20 Inspiring Quotes From Famous Authors on the Art of Writing and Life

Shakespeare First Folio

Title page of Shakespeare's First Folio (1623). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])

Aspiring writers often wonder where to begin. Love, suffering, loss, humor—all artists attempt to capture the human experience. This can be a daunting task for first-time novelists and young poets. For inspiration and guidance, beginners may turn to the words of legendary novelists. For experienced writers, the wisdom of literary luminaries such as Maya Angelou, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and J.D. Salinger offers a chance to meditate on the craft. Insightful by their profession, authors have reflected on writing and life since before the days of Homer. Discover some of their best quotes.


Authors on Beginning

“You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.” — Octavia E. Butler

“The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” — Geoffrey Chaucer

“I wanted to be a writer, so I became one. How? I wrote things down.” — Ariel Gore


Portrait and Life of Chaucer

Portrait of Chaucer from the 16th century Portrait and Life of Chaucer. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [CC0 1.0])

Authors on Technique

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” — William Shakespeare

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep.” — Homer


James Baldwin By Allan Warren

James Baldwin photographed by Allan Warren with a statue of Shakespeare, 1969. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Authors on the Art of Writing

“Writing is really a way of thinking—not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.” — Toni Morrison

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” — James Baldwin

“The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow of the past where time hovers ghostlike.” — Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison

Author and professor Ralph Ellison, 1961. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” — J.R.R. Tolkien

“The pen is the tongue of the mind.” — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

“Writing eases my suffering…When you use words, you're able to keep your mind alive. Writing is my way of reaffirming my own existence.” — Gao Xingjian


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Oil portrait of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote. Oil on panel, c. 1600, Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public domain])

Authors on Finding Your Story

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” — Maya Angelou

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“Write what should not be forgotten.” — Isabel Allende

“Even the silence / has a story to tell you. / Just listen. Listen.” — Jacqueline Woodson


Gao Xingjian

Painter, photographer, and writer, Gao Xingjian won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature. Shown here at at Galerie Simoncini in Luxembourg. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0 LU])

Authors on Life

“Truly happy memories always live on, shining. Over time, one by one, they come back to life.” — Banana Yoshimoto, Kitchen

“The older I get, the more I'm conscious of ways very small things can make a change in the world. Tiny little things, but the world is made up of tiny matters, isn't it?” — Sandra Cisneros

“I did not ask. Later I felt bad about this. I knew, even then, that whenever I nodded along in ignorance, I lost an opportunity, betrayed the wonder in me by privileging the appearance of knowing over the work of finding out.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates

“The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.” — J.D. Salinger

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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