4 Inspirational Quotes for Writers

by Jeff Elkins | 20 comments

There are few things in the world as weird as being a writer. We pour ourselves into our work, giving it everything we have, pushing through rejection, overcoming one barrier after another, hoping our work will be noticed. In this strange and taxing pursuit, it's important that we hold onto some truths that can keep us centered, inspirational quotes for writers that will remind us why we write.

4 Inspirational Quotes for Writers

Sometimes, the best place to find those truths is in movies.

Four Movie Moments for Writers

There are lots of movie moments that I hold in my head because they inspire me. Here are four movies and their inspirational quotes for writers that I've leaned on this week:

Quote #1

Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying, there’s no crying in baseball!

—Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own

Following a bad play, the coach of the Rockford Peaches, Jimmy Dugan (played by Tom Hanks), yells at one of his players. As he walks away, the player begins to cry. Jimmy turns on the player and delivers this iconic quote.

There lots of things about writing that makes me want to cry. This week, for example, one of my books was given a very honest three-star review that exposed all of the book’s flaws.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know the flaws were there. I knew they were there. I had just hoped no one else would see them. When the critic laid them bare for the world, I wanted to cry.

What I love about the Jimmy Dugan quote is that there is profound truth behind it. Tears may feel good in the moment, but wallowing in them can blind us to truths we need to hear. In writing, just like in baseball, we need to accept our mistakes, learn from them, and get back out on the field and play the next inning.

We can be sad for a moment, but there is work to be done and we are the ones that need to do it.

Maybe it’s not a critic making you want to cry. Maybe you lost NaNoWriMo this year? Or maybe you are dissatisfied with your own work? Or maybe life is making it difficult to find the time to crank out the words.

Whatever the stressor is, just remember the words of Jimmy Dugan. Stiffen your upper lip, look in the mirror, and say, “Are you crying? There’s no crying. There’s no crying in writing!”

Quote #2

In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself.

—Fortune in Rudy

In the movie Rudy, Fortune (Charles Dutton) is a wise groundskeeper and mentor to the movie’s protagonist. In one scene, Fortune finds Rudy (Sean Astin) skipping football practice. When Fortune asks Rudy why he wants to quit, Rudy explains that he quit because he wasn’t going to be able to play in the upcoming game and therefore wasn’t going to be able to prove the world that he had made it.

Fortune responds by reminding Rudy that he has zero talent and shouldn’t even be playing the game. Then he delivers the amazing line, “In this life, you don’t have to prove nothin’ to nobody but yourself.”

I’ve published four novels and close to a hundred short stories, and still, I see the achievements of others and wonder when I’m going to become a “real writer.” I envy the money other writers make, the acclaim they get, and the attention from our peers. I envy the speed at which they publish, the advertisements they run, and the podcast interviews they do.

In these moments, I find myself in Rudy’s shoes, feeling like I should quit because the recognition I desire feels unattainable.

It’s in those moments when I need Fortune’s quote the most. I need to be reminded that I don’t do this for the praise of the crowd. The crowd is fickle and their attention is fleeting. Pursuing it is like chasing a snowflake. Even if we catch it, it disappears as quickly as it came.

We can’t work hoping for affirmation from the crowd. We need to do our work and do it well, knowing the only person we need to prove anything to is ourselves.

Quote #3

Do you really want to get him? You see what I’m saying. What are you prepared to do? And then, what are you prepared to do?

—Jim Malone in The Untouchables

In the movie The Untouchables, Jim Malone (Sean Connery) is a streetwise beat cop in Chicago. He is approached by Treasury Officer Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) and asked to join Ness’s team that is going to hunt the notorious gangster Al Capone. Malone pulls Ness into a church where they can talk quietly.

Sitting in the pews, Malone asks Ness this iconic question: “What are you prepared to do?” When Ness responds, “Everything within the law,” Malone shoots back, “And then what are you prepared to do?”

While we aren’t hunting down mob bosses, we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the difficulty of the task before us. Creating art that is noticed and makes a lasting impact is hard. Few succeed. Even fewer are remembered.

It demands hard work and sacrifice. There will be late nights and early mornings no one will applaud you for. There will be pages and stories and characters you pour yourself into that no one will appreciate. And if you succeed and someone reads your stuff, there will be criticism and rejection.

This is no easy task ahead of us.

We need to remind ourselves of this so that when things get hard, we aren’t surprised. With each barrier we face, we need to keep Malone’s voice in the back of our mind.

