Pen For Rent

Memorable Quotes on Writing & Editing


Humorous Quotes

“Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks.”
Richard Curtis (b. 1956)

“There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money either.”
Robert Graves (1895-1985)

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

“In the same way that a woman becomes a prostitute. First I did it to please myself, then I did it to please my friends, and finally I did it for money.”
– Ferenc Molnar (1878-1952 – when asked how he became a writer)

“There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write.”
– Terry Pratchett (1948-2015)

“There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing. One is its style. The other is its content.”
– Fred Rodell (1907-1980)

“I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence…. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
– Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

“All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
– Red Smith (1905-1982)

“I just sit at a typewriter and curse a bit.”
– P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)

“Writing is easy. Just put a sheet of paper in the typewriter and start bleeding.”
– Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.”
H.G. Wells (1866-1946)

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

“I never made a mistake in grammar but one in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it.”
Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)

“You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.”
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

“He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.”
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

“I never write 'metropolis' for seven cents when I can write 'city' and get paid the same.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

“I write to discover what I think. After all, the bars aren't open that early.”
– Daniel J. Boorstin, Librarian of Congress, historian (1914-2004) [On why he wrote at home from 6:30 to 8:30 a.m., Wall Street Journal, 12/31/1985]

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
– Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

"I leave out the parts that people skip."
– Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

“I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”
– A. J. Liebling (1904-1963)

“It's easier to teach a poet how to read a balance sheet than it is to teach an accountant how to write.”
– Henry R. Luce (1898-1967) [But Pen-for-Rent is there for anyone who needs writing or editing help.]

“The profession of book-writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
– John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

“A burro is an ass. A burrow is a hole in the ground. As a journalist you are expected to know the difference.”
– United Press International Stylebook, cited by Bill Walsh in “The Elephants of Style

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial we.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“Sentence structure is innate, but whining is acquired.”
– Woody Allen (b. 1935)

“You can pretend to be serious; you can't pretend to be witty.”
– Sacha Guitry (1885-1957)

“Save the gerund and screw the whale.”
– Tom Stoppard (b. 1937)

“Waiting for the German verb is surely the ultimate thrill.”
– Flann O'Brien (1911-1966)

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

“Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.”
– Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.”
– Marty Feldman (1934-1982)

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put.”
– Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

“Bad spellers of the world, untie!”
– Graffito

“The adjective is the enemy of the noun.”
– Voltaire (1694-1778)

“The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.”
– Clifton Fadiman (1902-1999)

“I am the King of Rome, and above grammar.”
– Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor (1368-1437)

“Caesar is not above the grammarians.”
– Tiberius, Roman Emperor (42 BC – 37 AD)

“The covers of this book are too far apart.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

“This book fills a much-needed gap.”
– Moses Hadas (1900-1966)

“From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”
– Groucho Marx (1895-1977)

“Plato was a bore.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

“Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”
– Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

“I'm not going to get into the ring with Tolstoy.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“Hemingway was a jerk.”
– Harold Robbins (1916-1997)

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
William Faulkner (1897-1962) on Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) on William Faulkner (1897-1962)

“That's not writing, it's typing.”
Truman Capote (1924-1984) on Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

“Why don't you write books people can read?”
– Nora Joyce to her husband James (1882-1941)


Other Insightful Quotes

“Grasp the subject, the words will follow.”
– Cato the Elder (234-149 BC)

“Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to be a writer – and if so, why?”
– Bennett Cerf (1898-1971)

“The original writer is not he who refrains from imitating others, but he who can be imitated by none.”
– Francois Rene de Chateaubriand (1768-1848)

“I will not go down to posterity talking bad grammar.”
– Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881 – when correcting proofs of his last speech in Parliament)

“[The writer] knows he has a short span of life, that the day will come when he must pass through the wall of oblivion, and he wants to leave a scratch on that wall – Kilroy was here – that somebody a hundred, or a thousand years later will see.”
William Faulkner (1897-1962)

“An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever after.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

“A writer should be of as great probity and honesty as a priest of God. He is either honest or not, as a woman is either chaste or not, and after one piece of dishonest writing he is never the same again.”
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“The two most engaging powers of an author are, to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.”
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

“Writing is REwriting."
Robert L. Kelley (Sandra's father, distinguished scholar of American cultural and intellectual history, 1925-1993)

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
– Thomas Mann (1875-1955)

“Only a mediocre writer is always at his best.”
– W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965)

“To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.”
– Herman Melville (1819-1891)

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
– Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

“Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Writing is a craft, not an art.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
– Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) [Leonardo probably had larger problems than writing in mind when he said this, but it's still good advice for writers.]

