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5 Famous Quotes About Writing That Might Be Evil

July 31, 2014

“The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.”- Stephen King
Just swell! Now I’ll never get my daughters to learn their parts of speech. (image via Wikimedia)

When a famous author writes a quote about writing, aspiring authors pay attention. After all, nobody knows more about writing than a famous author. Some quotes about writing have become so widely known that they’re almost accepted without second thought. But what if these famous quotes were meant to be misleading? What if the famous authors were just messing with us? What if famous authors were toying with our emotions and fragile egos? What if these famous authors were just… evil?

Below are five famous quotes about writing that MIGHT be evil:

QUOTE #1 “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”- Ernest Hemingway


Aspiring authors have enough problems, being rejected, being ignored, being over-criticized. We don’t need to hear about bleeding at a typewriter.   I have never bled at the typewriter, and for my first ten years of writing, I actually used a typewriter. Unfortunately, I never learned keyboarding skills, so I was a two-fingered hunt-and-peck typist who used lots of White-out. If anybody should have bled out at the typewriter, it would have been me (or I). I did not bleed at the typewriter. Hemingway should not have left the impression that it’s normal to bleed at the typewriter. If you bleed while you’re writing, stop writing and maybe see a doctor.


“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”- Stephen King


I know Stephen King likes to scare readers with his horror novels, but this quote sounds like he’s trying to scare us aspiring writers with his advice. I love the moment just before I start. I’m optimistic when I start. The scary part is when I know I’m about to be critiqued. And even that’s not scary. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather have my writing get insulted than get ignored. If there’s a scary moment in writing, it’s when I see somebody’s facial expressions while he/she is reading what I wrote. With so much done online nowadays, I don’t see facial expressions anymore, so there is no scary part. Stephen King shouldn’t try to scare aspiring authors like that. He should have better things to do.

QUOTE #3 “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.” Mark Twain


If I had literally followed this advice in high school, I would have failed my English classes. I was tempted to follow this advice. After all, it was from Mark Twain. I came very/damn close to littering one of my stories with a bunch of damns and then defending it to my teacher by saying Mark Twain said it was okay. A couple friends (now that I think about it, I don’t believe they were really my “friends”) encouraged me to use a lot of damns. They thought it was a damn good idea. When I chose not to, they said I was damn cowardly. I said I was damn smart, and a teacher heard me. He told me to watch my language, then left to smoke a cigarette in the parking lot. I was damn lucky. The problem with exchanging “very” with “damn” is that if you do it too often, you talk like Holden Caulfield and it gets damn old damn quickly.


“Literature is all, or mostly, about sex.” – Anthony Burgess


I don’t know what Anthony Burgess looks/looked like, but I picture him as an old man. The last thing an old man needs to do is talk about sex, especially if he’s a writer. This quote makes writers look like a bunch of perverts. We’re no more perverted than the perverts who read our stuff, but still, Anthony Burgess should at least try to hide it and not push his pervertedness (also known as “perversion) on the rest of us.

Literature is about relationships. Sex is merely one part of a relationship. Maybe it gets discussed in a particular book, maybe it doesn’t. But other aspects of the relationship are important too, like… like… like…



“If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor.” – Edgar Rice Burroughs


Putting potential readers through 100 bad stories just to get to one good one is… evil. Hey, I can talk. I read the first Pelucidar book. Edgar Rice Burroughs could write a lot of stuff, but it could also get old, unless you don’t get tired of the chase, captured, rescue, chase, capture, escape, chase, capture, rescue/escape formula. I know, I know, Edgar Rice Burroughs had bills to pay, and a lot of people out there were reading his books, but I think his quote encourages bad writing. It implies that if you simply write a lot, chances are SOMETHING is going to be good, almost by accident, almost by chance.   Maybe that worked for Burroughs (some critics would say ALL of his stories were bad and his body of work is proof that his quote is wrong, but I wouldn’t go that far. He did create Tarzan, after all).