We need the old, grizzled voice of wisdom challenging us, refusing to let us be naive. We need the questions, “What are you prepared to do? And then what are you prepared to do?” routinely put to us so that we don’t forget that, though the road is difficult, the journey is worth the sacrifice.

Quote #4

You think we need one more? You think we need one more. Alright, we’ll get one more.

—Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven

In the movie Ocean’s Eleven, after assembling ten members of their team, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) are sitting in a bar watching TV. As a boxing match plays on the screen in front of them, Danny asks Rusty, “You think we need one more?” I love this quote because it reminds me that getting the right team around us is critical to our success.

It is tempting to think of writing as a solitary thing: you and your keyboard alone in an empty room. That image couldn’t be farther from the truth.

While writing does require a lot of isolated work, it can’t be done without a team of people around us. No one makes art alone. We need other writers to bounce ideas off of and give us honest feedback. We need team members to work alongside as we strive together to get our work noticed.

Just this week I listened to an online course presented by Joe Bunting and Ruthanne Reid. Three years ago, I met them when I joined the Becoming Writer community. The impact they have had on my work by encouraging me, giving me feedback, and teaching me what it means to be a writer is priceless. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without them.

I’m glad that when I started this crazy journey, I had Danny Ocean in the back of my mind asking, “Do you think we need one more?” The answer is yes.

The good news is, if you don’t have a group of writers you are working alongside, you can find them right here by joining the Becoming Writer group.

Your Writing Inspiration

Becoming and being a writer is a strange journey. We need to keep ourselves grounded with things that inspire us.

I've shared with you four of my inspirational quotes for writers. Now you share a few of yours with the rest of us in the comments. Give us the quote and tell us what about it inspires you.

What inspirational quotes do you lean on to keep you centered as a writer? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Today, we're going to write with quote #2 in mind: you have nothing to prove to anyone but yourself. Free write for fifteen minutes. Don't judge yourself or edit as you go. Just get the words on the page.

When you're done, share your writing in the comments below. Be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers, too!

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Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

20 Comments

  1. Evelyn Sinclair

    My favourite quote: Winston Churchill “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”

    This echoes quote #2 and can keep me going. How many things have I failed at? Plenty when it comes to job searching. Am I too old? was my skills set not the right match? I could punish myself trying to work it out, but I will never really know, because when you ask for feedback you just get some platitude that really tells you nothing. I’ve had other failures too.
    My first marriage ended in divorce following one incident of domestic violence – once was once too often for me.
    I’ve tried self employment too, and world politics on one occasion closed down my business for lack of travelling visitors from the USA. (Sorry guys – not your fault) Next self employment failure was my independent role being outsourced to a company – again outwith my control, but not because I wasn’t good at what I was doing. Myself and several others lost out when our services were outsourced to one large company which fulfilled the need and brought savings to our former employer. Three times I had to sit a French History exam at University because I have no interest in historical dates. Events interest me but not dates.
    I guess none of these events has ultimately resulted in a loss of confidence on my part. I have decent friends around me, who are interested in my goings-on, as I am in theirs. I have enough money to survive and live reasonably comfortably, so I refuse to be downhearted. I don’t need anyone’s sympathy to sustain me. I am self-made, and agree with Churchill – the road is not always smooth, but it does have an ending or sometimes a diversion.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      I love the Churchill quote and am inspired by your persistence. Keep going!

    • Evelyn Sinclair

      Thanks Jeff. Persistence is a bit like a dog with a bone – just can’t let go.

    • Writemom

      One of my favorite movies (and yes I’m a Grandma) is Meet The Robinson’s. (an animated film) The main character’s motto is “Keep Moving Forward”. He’s an inventor and he explains he learns something new with every failure. I quote that motto to myself quite often! Sounds like you do too! Very inspiring!

    • Evelyn Sinclair

      Thanks from pne Granma to another, and I do like your quote.

    • chatterbox

      Another of my favorite quotes: “Success is falling down nine times, but getting up ten.”

      A good hockey quote, but I think I read that it is actually a Japanese proverb.

    • Sherrie

      Thanks for the article, Jeff, and that Churchill quote helps, too.

      I started out this year with a plan: write a story a week and submit it to a publisher. I am at about 50 percent of my goal, with about 25 stories written and submitted. But those rejection emails are really getting me down.

      So, I did some trivea questions this morning, and the questions were about voices for animated films. Robin Williams as the Genie in Aladdin and the voices of Simba in Lion King. So, I wrote about ‘putting it in the past’ this morning..