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
– Albert Einstein (1879-1955) [Einstein no doubt had the laws of the universe in mind when he said this, but it's good advice for writing as well as cosmology. ]

“One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.”
– Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, 1st century, AD)

“Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”
– Matthew Arnold (1822-1888)

“You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

“Good prose should be transparent, like a window pane.”
– George Orwell (1903-1950)

“His Majesty the King requires that the Royal Chancellery in all written documents endeavor to write in clear, plain Swedish.”
– King Charles XII of Sweden (1682-1718)

“Make sure your message is clear, yet that you are faithful to its complexity.”
– Michael Dirda (b. 1948)

“The chief virtue that language can have is clarity.”
– Hippocrates (460-377 BC)

“Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Clarity trumps brevity.”
– Howard E. Daniel (b. 1944) [Copyright © Howard E. Daniel, 2004. May be used on condition that it is attributed to Howard E. Daniel, Pen-for-Rent.]

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”
– George Orwell (1903-1950)

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.”
– William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

“There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers.”
– H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”
– Emile Zola (1840-1902)

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.”
– Joan Didion (b. 1935)

“Writing is thinking on paper.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Writing and learning and thinking are the same process.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

“Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”
– Cicero (106-43 BC)

“Men of few words are the best men.”
– William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

“The letter I have written today is longer than usual because I lacked the time to make it shorter.”
– Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
– Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

“The finest language is mostly made up of simple unimposing words.”
– George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans, 1819-1880)

“Be direct, simple, brief, vigorous, and lucid.”
– H.W. Fowler (1858-1933)

“The shorter and the plainer the better.”
– Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)

“Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words when short are best of all.”
– Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

“Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say 'infinitely' when you mean 'very'; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.”
– C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

“Use the smallest word that does the job.”
– E.B. White (1899-1985)

“The most important lesson in the writing trade is that any manuscript is improved if you cut away the fat.”
– Robert Heinlein (1907-1988)

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”
Truman Capote (1924-1984)

“Be grateful for every word you can cut.”
William Zinsser (author of “On Writing Well”)

New Quotes (added 10/2/11)

“What are the proper proportions of a maxim? A minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“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.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

 “When you catch an adjective, kill it.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

– Stephen King (b. 1947)

If they give you ruled paper, write the other way."

– Juan Ramon Jimenez (1881-1958)

“Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.”
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split….”
Raymond Chandler (1888-1959)

“Forcing modern speakers of English to not – whoops, not to split an infinitive because it isn’t done in Latin makes about as much sense as forcing modern residents of England to wear laurels and togas.”
– Steven Pinker (b. 1954)

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.”
Burton Rascoe (1892-1957)

“First you’re an unknown; then, you write one book and you move up to obscurity.”
– Martin Myers (b. 1927)

“The pen is the tongue of the mind.”
– Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)

"A page of good prose is where one hears the rain [and] the noise of battle.”
– John Cheever (1912-1982)

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

“Flatulency today consists in saying simply in several different ways the same thing over and over again.”
– Henry Seidel Canby (1878-1961)

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has got to make sense.”
– Tom Clancy (b. 1947)

“Every first-rate editor I have ever heard of reads, edits and rewrites every word that goes into his publication.... Good editors are not ‘permissive’; they do not let their colleagues do ‘their thing’; they make sure that everybody does the ‘paper’s thing.’ A good, let alone a great editor is an obsessive autocrat with a whim of iron, who rewrites and rewrites, cuts and slashes, until every piece is exactly the way he thinks it should have been done.”
– Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

“If you go through any newspaper or magazine and look for active, kicking verbs in the sentences, you will realize that this lack of well used verbs is the main trouble with modern English writing. Almost all nonfiction nowadays is written in a sort of pale, colorless sauce of passives and infinitives, motionless and flat as paper.”
– Rudolf Flesch (1911-1986)

“I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.”
– Peter De Vries (1910-1993)

“Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’”
– Jef Mallett (b. 1962)

“The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.”
– Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

“We write to taste life twice.”
– Anais Nin (1903-1977)