Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Inspirational Quotes for Writers

Inspiration comes from many sources. Photo (c) Janet Cameron

According to The Talmud, "a quotation at the right moment is like bread to the famished." 

Quotations from ancient to modern writers and thinkers can help to provide a fresh angle on what makes writing truly memorable. 
In gathering these small gems of wisdom, it's refreshing to see how people have struggled with the same writing dilemmas since long before Christ, and have, for the most part, arrived at similar realisations. Sometimes subtle, sometimes brutally honest, sharp or incisive, there will be something here for all writers who need that extra jolt of inspiration.
Creating wonderful, three-dimensional characters is one of the first priorities for the new writer because, unless we can relate to them in their struggles, their story will not grip our imagination. The importance of warm, lively, real characters has been endorsed by many writers. The two quoted below created some of the most memorable characters in English literature.
"Oh! it is only a novel!... only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda, or, in short, only some work in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language." ~ Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, (1818)
"The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. If it does not convince, it is flat pretending to the round." ~E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel, (1927)
Every writer experiences a fallow period from time to time, sometimes due to a need to recharge internal energies and sometimes as a result of external circumstances, as the following writers demonstrate.
"Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite, / 'Fool!' said my Muse to me, "look in thy heart and write." ~ Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella (1591)
"So all my best is dressing old words new, / Spending again what is already spent." ~ William Shakespeare, Sonnet 76 (1609)
"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
In the end, it all comes down to passion. If we don't feel passionate about what we do, how can we expect our readers to feel passion?
"Works of serious purpose and grand promises often have a purple patch or two stiched on, to shine far and wide." ~ Horace, (65-8 BC) Ars Poetica.
"Never forget what I believe was observed to you by Coleridge, that every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." ~ William Wordsworth, letter to Lady Beaumont, 21 May 1807.
"Only connect... Only connect the prose and the passion." ~ E.M.Forster, Howards End,(1910)
As Willa Cather says, it doesn't matter how many times a story has been repeated, each must be told as though for the very first time. All you need is a new, fresh angle.
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before." ~ Willa Cather, O Pioneers, (1913)
Often, editing is easier to do if you have left a break after finishing your first draft before attempting to correct and revise your work, although maybe Voltaire's suggestion is a little over-the-top:
"You can never correct your work well until you have forgotten it." ~ Voltaire (1694-1778)
The importance of removing empty or superfluous words, phrases and repetition and applying ruthless editing have been recognised since before Christ. Today, we have honed our editing skills to a fine art, striking out adjectives and adverbs, while setting store by the use of specific nouns and strong verbs.
"Often you must turn your stylus to erase if you hope to write something worth a second reading." ~ Horace, Roman poet, (65-8BC)
"We must beat the iron while it is hot, but we may polish it at leisure." ~ John Dryden, Aeneis (1697)
"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." ~ Henry David Thoreau in a letter to Harrison Blake, 16 November, 1857.
"As to the Adjective, when in doubt, strike it out." ~ Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson(1894)
The following is an over-simplification - nothing is quite so black and white - even if there is an uncomfortable element of truth in A. Johnston's witty quotation.
"If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research." ~ Wilson Mizner, in A. Johnston's The Legendary Mizners (1953)
Special Dedication
As for irony, here is a beautiful example by the writer, P.G. Wodehouse.
"To my daughter, Leonora, without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time." ~ P.G. Wodehouse, The Heart of a Goof dedication (1926)
Learning from the Past - and Moving On
It is humbling to realise that insights into the craft of writing have many historical precedents and that nothing is actually new. What is equally true is that we have to find new, fresh, exciting ways to tell our stories so that we will continue to engage our readers in years to come.
  • The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Ed. Susan Ratcliffe, Oxford University Press, 1994.
  • 3,500 Good Quotes for Speakers, Gerald F. Lieberman, Thorsons Publishers Limited, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1984.
  • Reader's Digest Pocket Treasury of Great Quotations, The Readers Digest Association Limited, London, 1979.
  • A Woman's Notebook, Exley Publications Ltd., Watford, Herts, 1988.

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