Notable Quotes: On reading, writing, editing, and the publishing industry

booksWe’re all embarking on this grand project (or folly) together, so I thought I’d share a list of quotes on reading, writing, editing, and publishing to get us all into the spirit of things.

As with most of the content I’ll be putting up here before November 1 —Wri-Day, if you will— this list was posted over on my own blog some time ago, and is published here at the gracious invitation of our kind editor and benevolent dictator. A fun fact? This list has generated over 10,000 unique page views on my blog since it was published exactly 364 days ago, thanks in large part to the picture you see here: It seems when people googled an image search for ‘Books’ a link to my blog’s copy of this public domain graphic appeared on the first page of results for a number of months. Google seems to have some mechanism to spread the love around, because I haven’t seen a disproportionate interest in that particular post in months now, but perhaps we’ll get lucky again here at Stranger Than Truth, and this image will draw thousands of readers to our content.

Anyway, without further ado, the quotes.

“A classic is a book everyone wants to have read but no one wants to read.”

–Mark Twain

“History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”

—Winston Churchill

“I know now that when a man finishes some important task, like writing a book, when the last word is written he wants to start over and do the job right.”

—James Michener

“It’s much better than working. You sit down and tell stories. It’s fun. I would say that 99% of journalists and 80% of all teachers want to be doing what I’m doing. And I’m going to say it’s difficult? No! They’re right. My great fear is that I’ll be caught out.”

—Bernard Cornwell

“I’m a writer. I write not only for a living, I write because I’m a writer.”

—Gary Jennings

“Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.”

—Robert A. Heinlein

“Every journalist has a novel in him, which is an excellent place for it.”

—Russel Lynes

“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

—T. S. Eliot

“My definition of a good editor is a man I think charming, who sends me large cheques, praises my work, my physical beauty, and my sexual prowess, and who has a stranglehold on the publisher and the bank.”

—John Cheever

“An editor should have a pimp for a brother so he’d have someone to look up to.”

—Gene Fowler

“The road to ignorance is paved with good editors.”

—George Bernard Shaw

“Everyone needs an editor.”

—Time Fonte

“You ask for the distinction between the terms ‘Editor’ and ‘Publisher’: An editor selects manuscripts; a publisher selects editors.”

— Max Schuster

“One of the signs of Napoleon’s greatness is the fact that he once had a publisher shot.”

—Siegfried Unseld

“Publishers are all cohorts of the devil; there must be a special hell for them somewhere.”


“I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books.”

—Isaac Asimov (not just a science fiction writer, either. He holds the distinction of being the only author so far to have at least one work in every possibly category of the dewey decimal system.)

“If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”

—Isaac Asimov

“Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.”

—John Updike

“Has the son of a bitch every had an unpublished thought?”

—David Foster Wallace, criticizing John Updike

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

—G. K. Chesterton

“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

—Stephen King

“Lolita. Oh my God! I could lick every page.”

—Desiree Finhert

“Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It’s like passing around samples of sputum.”

—Vladimir Nabokov

“Manuscript: Something submitted in haste and returned at leisure.”

—Oliver Herford

“Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

—Samuel Johnson

“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”

—H. G. Wells

“What no wife of a writer can understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out the window.”

—Burton Rascoe

“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand.”

—Raymond Chandler

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

—Robert Frost

“I was never angry enough to be a musician, but I was brooding enough to be a poet.”

—Seana Hutton

“There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money either.”

—Robert Graves

“Nobody ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have tried while trying to write one.”

—Robert Byrne

“If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.”

—Kingsley Amis

“Getting even is one reason for writing.”

—William Gass

“The virtue of books is to be readable.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.”

—Arab proverb

“Nullus est liber tam malus ut non aliqua parte prosit.” (There is no book so bad that it is not profitable in some part)

—Pliny the Younger

“We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.”

—John Gardner

“This is not a book that should be tossed lightly aside. It should be hurled with great force.”

—Dorothy Parker

“It’s not the most intelligent job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.”

—Vanna White

“The only living man who could commit five grammatical errors in a single sentence is dead.”

—Poet e e cummings on the death of Warren G Harding

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

—Oscar Wilde

“In a thousand words I can have the Lord’s Prayer, the 23rd Psalm, the Hippocratic Oath, a sonnet by Shakespeare, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and almost all of the Boy Scout Oath. Now exactly what picture were you planning to trade for all that?”

—Roy H. Williams

“Often while reading a book one feels the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colours.”

—Pablo Picasso

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