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Writers Said It

Sometimes great writers have some interesting advice and insights about the craft of writing (and many other topics). Here are a few examples of what some famous writers had to say.

Lewis Carroll: “Begin at the beginning . . . and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” (Turtle Soup, Alice in Wonderland)

Willa Cather: “Art, it seems to me, should simplify. . . . [F]inding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole. . . .” (On the Art of Fiction)

Herman Melville: “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.” (Moby Dick)

Mark Twain:Classic. A book which people praise and don’t read.” (Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar)

E.B. White: “A writer, writing away, can always fix things up to make himself more presentable, but a man who has written a letter is stuck with it for all time.” (letter to Corona Machemer, June 11, 1975)

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime. And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time. Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.” (A Psalm of Life, stanzas 7 and 9)

William Strunk, Jr.: “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” (The Elements of Style)

Samuel Eliot Morison: “An historian should yield himself to his subject, become immersed in the place and period of his choice, standing apart from it now and then for a fresh view.” (Vistas of History)

Francis Parkman: “The narrator [of history] must seek to imbue himself with the life and spirit of the time.” (Pioneers of France in the New World)

And among these quotations, here’s my favorite by an author who is more famous for his having written Robinson Crusoe than for his theology:

Daniel Defoe: 

“Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The Devil always builds a chapel there; And ’twill be found, upon examination, The latter has the largest congregation.”
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