Quotes on Writing that Inspire Adult Students and Their Teachers

Quotations on writing to inspire the teacher or the student.

Some days writing flows out of us, and other days it needs a little more coaxing. Whether you're the teacher or the student of writing, it's helpful to have a few quotations you can turn to for inspiration. Here are five of our favorites.
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"There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented..." — O'Connor

Writing - Terri Lee-Shield Photography - Cultura - GettyImages-501869603
Writing - Terri Lee-Shield Photography - Cultura - GettyImages-501869603

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), American writer of novels, short stories, and essays, said that.

I'm often shocked by the writing I see from college students of any age, so I don't apologize for agreeing with O'Connor. It can be difficult to be hard on students, but that's a teacher's job. Insist on the very best from your students. Insist on the very best from yourself.

More on Flannery O'Connor:

02
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"A writer needs three things..." — William Faulkner

William Faulkners Rowan Oak - Franz Marc Frei - Lonely Planet Images - GettyImages-525165033
William Faulkners Rowan Oak. William Faulkners Rowan Oak - Franz Marc Frei - Lonely Planet Images - GettyImages-525165033

"A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others."

This quote from William Faulkner in the first series of Writers at Work, (1958), makes me smile. It rings true to me. In the aftermath of a trauma in my life that made me the angriest I had ever been, I thought, "I can now write an angry scene very authentically."

Every life experience is fodder for the writer. Combining life experience, observation, and imagination makes for one beautiful writing assignment.

03
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"One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph." — Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Karin Cooper Hulton Archive - GettyImages-1149141
Columbian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez arrives with his wife Merce at a state dinner at the White House in honor of Columbian President Andres Pastrana October 28, 1998. (photo by Karin Cooper). Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Karin Cooper Hulton Archive - GettyImages-1149141

"One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph and once I get it, the rest comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone." — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This is from The Writer's Chapbook, edited by George Plimpton (1989). I include it here because the idea applies to all kinds of writing, not just to the writing of books. I often struggle with getting the first sentence down, whenever I write. It's what journalists call "the lede," the nut of what your writing is to be about. It matters tremendously.

Here is some help with teaching the lede:

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"The difference between the almost-right word..." — Mark Twain

Mark Twain Books - RENAULT Philippe - hemis fr - GettyImages-142745022
United States, New England, Connecticut, Hartford, home of American writer SamuelLanghorne Clemens said Mark Twain (1835-1910), the library books. Mark Twain Books - RENAULT Philippe - hemis fr - GettyImages-142745022

"The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter—it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

This is attributed to Mark Twain from "In a Letter to George Bainton" (1888). Do you agree with him? I do! The art of language is thrilling if you are the kind of person who recognizes the difference Twain is talking about.

It's glorious to read words that sing, words that elicit a gasp or that make your eyes bright. I'm not convinced this is something you can teach, but it's certainly something worth striving toward teaching, just in case.

More on Mark Twain:

05
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"...to have a command of metaphor." — Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle - Danita Delimont - Gallo Images - GettyImages-102521991
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato's teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures in Western philosophy. He was the first to create a comprehensive system of Western philosophy, encompassing morality and aesthetics, logic and science, politics and metaphysics. Plato and Aristotle - Danita Delimont - Gallo Images - GettyImages-102521991

"The greatest thing in style is to have a command of metaphor."

This is from Aristotle, who lived 384-322 BCE. Surprised?

It's found in Aristotle's Rhetoric III 1-12, in which he discusses how to use metaphor to "bring things before one's eyes."

It's an important tool in the writer's tool box. How to teach metaphor?