Inspirational writing quotes by insightful, established fiction authors will help you when you’re feeling stuck. Here are 15 quotes on writing and finding ideas for books as well as finding the courage and motivation to tell your story:
1. Margaret Atwood on how everyone has a story
[E]veryone “writes” in a way; that is, each person has a “story”—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart, and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at twenty is seen as comedy or nostalgia at forty. All children “write.” (And paint, and sing.) I suppose the real question is why do so many people give it up. Intimidation, I suppose. Fear of not being good. Lack of time.Margaret Atwood in The Art of Fiction via The Paris Review.
2. Neil Gaiman on where to find story ideas
You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…?
‘(What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term – but you didn’t know who?)Neil Gaiman, via the author’s website.
3. Toni Morrison on using an image to create a story
[O]ne day I got this powerful image of horses fighting. The sentence I heard was “They stood up like men.” So I followed that. This little kid and his sister are watching the horses, and the scene holds something terrifying, awe-inspiring, enviable, for them.
‘I thought to myself, “What am I talking about? I’ve never seen horses fighting. Do they even stand up?” So I ran around and I got some films, and of course horses bite a lot when they fight, but they do stand up.
‘I don’t know where it came from—this picture of the horses—but once it was there, I knew the kid, this character who is a child, who is black and vulnerable and living in the ’50s in a place where race circumscribes him.Toni Morrison, via O Magazine
4. Barbara Kingsolver on learning to write books by reading
I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written. I still do. I limit my exposure to the type of stuff I don’t want to write, and oh boy is the world ever loaded with that, mostly waiting behind some form of “on-off” switch. I’m enough of a biologist to know that whatever comes in will, in some form, come back out.Barbara Kingsolver, via Southern Writers Magazine
5. Walter Mosley on why you should build revelation
There’s something you want to find out. If you know everything up front in the beginning, you really don’t need to read further if there’s nothing else to find out.Walter Mosley, quoted by Paula Munier in The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings that Sell
6. Alice Walker on setting aside time for writing
If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, [writing a book is] about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come.Alice Walker, via Writer’s Digest
7. George R.R. Martin on the importance of reading
You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy, SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones — what not to do).George R.R. Martin, via the author’s FAQ for fans
8. Haruki Murakami on borrowing from other writers
When I was twenty-nine, I just started to write a novel out of the blue. I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to write in Japanese — I’d read almost nothing of the works of Japanese writers — so I borrowed the style, structure, everything, from the books I had read — American books or Western books. As a result, I made my own original style. So it was a beginning.Haruki Murakami, interview in The Paris Review Interviews, IV
9. William Faulkner on the healthiness of persevering
In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy.William Faulkner, interviewed by Jean Stein in ‘The Art of Fiction No. 12’, via The Paris Review
10. Ursula K. Le Guin on using imagination to transform facts
I think … [‘write what you know’ is] a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them. I got my knowledge of them, as I got whatever knowledge I have of the hearts and minds of human beings, through imagination working on observation.Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘On Rules of Writing, or, Riffing on Rechy’, via the author’s archives.
11. J.K. Rowling on the value of storing information
I invented some of the names in the Harry Potter books, but I also collect strange names. I’ve gotten them from medieval saints, maps, dictionaries, plants, war memorials, and people I’ve met!J.K. Rowling, interview for Amazon
12. Saul Bellow on being inspired by the intimacy of writing
When you open a novel — and I mean of course the real thing — you enter into a state of intimacy with its writer. You hear a voice or, more significantly, an individual tone under the words. This tone you, the reader, will identify not so much by a name, the name of the author, as by a distinct and unique human quality. It seems to issue from the bosom, from a place beneath the breastbone. It is more musical than verbal, and it is the characteristic signature of a person, of a soul. Such a writer has power over distraction and fragmentation, and out of distressing unrest, even from the edge of chaos, he [or she] can bring unity and carry us into a state of intransitive attention. People hunger for this.Saul Bellow, quoted by Maria Popova at Brainpickings
13. James Baldwin on how practice improves your writing
It becomes more difficult because you have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had. You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.James Baldwin, The Paris Review, via Stanford University’s The Book Haven blog
14. Nurrudin Farah on courage and writing
There’s always a daily challenge when one goes into one’s studio to write. And the bravest thing, I think, for a writer is to face an empty page.Nurrudin Farah, interview for NPR.
15. Peter Carey on why writers must embrace uncertainty
If you feel at all unhappy with your work, there is a good reason for it. Trust your judgment. Write the draft again, and again. This is the strength you must build—to work alone, in solitude, and write and rewrite and rewrite. Even when you finally succeed in making the original work you wished, you will still live with doubt and uncertainty. All writers learn to live with this. In this way you and I feel exactly the same about our work today.Peter Carey, via Aerogramme Studio
What are your favourite inspirational writing quotes? Feel free to share in the comments below.
If you’re ready to start fleshing out your story’s central idea, try the Now Novel process for writing a book.