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Can I Quote You On That?

February 5, 2013

Last week I was sitting at my desk listening to radio 4 Start of the Week program, feeling rather guilty as I was supposed to be working on my novel, when my ears pricked up a little higher because the discussion taking place was regarding George Orwell, a literary hero of my teenage years. As part of the report Orwellian quotes were read out regarding the art of political writing:

“Work on what to say, what words would best express it?”

“Can you think of a fresh idiom for expressing it?”

“Can you say it quicker?”

“Can you avoid unnecessary openness? (Which I translated as ‘show not tell’)

“Avoid all these rules if by doing so you say something outright barbarous.” (By which, the narrator explained, that that Orwell meant put some of yourself in to your writing, your own ‘voice’; or don’t ruin a piece by sticking slavishly to the rules – put in your ‘own’ words.

These wise words are relevant to all types of writing, not just political. Having digested this information I felt I wanted to make myself a notice, to hang on my wall, in clear view of my writing area so when I looked up for one of those moments of chasing a thought, I would see my notice and be reminded of some of the good rules of writing, before I got too heavily embroiled in the bad ones. Then I began to think of what else should go on my list. Well, I had read somewhere not to forget the five senses – smell, sight, sound, touch and taste – so that would have to go on my list too. I wasn’t sure where to find more quotes regarding writing, but I knew a woman who did and emailed Rosemary Dun (, my friend and writing mentor. She kindly sent me a huge list of quotes and I trawled though them plucking out the ones that ‘did it for me’, also I set the limit to only include quotes that are relevant to staying on track while in the midst of writing (there were enough quotes to have a list just about putting down that all important first paragraph and another just about rewriting and editing, maybe I will make a notice for each of those too).

Which would you chose for your list?:

The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.-Ted Hughes

“One should never write up or down to people, but out of yourself”-Christopher Isherwood

“The author must know his countryside, whether real or imagined, like his hand.” Robert Louis Stevenson

“One of the commonest signs of a lazy or inexperienced writer of fiction is inconsistency in handling point of view”  p28  Lodge, David (1992) The Art Of Fiction pubLondon, Penguin

Boswell: “Then, Sir, what is poetry?” Johnson: “Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.”

The progress of any writer is marked by those moments when he manages to outwit his own inner police system.-Ted Hughes

“a set form, far from being restrictive, is very liberating and forces your imagination to explore possibilities it might not otherwise consider.”-Sophie Hannah.

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.

-Samuel Beckett

“A fool-proof method for sculpting an elephant: first, get a huge block of marble; then you chip away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”-Unknown

If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.-J. ANTHONY LUKAS

Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me?”-C.S. LEWIS

Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).-WILLIAM SLOANE

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. -ANTON CHEKHOV

Any time two characters are talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit.-DAVID MAMET

Plot grows out of character.-ANNE LAMOTT

“Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin & crossings of legs.”-J Stern

“In writing, one must be bold, free and truthful.”-Brenda Ueland

“Get in, get out. Don’t linger.”-Raymond Carver

“Don’t say the old lady screamed — bring her on and let her scream.”-Mark Twain

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