      “The Choice”

      The big man leaned back in his overstuffed recliner and
      glared at her. “That’s in the past. Put it behind you. Go back to work tomorrow
      and just do your job! You gave that poor boy good advice. He didn’t want it.
      You did what you felt was right in your heart. Feel good about that, even if
      what you say falls on deaf ears. Understand?”

      “But,
      Grampa,” the young woman balked.

      “The
      way I see it, you’ve got two choicesQuit or go bback to work. What’ll it be?”

      She
      wiped her wet face on the sleeve of her jacket, then squatted down in front of
      his chair like a submissive child.

      “Go back to work tomorrow, Grampa,”
      she said.
      So, here I go “from failure to failure” by putting them in the past and continuing to write so I can to learn and grow in my craft.
      Thanks to all for brightening my day.
      — Sherrie

    • Evelyn Sinclair

      Sherrie, pleased that you (and a few others) have found the Churchill quote helpful.

  2. EndlessExposition

    A much needed motivational kick in the pants. Reviews are always appreciated!

    Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a waitress, a cherubic young woman with springy blonde curls and clear blue eyes. “Hi there! I’m Honey, I’ll be your server today.” She turned to Detective Cameron first. “What can I get you, ma’am?”

    Detective Cameron pursed her lips in thought. “Do you serve hugs for world weary detectives?”

    “We sure do!” The waitress hugged Detective Cameron warmly and Cameron kissed her on the cheek.

    “How was your morning, sweetheart?”

    “Busy! A lot of families passing through. Spring break season, I guess.”

    The detective noticed that I was lost. “This is my eldest daughter. Honey, this is Dr. MacBride. We’re working together on an investigation.”

    And I was still lost. For one thing, the two women looked nothing alike and couldn’t have much more than a ten year age difference. For another, Detective Cameron did not strike me as the type of person who would name her child Honey. But, I put the questions to one side and said, “Nice to meet you.”

    Honey beamed at me with a megawatt smile. “You too! Alright, food. You want your usual, Mom?”

    “Please and thank you.”

    “Great, and you Doctor?”

    “I haven’t really looked at the menu. What’s good?

    “Are you up for a second breakfast? The blueberry pancakes are to die for.”

    “Put me down for that then.”

    “Will do! Be back soon!” And with that she flounced away, leaving the detective and I alone again.

    “Didn’t know you had kids.”

    Detective Cameron smiled fondly. “Just the two, Honey and Marleen. I adopted them both from the same vile foster home after their caregivers were sentenced.”

    That explained a lot. “Are they still in school?”

    “Marleen is in the eighth grade, and most likely won’t rest until she’s acquired several PhDs. Honey graduated high school, and decided to end matters there. She works here full-time and lives at home. I’ve been trying to persuade her to at least attend community college, but so far no luck.”

    “Are you married? If you don’t mind my asking.”

    “No, it’s just us three.”

    “That must be tough. Being a single parent.”

    She shrugged. “One adjusts. I wouldn’t trade them for anything at all.”

    Reply
    • Writemom

      You totally got me. I was thinking.. that’s weird, a waitress hugging a cop just because… I’d love to read more!

  3. George McNeese

    I love Fortune’s quote the most. More times than not, I find myself comparing other writers’ successes to my own and I feel inadequate and less of a writer. This quote speaks to me the most because it serves as a reminder that I can’t compare myself to others. I am my own writer and, as such, I have my own journey.

    Reply
  4. Debra johnson

    I have many I put on screen saver at times , but a few of my favorites which I use during Nano. Is a guy saying … I’m Confused why are you not writing? Two others are coffee cups .. one says “Go away I am writing” and another says Write like no ones going to read it. But the one that’s my favorite says Don’t let someone else be the writer of your story. And I’m not sure who wrote it.

    Reply
    • Evelyn Sinclair

      Love all your quotes. Imprssed that you tackled Nano.

    • Debra johnson

      Thanks Evelyn, Sinclair, after editing it at least stage 1 I see that I have 3 different short stories all surrounding the same topic, homelessness in one way or another. Looking forward to editing and seeing how they turn out myself.

  5. chatterbox

    My 9 and 11 year old grandsons are hockey players, they’ve been playing five and seven years, respectively. A while back I adopted one of their inspirational quotes for my desk: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” (Wayne Gretsky)

    They’re playing 2-3 games, plus 2 after school practices, a week, so they’re taking dozens of shots (risks) every time they’re on the ice. And, mostly they miss. They struggle. They make mistakes. They get critiqued (called coaching). But sometimes they don’t miss. Sometimes they make the shot, they make the save, or the great pass, and for them there is no greater joy–you can see it on their faces.

