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10 Writing Tips From Stephen King

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Have you ever felt so truly inspired to write a novel—and then had no idea what to write about? Have you ever felt the crippling doubt that comes along with pouring your heart out on paper? Well, have no fear! Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft features a bounty of inspiring quotes for channeling your inner author and battling self-doubt.

1. On what it takes:

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."

2. On going forward:

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“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

3. On motivation:

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“You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

4. On keeping it simple:

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“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

5. On quality:

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“I think the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.”

6. On style:

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“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

7. On meaning:

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“Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”

8. On happiness:

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“Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”

9. On finding ideas:

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“Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

10. On hard work:

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“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration. It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.”

All quotes taken from Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
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MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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15 Empowering Quotes From Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born on November 12, 1815 and dedicated her life to progressing the women’s rights movement in America. She organized, she rallied, advocated, protested, wrote, and, most importantly, spoke. Here are just a few of the activist’s most powerful words.

1. ON THE LIFE OF FRIEND SUSAN B. ANTHONY

"To live for a principle, for the triumph of some reform by which all mankind are to be lifted up—to be wedded to an idea—may be, after all, the holiest and happiest of marriages."

— From The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony

2. ON HER HOPES FOR YOUNG WOMEN

“I would have girls regard themselves not as adjectives, but as nouns.”

— From an 1870 lecture called “Our Girls”

3. ON THE IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL EQUALITY

“To throw obstacles in the way of a complete education is like putting out the eyes; to deny the rights of property is like cutting off the hands. To refuse political equality is to rob the ostracized of all self-respect, of credit in the market place, of recompense in the world of work, of a voice in choosing those who make and administer the law, a choice in the jury before whom they are tried, and in the judge who decides their punishment.”

— From “Solitude of Self

4. ON HOW THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE COULD USE AN EDIT

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.”

— From "The Declaration of Rights and Sentiments"

5. ON THE CHANGING TIMES

“Come, come, my conservative friend, wipe the dew off your spectacles, and see that the world is moving.”

— From The Woman’s Bible

6. ON TRUTH

“Truth is the only safe ground to stand upon.”

— From The Woman’s Bible

7. ON KEEPING BUSY.

“In a word, I am always busy, which is perhaps the chief reason why I am always well.”

— From Stanton’s diaries

8. ON INDEPENDENCE

"Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. In the tragedies and triumphs of human experience, each mortal stands alone."

— From “Solitude of Self

9. ON GETTING OLDER

“... the hey-day of woman's life is on the shady side of fifty, when the vital forces heretofore expended in other ways are garnered in the brain …”

— From Elizabeth Cady Stanton as revealed in her letters, diary and reminiscences

10. ON COURAGE

“The best protection any woman can have ... is courage.”

— From Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: Fighting Together for Women's Rights

11. ON BETTERING ONESELF

“Put it down in capital letters: SELF-DEVELOPMENT IS A HIGHER DUTY THAN SELF-SACRIFICE. The thing that most retards and militates against women’s self development is self-sacrifice.”

— As told to a reporter, via In a Different Voice

12. ON THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

“It was just so in the American Revolution, in 1776, the first delicacy the men threw overboard in Boston harbor was the tea, woman's favorite beverage. The tobacco and whiskey, though heavily taxed, they clung to with the tenacity of the devil-fish.”

― From The Women’s Bible

13. ON HOW TO BECOME A BETTER PUBLIC SPEAKER

“Dress loose, take a great deal of exercise, and be particular about your diet and sleep sound enough, the body has a great effect on the mind.”

— As told to Susan B. Anthony

14. ON LIVING YOUR TRUTH

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep for ourselves alone, for in so doing we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development.”

— From an 1890 speech to the National American Woman Suffrage Association

15. ON MOTHERHOOD

“We are, as a sex, infinitely superior to men, and if we were free and developed, healthy in body and mind, as we should be under natural conditions, our motherhood would be our glory. That function gives women such wisdom and power as no male can possess.”

— From Stanton’s letters

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