Up from the Abysm of Pish

January 21, 2009

Yesterday was Inauguration Day, and we heard some fine speechifying. I thought I’d honor the day by collecting some of my favorite quotes on writing and including them here.

Given that we now have a president known for his eloquence, it seemed appropriate to include as the caboose on this train of thought some soaring prose on Warren Harding, one of our least eloquent.

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” — Mark Twain

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until beads of blood start to form on your forehead.” — attributed to the late Jeff MacNeilly, cartoonist-author of Shoe

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” — W. Somerset Maugham

“I write to find out what I think.” — Joan Didion

“Yesterday Mr. Hall wrote that the printer’s proof-reader was improving my punctuation for me, and I telegraphed orders to have him shot without giving him time to pray.” — Mark Twain (from an 1889 letter to a friend)

“I love writing but hate starting. The page is awfully white and it says, ‘You may have fooled some of the people some of the time but those days are over, giftless. I’m not your agent and I’m not your mommy, I’m a white piece of paper, you wanna dance with me?’” — Aaron Sorkin

“He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.” — H.L. Mencken (writing about President Warren Harding)


  1. ThomasCope

    I admit that, after enjoying these quotations, I do feel somewhat reluctant to post a comment…

  2. jdmann

    Go ahead, Thomas — I promise I will not call your comments pish nor posh, balder nor dash! 🙂

  3. Dixie Gillaspie

    And what more personal info can we add than the words that have inspired us? I’d rather know the source of your inspiration than your demographic information. (And you did not disappoint!)

  4. JDM

    Dixie — Reading your second sentence, if I didn’t know you better, I’d guess you were a master of hip-hop. 🙂

    (Can you do that? Will you do that?)


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