Mark Twain’s 20 Quotes on Writing

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Mark Twain (1853 – 1910)

1. “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

2. “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

3. “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”

4. “The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell together, as quickly as possible.”

5. “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”

6. “there was no crime in unconscious plagiarism; that I committed it everyday, that he committed it everyday, that every man alive on earth who writes or speaks commits it every day and not merely once or twice but every time he open his mouth… there is nothing of our own in it except some slight change born of our temperament, character, environment, teachings and associations”

7. “I conceive that the right way to write a story for boys is to write so that it will not only interest boys but strongly interest any man who has ever been a boy. That immensely enlarges the audience.”

8. “There are some books that refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn’t because the book is not there and worth being written — it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.”

9. “Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.”

10. “Write what you know.”

mark twain, quotes by mark twain, mark twain hobby, mark twain books

11. “A man who is not born with the novel-writing gift has a troublesome time of it when he tries to build a novel. I know this from experience. He has no clear idea of his story; in fact he has no story. He merely has some people in his mind, and an incident or two, also a locality, and he trusts he can plunge those people into those incidents with interesting results. So he goes to work. To write a novel? No–that is a thought which comes later; in the beginning he is only proposing to tell a little tale, a very little tale, a six-page tale. But as it is a tale which he is not acquainted with, and can only find out what it is by listening as it goes along telling itself, it is more than apt to go on and on and on till it spreads itself into a book. I know about this, because it has happened to me so many times.”

12. “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

13. “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

14. “It takes a heap of sense to write good nonsense”

15. “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”

16. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”

17. “My books are water; those of the great geniuses is wine. Everybody drinks water.”

18.  “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

19. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

20. “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.”

(Click the image) for 20  Mark Twain's quotes on writing

Next: George Orwell’s 20 Quotes on Writing


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  1. I agree with him about Jane Austen. While I don’t hate her work, I cannot be classified as a very great fan of hers. I have read most of it, though, as I don’t think it would be fair to speak against her if I hadn’t :)

  2. I agree that his advice will help you write well in a similar style to the excellent writing he himself produced. H P Lovecraft violates just about all his rules however, he uses exclamation points, there are many adjectives, His sentences run on, H P Lovecraft would make a terrible Mark Twain, but Mark Twain never got the moods H P Lovecraft got. I’ve heard many educated people say H P Lovecraft is a bad writer for having noticed that he does not write in the recommended “modern” way pioneered by Mark Twain. Mark Twain gave good advice, unfortunately its lost on fools who take their grades in literature class way too seriously, they become such dogmatic professor pleasers they actually believe there is only one true way to write, even when the results of the another approach work..I think Mark Twain would have felt disdain for any such toadyism, fortunately hes not alive to have to endure it, but I am.

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