Churning out inspirational quotes about writing has been a favourite past time of authors and poets throughout the ages.

Like many creative types, those handy with a typewriter find the subject of their own craft - or their own ability to wax lyrical about it - a fountain of fascination that never runs dry.

The problem is, not a lot of it is very useful.

Plenty of quotes about writing allude to the agony of penning that great novel. Many use poetic flourishes to celebrate the beauty of the written word. But how many offer you words of wisdom that might stop you throwing your laptop through your window after staring at a blank screen for an hour?

In truth, writers are no more likely to give up their practical expertise for free than your average mechanic or bank clerk. But sometimes, perhaps when their powers have reached such a height it no longer makes a difference, they'll let some nugget slip.

And it's these nuggets - 22 of them in fact - that we present to you here. Actual insight into the process of writing offered up by people who did it best. So print 'em out, pin 'em to your wall and remember: a little guidance and some self-discipline means you don't have to be divinely gifted to write well. Though we're sure it must help.


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  • Zadie Smith

    "Don't romanticise your "vocation". You can either write good sentences or you can't. There is no "writer's lifestyle". All that matters is what you leave on the page. And work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet." (PA)

  • Anton Chekhov

    "My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying." (PA)

  • Ernest Hemingway

    "I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it." "The first draft of everything is shit" (PA)

  • Mavis Cheek

    "Authors with a mortgage never get writer's block." (REX)

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

    "Begin with an individual, and before you know it you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find you have created - nothing." (PA)

  • Philip Pullman

    "All writing is difficult. The most you can hope for is a day when it goes reasonably easily. Plumbers don't get plumber's block, and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expects sympathy for it?" (PA)

  • Ray Bradbury

    "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." (PA)

  • Gustave Flaubert

    "The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." (REX)

  • Margaret Atwood

    "You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up." (PA)

  • JK Rowling

    "I have to write the story I want to write. I never wrote them with a focus group of 8-year-olds in mind. I have to continue telling the story the way I want to tell it." (Getty)

  • Stephen King

    "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write." (PA)

  • Herman Melville

    "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme." (wikimediacommons)

  • Philip Roth

    "Eight hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, that's the only way I know how to do it." (PA)

  • William Hazlitt

    "The more a man writes, the more he can write."

  • Mark Twain

    "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." (PA)

  • Sylvia Plath

    "And by the way, 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."

  • Virginia Woolf

    "The habit of writing for my eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments." (PA)

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

    "There is creative reading as well as creative writing." (REX)

  • Somerset Maugham

    "If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write." (PA)

  • Joseph Heller

    "I can't start writing until I have a closing line." (PA)

  • William Faulkner

    "Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." (PA)

  • George Orwell

    "Good writing is like a windowpane." (PA)