    I like reminding myself that if my grandsons can put themselves out there–take a shot–their Gram can do no less

    Reply
    • Evelyn Sinclair

      Say “Hello” to your grandsons from me and tell them I’m rooting for them. This Gran is encouraged by their persistence.

    • chatterbox

      Thank you, I will when I see them at practice this afternoon.

      They do inspire me. I like to joke that I used to be the grandmother of two Mites, then two Squirts, and currently am the grandmother of a Squirt and a Pee Wee (the age divisions the kids move through). The thing that has impressed me most this past year is not just that their skills have improved, but that they recognize the need to practice–and practice, and practice, and practice.

      Their first year as Mites, when it’s mostly falling and flailing around, and any visions of flying around the ice like an NHL player quickly vanish, both boys began more than one practice, and one or two games, in angry tears because they didn’t want to go. But their parents had been very clear about two things: (1) they didn’t have to sign-up, but if they did (2) they would have to attend every practice and every game. Of course, once they were on the ice, they had a ball, but given their occasional tantrums, I fully expected each of them to quit after that first year. While there are probably several reasons for why they stuck with it, from watching and listening to them, I think the main reason is that they can see their own improvement. I think after that first year they realized that not only would they get better as they got older, bigger and stronger, but they were aware of how much they improved with practice.

      Now, signing up for another season is no longer a question. Instead they sign-up for everything–every hockey clinic, hockey camp, special skill practices, etc. (Last year’s two-week holiday break, the oldest was at the rink all but two days, and one of those days was Christmas.) Even though they want their teams to win, I think the fact that they can see the results of their own efforts is now their main motivation.

      Sorry about going on and on (and on), but watching these kids the past few years has been an eye-opener for me. I never played sports, and growing up my son played just a bit of football, but was more interested in skiing and stock car racing, so I never realized how beneficial sports can be for young children. Not only have my grandsons been learning to master physical skills, but important mental and emotional skills as well as they figure out things like how they learn best, and how to maintain enthusiasm and have fun while dealing with doubt, disappointment, discouragement, and occasional embarrassment (try taking the puck the wrong direction down the ice). And, in case anyone is wondering, they are excellent students, and, in spite of their brotherly competiveness and spats, are genuinely nice, thoughtful kids.

      I may be grown-up, but after beginning this journey to become a writer, I know I’m still growing. And, I mean it when I say I want to grow to be more like my grandsons. More than once over the last five years, I’ve thought about quitting (for a couple years I thought about every day). I crumble when criticized, am humiliated and discouraged by mistakes, and every time I open my laptop or grab a pen, I am flailing around in self-doubt. But, inspired by my grandsons and following their example, I’m learning that it’s all about practice, practice, practice, and then taking your shots.

    • Writemom

      I agree. And I’m totally telling myself that now. If I don’t try to get published, I never will! Good luck to you and keep writing!

  6. Writemom

    From Letters To A Young Poet

    “If, when you wake up in the morning, you can think of nothing but writing . . . then you are a writer.”

    ― Rainer Maria Rilke

    This quote has inspired me through quite a few dark writing times when I just wanted to give up. I’ve even deprived myself for months at a time. But I can’t deny it. It’s in there. THEY are in there… in my mind. Yelling and knocking and pleading to get out. “Just get us out and put us on paper! We promise we’ll cooperate in our stories!” So I give in eventually, and out they come, one by one or sometimes in groups. Down on the page they go, telling me their stories so I can pass them along to others. They become content and quiet and even in some cases happy. But to my huge surprise, more characters want out! “You told his story, now tell mine!”

    As the quote says, I’ll start a story; I’ll sleep on it, and wake up literally with the next portion of my story ready to flow into the keyboard. It truly is how I know I’m a writer. I haven’t been able to suppress the visceral need since I was about twelve years old. I have written poetry for as long as I can remember, and even when I’m not working on a story or character development or something, I’m writing poetry.

    Life gets in the way at times. My Dad was sick for several years. My stories went on the back burner, sometimes pleading for attention, but the poetry never stopped. It is my therapy. It always has been. Now I have time and means and opportunity and I’m writing every day again. It is a huge relief to me. I wake up thinking about writing and there is nothing holding me back!

    My hope is that I’ll soon be sharing it all with the world.

    Reply
  7. EndlessExposition

    Er…what happened to the comments on this article?

    Reply

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