The only quote about writing I'll ever need.
And one I could have easily missed.
There are a million quotes about writing out there, ranging from the straight-talking, to the completely unfathomable.
There's a lot of wisdom in them, there's no doubt about that, but there's a lot of…other stuff in them too.
I want to tell you what my favourite quote about writing is, but more importantly, I want to tell you why it's my favourite.
(Feel free to scroll down if you can't wait for the quote, but I think a little context really only makes it better.)
Perhaps it's my favourite because it's timeless. It makes just as much sense right now in 2022 as it would have done when it was first uttered.
The meaning of it will never change and it has the power to break through all of the blurriness and the confusion that is writing fiction.
It could be that.
Or maybe it's because it's honest. This quote was unfiltered, unedited and straight from the mind of the author who said it. It was a direct link to their internal writing process with no tricks or gatekeeping.
The author who gave us this quote was not doing so with thoughts of elevating themselves, or being remembered for a pithy saying.
You can tell, by reading it, that they meant only to share an insight into the condition of being a writer. It doesn't feel like a blunt directive, passed down to all the hopeless amateurs beneath them, it feels like a shrug and a sigh among friends and fellow strugglers.
Either of those could be the reason, but I think, selfish as it might be, another reason this quote is my favourite is because of the effect it's had on my own writing.
It's been a source of commiseration when things I've written haven't gone right, or have turned out underwhelming.
It's been a source of energy and confidence when I'm so deep into a story that I've long lost any bearing on if it's any good.
But more than those reasons, this quote has kept me writing.
When I've felt burnt out and absolutely sure that I'm chasing a dream that never was, like gazing up at a star that already burned out eons ago, this quote has been a sign saying 'ah, but you don't know for sure, do you?'
The quote has evolved from a line that someone wrote that I read back to myself sometimes, into a philosophy on the craft of writing, and on into a mindset that I have carried through every new project I've written.
It's even become an answer when other writers ask me for advice through my YouTube channel.
It's my favourite quote for all of those reasons. But more so I think, it's because it doesn't do what a lot of writing quotes do.
It doesn't tell me I have to rise early and go to bed late.
It doesn't tell me I have to write at least four pages, but no more, every day.
It doesn't tell me to write to market, if I ever want to get published.
It doesn't tell me to just keep going and someday maybe I'll make it.
No, instead this quote acknowledges what others don't.
That no great author really knows where all of this comes from and how to get a handle on any of it.
My favourite quote about writing is this one, because nothing else has the power to let me feel legitimate and lost at the same time. No other quote can put a guiding hand on my shoulder, while at the same time saying 'which way shall we go, do you think?'
I hope, if you've never heard it, it can do the same for you if you're struggling to get a hold of your story, or to finish one that means a lot to you.
If you're burnt out, or you haven't even started and all of this is feeling impossible, remember this:
"You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing."
- Gene Wolfe
About the author
Kieren Westwood is writer of short fiction and novels usually focussed on the meeting point of literary and crime fiction. He also shares writing experience and flash fiction on his YouTube channel.