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I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth. The fact is they’re using made-up names, made-up people, made-up places, and made-up times, but they’’re telling the truth about the human being — what we are capable of, what makes us lose, laugh, weep, fall down, and gnash our teeth and wring our hands and kill each other and love each other.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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Added on 8-Aug-18 | Last updated 8-Aug-18
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I’m convinced if I keep going one day I will write something decent. On very bad days I will observe that I must have written good things in the past, which means that I’ve lost it. But normally I just assume that I don’t have it. The gulf between the thing I set out to make in my head and the sad, lumpy thing that emerges into reality is huge and distant and I just wish that I could get them closer.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 2-Oct-17 | Last updated 2-Oct-17
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There’s nothing like studying the bestseller lists of bygone years for teaching an author humility. You’ve heard of the ones that got filmed, normally. Mostly you realize that today’s bestsellers are tomorrow’s forgotten things.

Neil Gaiman (b. 1960) British fabulist
“This Much I Know,” The Guardian (5 Aug 2017)
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Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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My poems are naughty, but my life is pure.

[Lasciva est nobis pagina, vita proba.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 1, poem 4, l. 8
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Alt. trans.: "Wanton is my page; my life is good." [tr. Ker (1919)]

Alt. trans.: "My page indulges in freedoms, but my life is pure." [tr. Bohn (1859)]
Added on 2-Aug-17 | Last updated 2-Aug-17
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Back in the nineteen-hundreds it was a wonderful experience for a boy to discover H. G. Wells. There you were, in a world of pedants, clergymen and golfers, with your future employers exhorting you to “get on or get out”, your parents systematically warping your sexual life, and your dull-witted schoolmasters sniggering over their Latin tags; and here was this wonderful man who could tell you about the inhabitants of the planets and the bottom of the sea, and who knew that the future was not going to be what respectable people imagined.

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“Wells, Hitler, and the World State,” Horizon (Aug 1941)
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Added on 27-Jul-17 | Last updated 31-Jul-17
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Why do I write? I guess that’s been asked of every writer. I don’t know. It isn’t any massive compulsion. I don’t feel, you know, God dictated that I should write. You know, thunder rends the sky and a bony finger comes down from the clouds and says, “You. You write. You’re the anointed.” I never felt that. I suppose it’s part compulsion, part a channel for what your brain is churning up.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Rod Serling: The Facts of Life,” Interview with Linda Brevelle (4 Mar 1975)
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Added on 3-Jul-17 | Last updated 3-Jul-17
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There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) American writer, folklorist, anthropologist
Dust Tracks on a Road, ch. 8 (1942)

Sometimes misattributed to Maya Angelou.
Added on 16-Jun-17 | Last updated 16-Jun-17
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The writer … when he’s rejected, that paper is rejected, in a sense, a sizable fragment of the writer is rejected as well. It’s a piece of himself that’s being turned down. And how often can this happen before suddenly you begin to question your own worth and your own value? And even worse, fundamentally, your own talent?

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“Rod Serling: The Facts of Life,” Interview with Linda Brevelle (4 Mar 1975)
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Added on 15-May-17 | Last updated 15-May-17
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The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
Speech, Library of Congress (1968)
Added on 1-May-17 | Last updated 1-May-17
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A sacrifice, if we may say so, to the god Brevity, whom all historians, indeed, all who work with the written word, ought to worship.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
The Phoenix Guards (1991)
Added on 30-Dec-16 | Last updated 30-Dec-16
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If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up either.

cain-writing-keep-you-up-at-night-wist_info-quote

James M. Cain (1892-1977) American author and journalist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Nov-16 | Last updated 1-Nov-16
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A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

chesterton-good-novel-truth-bad-novel-truth-wist_info-quote

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
Heretics, ch. 15 “On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set” (1905)
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Added on 25-Oct-16 | Last updated 25-Oct-16
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The profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader. The profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until an equal mind and heart finds and publishes it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
Letters and Social Aims, “Quotation and Originality” (1876)
Added on 18-Aug-16 | Last updated 18-Aug-16
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If you have a good idea, get it out there. For every idea I’ve realized, I have ten I sat on for a decade till someone else did it first. Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE.

