22 of the Best Single Sentences on Writing

There have been entire articles and books devoted to the craft of writing. And while you should definitely read at least a few of them (I personally recommend Stephen King's On Writing and Robert McKee's Story), you'll likely never find the time to read them all. Fortunately, some of the best tips out there can be whittled down to a single sentence, easily consumed and memorizable. Here are some of my favorites (22 in all, to be exact) culled from some of the biggest names in the world of fiction writing.

Will Self

The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement—if you can't deal with this you needn't apply. —The Guardian

Anton Chekhov

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. (Technically a misquote, but solid advice nonetheless.)

Neil Gaiman

The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. —The Guardian

Helen Simpson

The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’ —The Guardian

Billy Wilder

The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer. —Conversations with Billy Wilder

Elmore Leonard

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. —New York Times

George Orwell

Never use the passive where you can use the active. —"Politics and the English Language"

Henry Miller

Work according to the program and not according to mood. —Henry Miller On Writing

Joyce Carol Oates

Write your heart out. —Brain Pickings

Robert McKee

The finest writing not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the telling. —Story

Kurt Vonnegut

Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. —Bagombo Snuff Box

Chuck Palahniuk

Write something that people might not “enjoy” but will never forget. —Flavorwire

Jeff VanderMeer

If you are drawn to write what's uncomfortable, it may help to recognize that you are allowed to write for yourself, and that any decisions about seeking publication are separate from that first, fundamental decision (and freedom). —Wonderbook

P.D. James

Write what you need to write, not what is currently popular or what you think will sell. —The Guardian

Harper Lee

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. —Writer's Digest

Ray Bradbury

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ―Zen in the Art of Writing

Joe Hill

Just about everything I learned about writing a good book I learned from reading lots and lots of good books. —Writer's Bone

Stephen King

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time—or the tools—to write. —On Writing

Vladimir Nabokov

Literature was not born the day when a boy crying 'wolf, wolf' came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying 'wolf, wolf' and there was no wolf behind him. —Lectures on Literature

Sylvia Plath

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.—The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

G.K. Chesterton

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. —The Autobiography of GK Chesterton

Michael Moorcock

Ignore all proffered rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say. —The Guardian

What single sentence quotes from writers would you add to this list? Post them up in the comments section below!

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ChristiLea's picture
ChristiLea from Texas is reading Pride & Prejudice April 8, 2016 - 12:27pm

"The first draft of anything is shit." - Ernest Hemingway

Tony Bulmer's picture
Tony Bulmer April 8, 2016 - 1:48pm

Pacing is vital. A slow horse is a dead horse.


Dan Booton's picture
Dan Booton from Shrewsbury, UK is reading 'Less than Zero' again before taking 'Imperial Bedrooms' for a spin. April 8, 2016 - 2:56pm

"As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out". - Twain.

Andrew Perry's picture
Andrew Perry April 9, 2016 - 12:46am

"Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it." - William Goldman

Jeff Doering's picture
Jeff Doering April 9, 2016 - 4:18am

This is the best single sentence on writing that I have ever found. Better, by far, than the Vonnegut quote that you chose to use--- “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words April 9, 2016 - 4:52am

"Writing is rewriting." -- traditional

Nancy Johnson's picture
Nancy Johnson April 9, 2016 - 12:06pm

And now ... let's add some more "best single sentences about writing" from more than five women writers

"I write because it helps me make sense of the world."  Laurie Halse Anderson (author of SPEAK, WINTERGIRLS, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, CHAINS, FEVER 1793, etc.)

Jason Pere's picture
Jason Pere April 9, 2016 - 4:38pm

"If you feel like you have to convince your reader to belive your story, then you are doing it wrong."- Jason Pere

Harry Bliss's picture
Harry Bliss April 10, 2016 - 9:11am

"Write or I'll blow your fucking head off."

                  ---Kathy Bates

Justin Semmel's picture
Justin Semmel April 10, 2016 - 7:36pm

"This sentence can be saved" - Gertrude Stein.

Bob Sharen's picture
Bob Sharen April 11, 2016 - 12:44pm

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." - Elmore Leonard

Bob Roarty's picture
Bob Roarty April 12, 2016 - 9:52am

You can't edit a blank page.

CS's picture
CS from Biloxi, MS is reading Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity April 12, 2016 - 12:53pm

"There is nothing to writing; all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Ernest Hemingway

“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

Irene Vilar-Grandbois's picture
Irene Vilar-Gra... April 16, 2016 - 10:42am

A very weak list and of course women voices much lacking...

Mike Davis's picture
Mike Davis April 16, 2016 - 8:38pm

Pneumonaultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis in the English lexicon shows writers' floccinaucinihilipilification of hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

eddieb's picture
eddieb April 17, 2016 - 7:54am

"The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself."  -- Faulkner

richardguy's picture
richardguy April 18, 2016 - 11:31am


Nice discussion of opening a vein...

Ken Farmer's picture
Ken Farmer April 19, 2016 - 9:29am

Just tell the damn story. - Ken Farmer

The Dark Lord's picture
The Dark Lord from The Void is reading The Book of the Dead May 11, 2016 - 2:10pm

I wrote a few children's books. Not on purpose. - Steven Wright

Irene Fenswick's picture
Irene Fenswick August 20, 2016 - 11:55am

Great set of quotes, Christopher! Especially I liked Stephen King's one. Indeed, the worst crime could be committed by a writer is not to read. It's like learning how to swim on land.

johnlewis's picture
johnlewis January 24, 2018 - 10:06am

Lots of good quotes in the comments!


tonany's picture
tonany October 19, 2020 - 2:17am

"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality" - Plutard

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billielmatlock's picture
billielmatlock April 5, 2021 - 1:13am

It's really nice of you to share these names here, and it gave us an idea.
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Jayne13's picture
Jayne13 March 30, 2022 - 11:51am

All of them are my favorite authors. I especially like Stephen King and his stories. I've seen some of your movies. basketball legends

Annata20's picture
Annata20 June 15, 2022 - 11:59pm

Your post is very nice and informative. It taught me a lot of useful things. Thank you!

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