88 inspirational quotes about writing a novel

Even seasoned writers feel blocked at times during the writing process, but these 88 inspirational quotes about writing, divided into 8 categories, will help you finish writing a novel:

1. Quotes on finding an idea for a novel

Before you write the first word down, before your characters come alive on the page, the initial idea for your novel has to seize your imagination. Well-known writers offer helpful perspectives on how ideas for novels may be gathered and composted to form a sustaining base from which the elements of the novel (characters, plot, conflict and resolution) can grow.

George Orwell describes how he begins writing a novel1. “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” John Steinbeck

2. “I don’t believe that a writer ‘gets’ (takes into the head) an ‘idea’ (some sort of mental object) ‘from’ somewhere, and then turns it into words, and writes them on paper. At least in my experience, it doesn’t work that way. The stuff has to be transformed into oneself, it has to be composted, before it can grow into a story.” Ursula le Guin

3. “If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper.” T.S. Eliot

4. “To write fiction, one needs a whole series of inspirations about people in an actual environment, and then a whole lot of work on the basis of those inspirations.” Aldous Huxley

5. “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

6. “When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.” George Orwell

7. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Ernest Hemingway

8. “If a story is in you, it has to come out.” William Faulkner

9. “Borges said there are only four stories to tell: a love story between two people, a love story between three people, the struggle for power and the voyage. All of us writers rewrite these same stories ad
infinitum.” Paulo Coelho

10. “Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.” Salman Rushdie

11. “My standard answer is ‘I don’t know where they come from, but I know where they come to, they come to my desk.’ If I’m not there, they go away again, so you’ve got to sit and think.” Philip Pullman

2. Quotes on planning your first draft

Writing by the seat of your pants (or ‘pantsing’) is something that many writers do. Even so, being methodical and planning the skeleton of your novel before you write the first draft could get you out of spots where you feel stuck by giving you a sense of shape and direction. Having a blueprint for your novel isn’t binding as you can deviate from it at will, as your process of creation and discovery reveals alternate possibilities.

Stephen King says the scariest moment of writing a novel is right before you start.12. “First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” Ray Bradbury

13. “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.” Stephen King

14. “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” Zora Neale Hurston

15. “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” Vladimir Nabokov

16. “You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief, and you can sit there searching for the point at which the story becomes a toboggan and starts to slide.” Marie de Nervaud

17. “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” Stephen King

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

19. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Benjamin Franklin

20. “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

21. “I’m a relatively disciplined writer who composes the whole book before beginning to execute and write it. Of course, you can’t hold – you cannot imagine a whole novel before you write it; there are limits to human memory and imagination. Lots of things come to your mind as you write a book, but again, I make a plan, chapter, know the plot.” Orhan Pamuk

22. “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Atoine de Saint-Exupéry

3. Quotes on writing your first draft

So you have a novel idea that inspires you and you’ve planned to the point that you feel empowered to start writing. This is where a disciplined writing routine will help you to begin fleshing out your idea. The Nobel-winning South African writer J.M. Coetzee has been said to spend at least an hour at his writing desk every morning, seven days a week. Not all writers can afford this luxury: for many, day jobs must be performed, children must be dropped at school, and other responsibilities and obligations reduce time for writing. If you can find and keep a regular appointment with the Muse, this will give you valuable momentum.

Barbara Kingsolver gives practical writing advice23. “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” William Faulkner

24. “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

25. “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” Kurt Vonnegut

26. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

27. “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Silvia Plath

28. “The first draft of anything is shit.” Ernest Hemingway

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

30. “For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey takes me.” Jack Dann

31. “My aim is to put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.” Ernest Hemingway

32. “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

33. “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Jack London

4. Quotes on revising what you have written

Revising what you have written can be a deeply gratifying process and is a crucial step as you finish writing a novel. There might be the occasional section where you wince at an awkward construction or a common cliché, but there will equally likely be sentences, paragraphs, or whole chapters where you feel a growing sense of achievement and pride. Revising is not as detailed as editing: here you have freedom to try out rewriting chapters in different points of view, or to change details of plot and characterisation before the nuts-and-bolts graft of editing.

Michael Crichton on the importance of rewriting34. “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

35. “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” Anthony Trollope

36. “The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes.” Andre Gide

37. “A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.” Phyllis A. Whitney

38. “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

39. “Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” Larry L. King

40. “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

41. “It ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.” Jack Kerouac

42. “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” Saul Bellow

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

44. “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

5. Quotes on editing your novel (or being edited)

Many writers see editing as a thankless task. Serious writers and publishing houses use professional editors who specialize in taking a text and making it the best possible version of itself. If you cannot afford to hire an editor or intend to edit your own work for another reason, the editing advice of famous authors could help you on your path to becoming a skilled and perceptive mechanic of language. Having a fresh pair of eyes to look over your work is useful, as reading through your writing scores of times can mean that you become used to seeing (and not recognizing) small oversights.

