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5 Misleading Quotes about Writing Written by Famous Authors

August 5, 2019

If you bleed so much when you type, maybe you should quit writing… or quit drinking. (image via wikimedia)

Aspiring authors often love quotes about writing, and nobody writes better quotes about writing than famous authors.  When a famous author writes a quote about writing, a bunch of people will see it because the author is already famous.  If the average author writes a quote about writing, nobody will see it, so it doesn’t matter how awesome the quote is, at least not until the author becomes famous.

There’s a good reason why famous authors have more credibility when it comes to quotes about writing; 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 are misleading? What if these famous authors weren’t meaning to be taken literally?  What if the famous authors were just messing with us? What if famous authors were toying with our emotions and fragile egos?

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

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

WHY IT MIGHT BE MISLEADING

Aspiring authors have enough problems, like being rejected, being ignored, and 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.

QUOTE #2

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

WHY IT MIGHT BE MISLEADING

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.  I hear that he spends a lot of time on Twitter now.

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

WHY IT MIGHT BE MISLEADING

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, and then he 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.

QUOTE #4

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

WHY IT MIGHT BE MISLEADING

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…

?

QUOTE #5

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

WHY IT MIGHT BE MISLEADING

Putting potential readers through 100 bad stories just to get to one good one is pretty poor. 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 a writing quote that says not to start a sentence with “there”). What other quotes about writing do you think are misleading?

15 Comments
  1. Me thinks Hemingway’s “bleed” is probably a metaphor for putting your secrets and inner-demons on paper.

    • You’re probably right, but the quote still seems melodramatic.

      If the writing process were really that bad, there wouldn’t be so many people trying to be good at it.

  2. ‘bleed’ is popular with WP poets

  3. This is a fun read. Thanks for putting it together for us.

    Here’s a writing quote that you surely never heard before since it comes from an unknown author: writing is sorrow; having had written is sublime. After reading your post, I think I have some idea what your thoughts regarding it would be…

  4. You’d think aspiring writers would come up with their own quotes.

  5. Well, we can’t really blame Mark Twain for Holden Caulfield overusing the word “damn”, since Catcher in the Rye was after Twain’s time. But the very quote about the word “very” is an example of a situation when the word “very” can’t be replaced by “damn”: “replace damn with damn” (or, “replace _ with _” after editing) just makes no sense.

    • “Well, we can’t really blame Mark Twain for Holden Caulfield overusing the word “damn”, since Catcher in the Rye was after Twain’s time.”-

      That’s true. I probably should blame j.D. Salinger instead.

  6. I’m not saying my blog posts are “literature,” but I’m now tempted to go back and reread them to see if they really were about sex and I didn’t realize it.

    Also, if Burroughs is right, then I only have 32 more posts to write before I get a good one!! Ha ha!

    A damn good post.

  7. I saw this quote from Lisa See: “Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” She makes it sound as if thats all you have to do to become a writer – just read other people’s books.

    • “Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”-

      Egads, that is a great nonsense quote! I’m not familiar with LIsa See, but that is a memorably misleading quote about writing.

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  1. 5 Misleading Quotes about Writing Written by Famous Authors — Dysfunctional Literacy | Slattery's Magazine

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