Hy Bender's Favorite Writing Quotes

When a day passes, it is no longer there.

What remains of it? Nothing more than a story.

If stories weren't told or books weren't written,

man would live like the beasts, only for the day.

—Isaac Bashevis Singer


The stories people tell have

a way of taking care of them.

If stories come to you, care for them.

And learn to give them away where they are needed.

Sometimes a person needs a story more than food

to stay alive.

—Barry Lopez



Don't tell me the moon is shining.
Show me the glint of light on broken glass.
—Anton Chekhov


Belief and reader absorption come in the details.
An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an
abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.
—Stephen King


All stories have to at least try to explain
some small portion of the meaning of life.
I still remember a piece that the great Barry Bearak
did in The Miami Herald some 30 years ago. It was
a nothing story, really: Some high school kid was
leading a campaign to ban books he found offensive
from the school library. Bearak didn’t even have
an interview with the kid, who was ducking him.
The article was short, mostly about the issue.
But Bearak had a fact that he withheld until
the end that put the whole story, subtly,
in complete perspective. The kicker noted the
true, wonderful fact that the kid was not in school
that day because “his ulcer was acting up.”
Meaning of life, 15 inches.
—Gene Weingarten


What I like in a good author

is not what he says,

but what he whispers.

—Logan Pearsall Smith



Writing is thinking on paper.

—William Zinsser


I write to find out what I'm thinking,

what I'm looking at, what I see,

and what it means.

—Joan Didion



Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.

—Thomas Berger


Writing is putting one's obsessions in order.

—Jean Grenier


If there's a book you really want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.

—Toni Morrison



We write to taste life twice:

in the moment, and in retrospection.

—Anais Nin


Great writers leave us not just their works,

but a way of looking at things.

—Elizabeth Janeway



All good books are alike in that they are
truer than if they had really happened;
and after you are finished reading one
you will feel that all that happened to you,
and afterwards it all belongs to you,
the good and the bad, the ecstasy,
the remorse and sorrow, the people
and the places and how the weather was.
If you can get so that you can give
that to people, then you are a writer.
—Ernest Hemingway


The good writer seems
to be writing about himself,
but has his eye always
on that thread of the Universe
which runs through himself
and all things.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson


A classic is classic not because
it conforms to certain structural rules,
or fits certain definitions (of which
its author had quite probably never heard).
It is classic because of a certain eternal
and irrepressible freshness.
—Edith Wharton



If you would not be forgotten

as soon as you are dead,

either write things worth reading

or do things worth writing.

—Benjamin Franklin


History will be kind to me,

for I intend to write it.

—Winston Churchill



I think the same situation is involved

as painting and sculpture. If you use

the best materials you can afford,

somehow you have more respect

for what you do with them.

—John MacDonald


The tools I need for my work are

paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky.

—William Faulkner


I love being a writer.

What I can't stand is the paperwork.

—Peter De Vries


For forty-odd years in this noble profession

I've harbored a guilt and my conscience is smitten.

So here is my slightly embarrassed confession

I don't like to write, but I love to have written.

—Michael Kanin



The machine has several virtues...

One may lean back in his chair and work it.

It piles an awful stack of words on one page.

It don't muss things or scatter ink blots around.

—Mark Twain, writing his first letter on a typewriter


Twiddle-twiddle away at my softly clicky keyboard

for a while, making twiddly adjustments all along—

and then print what I have twiddled.

Glare at the printout and snarl and curse and

scribble almost illegibly all over it with a ballpoint pen.

Go back to the machine and enter the scribbles.

Repeat this procedure until I hate the

very meaning of every word I know.

—Roy Blount, Jr.


Writing is the hardest work in the world

not involving heavy lifting.

—Pete Hamill



One of the great pains to human nature

is the pain of a new idea.

—Walter Bagehot


The ideas I stand for are not mine.

I borrowed them from Socrates.

I swiped them from Chesterfield.

I stole them from Jesus.

And I put them in a book.

If you don't like their rules,

whose would you use?

—Dale Carnegie


Everything has been thought of before,

but the difficulty is to think of it again.



Nothing in this world is so powerful

as an idea whose time has come.

—Victor Hugo



I have everything I need to begin my writing career—

pens, paper, and the illusion that I have talent.



I calculated that if I wrote five pages a day,

which seemed very doable,

I would have an 1,800-page first draft

when the deadline rolled around.

Though completely unwritten,

I was very impressed with

how long my first draft would be.

—Michael Showalter


Those who can, write.

Those who can't, write.

—Duns Scotus


Writing became such a process of discovery

that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning;

I wanted to know what I was going to say.

—Sharon O'Brien


I revel in the prospect of being able

to torture a phrase once more.

—S.J. Perelman



I can't write five words but that I change seven.

—Dorothy Parker


There are days when the result is so bad

that no fewer than five revisions are required.

In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired,

only four revisions are needed.

—John Kenneth Galbraith


I was working on the proof of one of my poems

all this morning, and took out a comma.

In the afternoon I put it back.

—Oscar Wilde


Interviewer: How many drafts of a story do you do?

S. J. Perelman: Thirty-seven. I once tried doing 33,

but something was lacking, a certain—how shall I say?

—je ne sais quoi. On another occasion, I tried 42 versions,

but the final effect was too lapidary—you know what I mean, Jack?

What the hell are you trying to extort—my trade secrets?



If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down.

It's going to be the best that you can do.

And it's the fact that it's the best that kills you!

—Dorothy Parker


Nothing you write,

if you hope to be good,

will ever come out as you first hoped.

—Lillian Hellman



If you were a member of Jesse James' gang

and people asked you what you were,

you wouldn't say, "Well, I'm a desperado."

You'd say something like "I work in banks"

or "I've done some railroad work."

It took me a long time just to say "I'm a writer."

—Roy Blount, Jr.


Keep away from people who

try to belittle your ambitions.

Small people always do that,

but the really great make you feel

that you, too, can become great.

—Mark Twain


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.
—Slyvia Plath


I never had any doubts
about my abilities.
I knew I could write.
I just had to figure out
how to eat while doing this.
—Cormac McCarthy


It took me fifteen years to discover

that I had no talent for writing,

but I couldn't give it up because

by that time I was too famous.

—Robert Benchley



I would hurl words into this darkness

and wait for an echo,

and if an echo sounded,

no matter how faintly,

I would send other words

to tell, to march, to fight,

to create a sense of hunger

for life that gnaws in us all.

—Richard Wright


I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

—Elmore Leonard



We are all apprentices in a craft

where no one ever becomes a master.

—Ernest Hemingway


All good writing is swimming

under water and holding your breath.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald


The Old Man of the Earth

stooped over the floor of the cave,

raised a huge stone from it,

and left it leaning. It disclosed

a great hole that went plumb-down.


"That is the way," he said.


"But there are no stairs."


"You must throw yourself in.

There is no other way."


—George MacDonald, The Golden Key

    (from Dealings With the Fairies, 1867)



We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.

The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over

and let the beautiful stuff out.

Ray Bradbury


A book should serve as the axe

for the frozen sea within us.

Franz Kafka


Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
—William Wordsworth


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

Note from Hy: The latter is usually true; but

in all honesty, if you hire me, I'm usually right...



There are so many different kinds of writing

and so many ways to write that the only rule is this:

Do what works. Almost everything has been tried

and found to succeed for somebody.

The methods, even the ideas of successful writers,

contradict each other in a most heartening way.

The only element I find common to all successful writers

is persistence—an overwhelming determination to succeed.

—Sophy Burnham


The two most beautiful words

in the English language are

"Check enclosed."

—Dorothy Parker



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