All good writers know that breaking the rules is sometimes vital. But to break the rules, first you have to know them.

So what do the world’s greatest wordsmiths have to say about their craft? I’ve collected 20 of my favourite quotes from famous writers about the art of putting pen to paper.

1) “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard

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

3) “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.” – Zadie Smith

4) “In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” – Rose Tremain

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

6) “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” – Stephen King

7) “Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” – Will Self

8) “What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” – Maya Angelou

9) “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” – Jonathan Franzen

10) “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” – Neil Gaiman

11) “I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling them a story, and I don’t want them to get up until it’s finished.” – James Patterson

12) “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” – Edgar Allen Poe

13)  “If you are using dialogue – say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.” – John Steinbeck

14) “The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” – Helen Simpson

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

16) ” You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” – Saul Bellow

17) “Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

18) “Laugh at your own jokes.” -Neil Gaiman

19) “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” – G.K. Chesterton

20) “”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

As you can see, there are as many different opinions about writing as there are writers. Take what you will and discard the rest.

Which was your favourite tip? Are there any that I’ve missed? Comment down below and let me know what you think.


I don’t think “collect old postcards” was on the list, but that does nothing to stop my obsession.