Mark Twain on the importance of finding the right word45. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” – Kurt Vonnegut

46. “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke…” F. Scott Fitzgerald

47. “It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly.” C.J. Cherryh

48. “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” Franz Kafka

49. “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

50. “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

51. “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” William Faulkner

52. “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” Mark Twain

53. “The things that the novel does not say are necessarily more numerous than those it does say and only a special halo around what is written can give the illusion that you are reading also what is not written.” Italo Calvino

54. “Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” Colette

55. “Only a mediocre person is always at his best.” W. Somerset Maugham

6. Quotes on seeing it all come together

Seeing your complete novel coming together, the different parts weaving into a narrative that tells a distinct story, is one of the most rewarding stages of the novel-writing process. Nonetheless, to finish your novel – and say your goodbyes to characters you have lived with for a long time – is often a difficult process. There are no set rules for how to end your novel: Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction ends (and also begins) mid-sentence.

Douglas Adams - the feeling of completing your novel56. “You always get more respect when you don’t have a happy ending.” Julia Quinn

57. “The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” Joyce Carol Oates

58. “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

59. “When I complete a novel I set it aside, and begin work on short stories, and eventually another long work. When I complete that novel I return to the earlier novel and rewrite much of it. In the meantime the second novel lies in a desk drawer.” Joyce Carol Oates

60. “I work very deliberately, with a plan. But sometimes I come to a point that I planned as the end and it needs softening. Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly.” Colm Toibin

61. “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” Frank Herbert

62. “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

63. “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

64. “At the end of Slaughterhouse-Five … I had a shutting-off feeling … that I had done what I was supposed to do and everything was OK.” Kurt Vonnegut

65. “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams

66. “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It’s one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period.” Nicholas Sparks

7. Quotes on coping with publishers turning down your manuscript

Services such as Amazon’s Kindle Store and Scribd make it easier than ever for writer’s to self-publish their works digitally, and there are many small printing presses, book designers and promoters who work with self-publishing authors. Having your work published by a high-profile publishing house carries a unique sense of achievement, however, and prominent publishing houses have access to vast marketing networks. Having your manuscript turned down is also a rite of passage: J.K. Rowling’s international sensation Harry Potter was rejected by twelve publishers before Bloomsbury said yes. Persistence, understanding of the industry and a thick skin are essential if you opt for the traditional publishing route.

Coping with publisher rejections - Zadie Smith on withstanding despair67. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.” Barbara Kingsolver

68. “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self.” Cyril Connolly

69. “Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.” – Ray Bradbury

70. “You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.” Isaac Asimov

71. “If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake, lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.” David Mitchell

72. “Don’t listen to people who tell you that very few people get published and you won’t be one of them. Don’t listen to your friend who says you are better that Tolkien and don’t have to try any more. Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them.” Robin Hobb

73. “You are never stronger…than when you land on the other side of despair.” Zadie Smith

74. “Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” J.K. Rowling

75. “I finished my first book seventy-six years ago. I offered it to every publisher on the English-speaking earth I had ever heard of. Their refusals were unanimous: and it did not get into print until, fifty years later; publishers would publish anything that had my name on it.” George Bernard Shaw

76. “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” Sylvia Plath

77. “You should never be ashamed to admit you have been wrong. It only proves you are wiser today than yesterday.” Jonathan Swift

8. Quotes on being published

The thrill of releasing your work into the world can arrive with a significant amount of fear, whether you worry about the critical reception your novel will receive or the sales figures it will reach. Finishing the task and having told your story to the best of your ability is a major achievement in itself, however. Once your manuscript has been accepted or you have self-published a whole new promotion process begins. Following insider advice on book promotion will help you to reach a broader reading public and grow a base of loyal fans.

Kiran Desai on the timidity of the publishing industry78. “A writer should say to himself, not ‘How can I get more money?’ but ‘How can I reach more readers without lowering standards?” Brian Aldiss

79. “Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.” Virginia Woolf

80. “Publishing a book is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message. You never know who your readers might be.” Margaret Atwood

81. “A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.” Edna St. Vincent Millay

82. “An author who gives a manager or publisher any rights in his work except those immediately and specifically required for its publication or performance is for business purposes an imbecile.” George Bernard Shaw

83. “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” Vladimir Nabokov

84. “If you don’t put 99 percent of yourself into the writing, there will be no publishing career. There’s the writer and there’s the author. The author—you don’t ever think about the author. Just think about the writer. So my advice would be, find a way to not care—easier said than done. Accept that the world may never notice this thing you worked so hard at. And instead, do it for it, find a job, find a way of living that gives you an hour or two or three a day to do it, and then work your ass off sending out, trying to get out there, but do not put the pressure on the work to do something for you.” Andre Dubus III

85. “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have, and advertising seems to do very little good.” Thomas Wolfe

86. “The publishing world is very timid. Readers are much braver.” Kiran Desai

87. “In matters of truth the fact that you don’t want to publish something is, nine times out of ten, a proof that you ought to publish it.” G.K Chesterton

88. “I publish my own books, so there isn’t a certain editor I owe the book to at a publishing house.” Dave Eggers

Feel free to share your favourite inspirational quotes about writing in the comments below!

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