Whedon - make - wist_info quote

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“Dollhouse’s Joss Whedon Answers Your Questions,” Hulu Blog (9 Mar 2009)
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Added on 17-Jun-16 | Last updated 17-Jun-16
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Wouldst thou find my ashes? Look
In the pages of my book;
And, as these thy hands doth turn,
Know here is my funeral urn.

Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914) American poet
“The Immortal Residue” (1915)
Added on 26-May-16 | Last updated 26-May-16
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Never does a man portray his own character more vividly than in his manner of portraying another’s.

Richter - portray his own character - wist_info quote

Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) German novelist, art historian, aesthetician [pseud. Jean-Paul]
Titan, “Twenty-Eighth Jubilee” (1800-03)
Added on 19-May-16 | Last updated 19-May-16
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Why are not more gems from our early prose writers scattered over the country by the periodicals? Selections are so far from preventing the study of the entire authors that they promote it. Who could read the extracts which Lamb has given from Fuller, without wishing to read more of the old Prebendary? But great old books of the great old authors are not in every body’s reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly than to know them only here and there, yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have neither time nor means to get more. Let every bookworm, when, in any fragrant, scarce old tome, he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration, that does his heart good, hasten to give it the widest circulation that newspapers and magazines, penny and halfpenny, can afford.

Coleridge - fragrant scarce old tome - wist_info quote

Hartley Coleridge (1796-1849) English poet, biographer, essayist, teacher
Biographia Borealis: or, Lives of Distinguished Northerns, “Roger Ascham” (1833)
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Speaking of the practice of including brief extracts -- quotations -- from famous authors in magazines and newspapers to fill up columns or create a break between stories. Ironically, this extracted quotation -- slightly paraphrased -- was widely circulated in the mid-late 19th and early 20th Century misattributed to his father, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or simply labeled as "Coleridge" without citation, leading to the same confusion.

Usually quoted more succinctly as: "Why are not more gems from our great authors scattered over the country? Great books are not in everybody's reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly, than to know them only here and there; yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have neither time nor means to get more. Let every bookworm, when in any fragrant, scarce old tome he discovers a sentence, a story, an illustration, that does his heart good, hasten to give it."
Added on 12-May-16 | Last updated 12-May-16
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There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth the publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and to get sensible men to read it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words, Preface (1820)
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Added on 14-Mar-16 | Last updated 14-Mar-16
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It is impossible to discourage the real writers — they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) American novelist, playwright
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Dec-15 | Last updated 1-Dec-15
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Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps twenty players, and Tennessee Williams has about five, and Samuel Beckett one — and maybe a clone of that one. I have ten or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

Gore Vidal (1925-2012) American novelist, dramatist, critic
Time (17 Apr 1978)
Added on 27-Aug-15 | Last updated 27-Aug-15
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There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
(Attributed)

The earliest (uncited) attribution is from 1977. More discussion here.
Added on 29-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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Next to doing things that deserve to be written, there is nothing that gets a man more credit, or gives him more pleasure, than to write things that deserve to be read.

Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) English statesman, wit [Philip Dormer Stanhope]
Letter to his son (1739)
Added on 19-Jan-15 | Last updated 19-Jan-15
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The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
(Attributed)
Added on 12-Dec-14 | Last updated 12-Dec-14
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Books may preach when the author cannot, when the author may not, when the author dares not, yes, and which is more, when the author is not.

Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) English Puritan divine, writer
Heaven on Earth (1654)
Added on 10-Dec-14 | Last updated 10-Dec-14
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Journalism is a good place for any writer to start — the retelling of fact is always a useful trade and can it help you learn to appreciate the declarative sentence. A young writer is easily tempted by the allusive and ethereal and ironic and reflective, but the declarative is at the bottom of most good writing.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
“Post to the Host” (Jul 2005)
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Added on 4-Dec-14 | Last updated 4-Dec-14
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Don’t panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends’ embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce … Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end. Leaving the desk for a while can help. Talking the problem through can help me recall what I was trying to achieve before I got stuck. Going for a long walk almost always gets me thinking about my manuscript in a slightly new way. And if all else fails, there’s prayer. St Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers, has often helped me out in a crisis. If you want to spread your net more widely, you could try appealing to Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, too.

Sarah Waters (b. 1966) Welsh novelist
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 19-Nov-14 | Last updated 19-Nov-14
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You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Will Self (b. 1961) English author, journalist, television personality
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 12-Nov-14 | Last updated 12-Nov-14
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If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

Hilary Mantel (b. 1952) English writer
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 5-Nov-14 | Last updated 5-Nov-14
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HENRY: I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you might nudge the world a little or make a poem that children will speak for you when you are dead.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
The Real Thing, Act 2, sc. 5 (1982)
Added on 31-Oct-14 | Last updated 31-Oct-14
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All styles are good, except the tiresome kind.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
L’Enfant prodigue, Preface (1736)
Added on 28-Oct-14 | Last updated 28-Oct-14
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Write a book you’d like to read. If you wouldn’t read it, why would anybody else?

Hilary Mantel (b. 1952) English writer
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 22-Oct-14 | Last updated 22-Oct-14
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A character is never the author who created him. It is quite likely, however, that an author may be all his characters simultaneously.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Rebel, Part 2 “Metaphysical Rebellion” (1951)

A remark made about the Marquis de Sade.
Added on 20-Oct-14 | Last updated 20-Oct-14
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All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet — it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.

Joss Whedon (b. 1964) American screenwriter, author, producer [Joseph Hill Whedon]
“I Am Joss Wedon — AMA,” Reddit (10 Apr 2012)
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On fan fiction and academic analysis.
Added on 15-Oct-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-14
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A good style should show no signs of effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Summing Up, ch. 13 (1938)
Added on 14-Oct-14 | Last updated 14-Oct-14
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JOYCE: An artist is the magician put among men to gratify — capriciously — their urge for immortality. The temples are built and brought down around him, continuously and contiguously, from Troy to the fields of Flanders. If there is any meaning in any of it, it is in what survives as art, yes even in the celebration of tyrants, yes even in the celebration of nonentities. What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist’s touch? Dust. A forgotten expedition prompted by Greek merchants looking for new markets. A minor redistribution of broken pots. But it is we who stand enriched, by a tale of heroes, of a golden apple, a wooden horse, a face that launched a thousand ships —– and above all, of Ulysses, the wanderer, the most human, the most complete of all heroes — husband, father, son, lover, farmer, soldier, pacifist, politician, inventor and adventurer.

Tom Stoppard (b. 1937) Czech-English playwright and screenwriter
Travesties. Act 1 (1974)

Stoppard called this "the most important" speech in the play.
Added on 3-Oct-14 | Last updated 3-Oct-14
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If the thought or substance is fully mastered, the style will take care of itself. Good style in writing is like happiness in living — something that comes to you, if it comes at all, only if you are pre-occupied with something else: if you deliberately go after it, you will probably not get it.

Carl L. Becker (1873-1945) American historian
“The Art of Writing,” Detachment and the Writing of History [ed. Snyder (1958)]
Added on 30-Sep-14 | Last updated 30-Sep-14
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Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
Orlando: A Biography, ch. 4 (1928)
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The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland. If you write about yourself the slightest deviation makes you realize instantly that there may be honor among thieves, but you are just a dirty liar.

Groucho Marx (1890-1977) American comedian [b. Julius Henry Marx]
Groucho and Me (1959)
Added on 27-Aug-14 | Last updated 27-Aug-14
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It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours’ relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone into their composition; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.

W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) English novelist and playwright [William Somerset Maugham]
The Moon and Sixpence (1919)
Added on 19-Aug-14 | Last updated 19-Aug-14
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The best fame is a writer’s fame: it’s enough to get a table at a good restaurant, but not enough that you get interrupted when you eat.