There are a lot of writing quotes by famous authors out there (and there might be one that says not to start a sentence with “there”). What other quotes about writing do you think are evil? Are famous authors evil for giving us evil quotes about writing? Or are these evil authors simply misguided and need a hug?

  1. Oh, how lucky is Ernest Hemingway to simply “sit at a a typewriter and bleed”. If only I bled with such astounding literacy as he!

  2. The Burroughs quote seems most apt, disregarding subjecting the world to numerous bad stories, the prospect of one victory still seems motivational:)

  3. I quite like the Twain quote. To me, he’s basically saying “you don’t notice how often you use ‘very’, but you’ll probably notice how much you use ‘damn’.” It’s a way of unneeded knocking adverbs out of your system. I might try that method myself! Probably easier than doing find+replace+delete later! Lol.

    • I’d like to know (and there’s probably no way to prove it either way) if Twain followed his own advice. Maybe there’s an old manuscript with a bunch of damns crossed out. If he followed his own advice, then maybe (just maybe) his advice wasn’t evil.

  4. They need a hug. Blessings to you…

  5. I don’t think the 100 stories quote is evil. After all, Burroughs said “write a hundred”, not “publish a hundred”.

    • If nobody else had to read those bad stories, then maybe his advice wasn’t evil, but I don’t know. He wrote a lot of stuff. I can’t imagine a hundred unpublished stories lying around his den for every one that got published.

  6. And all of these quotes are out of context. Stephen King uses as many adverbs as anyone and I doubt Hemingway bled into his typewriter, though he probably spilled a few drinks into it.

  7. Loved this post ! I feel relieved cos I thought I was the only one feeling sceptical about certain quotes from authors. Thnx 🙂

    • Thank you! I thought I was the only one too, especially with the Ernest Hemingway quote. I think I’m getting more and more skeptical about a lot of things as I get older.

  8. Rahul permalink

    I am quite uneasy about your interpretation of Mark Twain’s quote, and also of Hemingway.

  9. Definitely hugs all round!

  10. I suspect they need a damn hug. 🙂 Love the hemmingway and holden caulfield bits. I was screaming with laughter over the hemmingway bit. One of the funniest comments I ever heard, that could be “evil,” was Fran Leibowitz answer to a new writer’s question: should I get an MFA? Fran said “absolutely not, it would be the worst thing you could possibly do….” however she’s had writers block for most of her career. . . which is pretty clever considering that she’s still considered a writer although she doesn’t write, anymore. she reads and talks.

    • “…she reads and talks.” Talking is good to do if a writer really has writer’s block, but some writers write because they don’t like talking. Fran is kind of lucky if she’s a writer who likes to talk.

  11. It’s quotes like this that made me avoid reading writing advice books for a long time….

  12. Stephen King’s not very pretty though, is he…with his words? The storytelling is great but not so nourishing with the language…?? And people quoting Churchill…irks…as the first/last resort of the scoundrel politico…

  13. The Twain quote and explanation had me rolling with laughter. It was damn good.
    Also, I respectfully disagree with your #5. I think that writing a lot is a key to writing well. You can’t expect everything you write to come out brilliant, if you do then you are living in a bubble of self-worth illusion. I think the piece you missed is that he didn’t say to publish everything you write. I think it’s important for writers to be able to differentiate between good and bad writing in themselves and know when something with resonate with an audience and not just write for the sake of writing. Publishing bad writing and writing bad writing are two very different things and the key point in the quote by Burroughs.

  14. Elan Mudrow permalink

    A very bloody and literal look at the quotes. I’ll add one of my own. “Writing is learning how to regurgitate cleanly, while not choking on your own vomit”- Elan Mudrow

  15. I once knew someone who had written more than 100 short stories, and after reading the one that he considered his very best out of all of them, I can say that writing 100+ stories does NOT guarantee that any of them will be in any way readable.

  16. I love quote #4. I like to think that history, too, is all about sex. Who knows what would have happened if that Jewish girl never stood up hitler at prom? Really makes you think.

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