Mark Twain (1835–1910) is the author of many iconic novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Roughing It.
Here are four of his quotes to inspire your your writing life!
1. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
This is absolutely one of the secrets to getting ahead, especially when it comes to the writing life. It’s why I and so many others suggest you write at least a little bit every day. It’s why working on something slowly over the course of many weeks and months is a whole lot more valuable than planning and talking about a new writing project that never ultimately happens.
Sure, it’d be nice to write everything super fast, whether it be a short story or a novel, and have every new manuscript be solid gold by the end of the first draft. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. It’s why you have to fall in love with the process to find success as a writer. You’ll get annoyed and frustrated at times, but as soon as you see writing as a necessary daily process that flexes your mental muscles the same way that exercise flexes your physical muscles, the more chances you’ll have at being published and finding loyal readers in the years to come.
The most important thing is getting started. It’s a scary, necessary step, but once you do it, I swear, the work gets easier after awhile. Just get started.
2. There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.
There truly are two kinds of writers in the world. There are the ones who just get up every day and do the work. Who write another 500 words of their latest story or novel. Who revise another chapter from that novel and don’t tire of the process even though they’re deep into the sixth or seventh draft. Who plan their next month of writing and commit to it every day no matter what, even when they have a thousand responsibilities, even when there’s only a half-hour of time they can devote to their work.
And then there are the writers who don’t accomplish a whole lot but love to talk about how much they’ve accomplished to their friends, to their family, on Twitter, on Facebook. Don’t get me wrong — it’s okay to announce in person or online something you’ve accomplished on occasion. I do it all the time! Did you finish a new story? Did you start querying your new novel to literary agents? Did an agent request it? Did you get something published? Then awesome! Tell us about these accomplishments, absolutely. It’s inspiring to hear about them.
But what you don’t want to do is fixate on telling the world every little thing you’ve done. What will bring you more success in the long run is just putting your head down and accomplishing the things, without any major announcements, without the spotlight in your face. Keep working and writing and dreaming and trying, and that spotlight you might secretly be hoping for will find you eventually.
3. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.
I always feel bad for the people in this world who can read but choose not to. Those people who don’t have a single book in their house. Those people who have the time in their day to read but instead watch another episode of that dumb show or just have the TV blaring some innocuous hour of programming they aren’t even paying attention to. I mean, I understand that at times you want to turn your brain off and watch TV. We all have days and nights like that.
But there’s so much value in reading, even just for ten to twenty minutes a day, that it seems like such a waste if you have the capability to be a great reader but then never pick up another book in your life. Fiction doesn’t even have to be your jam; you can read non-fiction if you prefer! Reading is reading at the end of the day, and whatever kind of storytelling makes you happy is up to you.
But to just go year after year proudly never reading a work of anything never makes any sense to me. My dad hasn’t read a book since his college days, which astounds me. And a friend of mine told me recently he hated being forced to read novels in high school and so he hasn’t read any books since.
It’s so sad, isn’t it? It’s sad to think about all the amazing books out there people like these haven’t read and will never read. I read every single day and I weep for all the books out there I’ll never get to. I imagine there are hundreds of incredible stories I would adore from beginning to end that I’ll never find, and that pains me. And it should pain you, too.
But what shouldn’t pain you is the knowing that all that reading you do makes for a more inspired, creative, well-rounded life. And you absolutely have the advantage over the ones who choose not to read. They’re the ones missing out.
4. Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.
This is one of Mark Twain’s most famous quotes, and it’s hard to disagree with it. Although I’d throw in having the time to write in there, too (not to mention, finding love and making the occasional scrumptious buttermilk waffle), I agree that an ideal life is made up of good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience.
The first two elements are obvious. We are social creatures, and it’s important to have at least a few good friends you can spend time with and laugh with. I’m writing all the time and fail to spend enough time with my friends, but when I on occasion get together with those specific people that always bring a smile to my face, I’m one happy cat.
And then, of course, good books are essential to an ideal life, too. I love movies and television, but there’s nothing like curling up on the couch with an amazing novel (the longer the better!). It doesn’t happen with every book I pick up, but occasionally I discover one I immediately adore, and there’s nothing like spending those hours far away from my own life and instead lost in the world of a gifted storyteller.
And then there’s the third element — the sleepy conscience. What Twain means by this is to not be overly bothered by our conscience, our inner sense of what is right and wrong. Our conscience is there for a reason, naturally, but something we often give too much of yourselves to is that conscience. Sometimes we stay away from things we’re afraid of or believe we shouldn’t do… when we absolutely should be doing it. And sometimes we go after things our conscience tells us is the right thing, when actually it’s very much the wrong thing and we’re just wasting our time.
Every day we try to find those elements that help make up our ideal lives. For me it’s everything creativity. I love to read books and watch films and tell stories. I love to surround myself with art and fantasy and imagination. The ideal life might look a bit differently for you, and that’s okay! Do what makes you happy. Surround yourself with things that inspire you. Explore your passions. Go after things that excite you, that scare you.
Do whatever you need to do to find your own version of an ideal life… and then never look back.
PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!