Fran Lebowitz (b. 1950) American journalist
In The Observer (30 May 1993)
Added on 5-Aug-14 | Last updated 5-Aug-14
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The only happy author in this world is he who is below the care of reputation.

Washington Irving (1783-1859) American author [pseud. for Geoffrey Crayon]
Tales of a Traveler, Part 2 “The Poor-Devil Author” (1824)
Added on 29-Jul-14 | Last updated 29-Jul-14
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The most original modern authors are not so because they advance what is new, but simply because they know how to put what they have to say, as if it had never been said before.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) German poet, statesman, scientist
“The Poet’s Year,” A Criticism of the Poems of J. H. Voss [tr. Austin]
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Added on 22-Jul-14 | Last updated 22-Jul-14
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Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
A Room of One’s Own, ch. 3 (1929)
Added on 21-Jul-14 | Last updated 21-Jul-14
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Those authors into whose hands nature has placed a magic wand, with which they no sooner touch us than we forget the unhappiness in life, than the darkness leaves our soul, and we are reconciled to existence, should be placed among the benefactors of the human race.

Denis Diderot (1713-1784) French editor, philosopher
(Attributed)

Attributed in Maturin M. Ballou, Treasury of Thought (1884 ed.).
Added on 15-Jul-14 | Last updated 15-Jul-14
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There are three difficulties in authorship;– to write any thing worth the publishing — to find honest men to publish it — and to get sensible men to read it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon, Preface (1821 ed.)
Added on 24-Jun-14 | Last updated 4-Aug-14
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A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
A Room of One’s Own, ch. 1 (1929)
Added on 23-Jun-14 | Last updated 23-Jun-14
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Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

Anne Enright (b. 1962) Irish writer
In “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction,” The Guardian (20 Feb 2010)
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Added on 19-Jun-14 | Last updated 19-Jun-14
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If you liked a book, don’t meet the author.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) American novelist
(Attributed)
Added on 17-Jun-14 | Last updated 17-Jun-14
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While an author is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst performance, and when he is dead we rate them by his best.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Plays of William Shakespeare, Preface (1765)
Added on 13-Jun-14 | Last updated 13-Jun-14
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I am strongly of opinion that an author had far better not read any reviews of his books: the unfavourable ones are almost certain to make him cross, and the favourable ones conceited; and neither of these results is desirable.

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) English writer and mathematician [pseud. of Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]
Sylvie and Bruno (1889)
Added on 10-Jun-14 | Last updated 10-Jun-14
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About the most originality that enny writer kan hope tew arrive at honestly, now-a-days, is tew steal with good judgment.

[About the most originality that any writer can hope to arrive at honestly, nowadays, is to steal with good judgment.]

Josh Billings (1818-1885) American humorist [pseud. of Henry Wheeler Shaw]
Josh Billings on Ice, and Other Things, ch. 41 “Orphan Children” (1868)
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Variant: "About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."
Added on 3-Jun-14 | Last updated 3-Jun-14
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Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté.

Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) Canadian writer, literary critic, environmental activist
Quoted in Evening Standard (London) (9 Apr 2002)
Added on 27-May-14 | Last updated 27-May-14
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Maintaining integrity as a private detective is difficult; to preserve it for the hundred thousand words of a book would be impossible for me, as it has been for so many others. Nothing corrupts a man so deeply as writing a book; the myriad temptations are overwhelming.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
The Mother Hunt, ch. 9 [Wolfe] (1963)
Added on 10-Apr-14 | Last updated 10-Apr-14
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The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“Truth of Intercourse” (1881)
Added on 18-Dec-13 | Last updated 18-Dec-13
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And perhaps there is no advice to give a writer more important than this: — Never write anything that does not give you great pleasure.

Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) French moralist
Pensées (1838) [ed. Auster (1983)]
Added on 2-Dec-13 | Last updated 13-May-16
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