expanded Edition


“The narrative and the way authors present themselves [inspires confidence that I’ll be able to find the work a home with a publisher]. There isn’t a magic formula or a gimmick or even a subgenre that really works for me; I’m not someone that’s actively looking for the same thing over and over.”

– Eddie Schneider, JABberwocky Literary Agency


“If you’ve got something that’s unfixable, you’ve got two choices: you can either beat your head against the wall and try to do the impossible or you can set it aside, put it away, chalk it up to experience and try to write a different novel.”

– Nicholas Sparks 


“If you do everything in your power to avoid writing and still can’t, then you must be a writer.”

– Fannie Flagg


“The most important thing is character. Nothing is more fascinating than human nature and how people react.”

– Michael Connelly 


“A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality, and he trusts he can plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results.”

– Mark Twain


“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

– Zora Neale Hurston


“The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.”

– Agatha Christie


“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself. This is hard to do alone.”

– Zadie Smith


“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. 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


“Quantity produces quality. If you only write a few things, you’re doomed.”

– Ray Bradbury


“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”

– Joseph Conrad


“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”

– Michael Crichton


“When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”

– Stephen King


“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


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

– Anton Chekhov


“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”

– George Orwell


“What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn, was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one hopes to publish.”

– Thomas Wolfe


“No one says a novel has to be one thing. It can be anything it wants to be, a vaudeville show, the six o’clock news, the mumblings of wild men saddled by demons.”

– Ishmael Reed


“Most authors liken the struggle of writing to something mighty and macho, like wrestling a bear. Writing a book is nothing like that. It is a small, slow crawl to the finish line. Honestly, I have moments when I don’t even care if anyone reads this book. I just want to finish it.”

– Amy Poehler


“As much as I like it when a book I’m writing speeds along, the downside can be that an author becomes too eager to finish and rushes the end. The end is even more important than the first page, and rushing can damage it.”

– David Morrell

There you have it – 86 pearls of wisdom to keep you going through your next writing spree. So, tell us – how’s the manuscript coming?

About the author

Katelynn Watkins

Katelynn Watkins

Writer and editor Katelynn Watkins is a self-described word nerd currently based in Wilmington, NC. In addition to working with Re:Fiction and taking on clients independently, she writes for local and regional magazines and edits works of fiction for Parliament House Press and Regal House Publishing. She earned an MFA in popular fiction writing and publishing from Emerson College, is a guest member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, and regularly judges entries for contests conducted by Writer's Digest. In her downtime, Katelynn enjoys exploring new hangouts, people-watching, beach-going, dancing, and yes, a good book - often in the company of her husband and their two cats. Find out more about her editing side hustle, Watkins Editorial, or say hi on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Goodreads.

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