Totally unhelpful quotes by famous authors

Totally unhelpful quotes from famous authors (1)

I’m looking at you, Mark Twain — at least for my first example.

“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” — Mark Twain.

Easy peasy, right? I’ve seen this quote at least a dozen times while combing through other people’s Twitter timelines, and I’m thinking, “Well, if I knew what ‘the wrong words’ were, then, yes, it’d be easy. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Twain.”

*[Update: It did occur to me (after posting this, of course) that Mark Twain may have said this to be sarcastic. It’s possible.]

I’m not saying that all his quotes are unhelpful, but this particular one irritates me to no end. Maybe because people keep sharing it as though it’s actually helpful. Or maybe it just sounds “so simple and yet so . . . profound!”

<Dry heave>

I’m back.

Before I move on to the next one, I’ll throw in a quote by Wallace Stegner:

“Hard writing makes for easy reading.”

So . . . wait. I thought writing was easy. Which is it? ‘Cause both are authors. Maybe writing was easier for Mark Twain, but are we to assume, then, that he’s a superior writer to those who consider writing hard — or an inferior one?

Honestly, I haven’t read enough of Mark Twain’s books — or any of Wallace Stegner’s — to offer an informed opinion on this. I was forced to read Huck Finn in school, but I haven’t read any of MT’s books since then. I had no desire to. Still don’t.

Moving on to #2:

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep is this: To rise above the little things.”John Burroughs, @greatestquotes

Ah, to rise above the “little things”!

What does that even mean?

Different things to different people is what it means. Because what I call “little things” might not be “little things” to someone else.

For example, I’ve never been all that impressed by the idea of wearing a different kind of clothing to bed than for daytime — and the connected idea of changing your clothes before and after sleeping. I guess it depends on what you wear during the day, though.

Plus, I wear shoes in the house (shoes that I’ve worn outside). All the time. Not even sorry.

But to some people, changing into jammies and not wearing shoes in the house is a big deal.

I don’t even have to rise about those “little things,” though, because they’re not even big enough, in my mind’s eye, to trip over. It’s like they don’t even exist. You can’t rise above stuff that doesn’t exist.

But maybe Mr. Burroughs uses the words “little things” to describe annoying but not life-threatening things like the petty criticism of those who would try to dissuade him from doing what he believes he must do. In which case, yay for rising above that.

Sadly, clueless people like me have to guess what he means by “little things,” because . . . we don’t read minds. And “little things” could mean a lot of different things.

And it could be dumb things. Or it could be important things. Perspective is what it comes down to. What I might dismiss as “little things” that I can ignore without a qualm might be crazy important to someone else.

That includes weird stuff like not eating food that’s been on the floor for more than ten seconds. Even if it’s dry and it didn’t land on a pile of something nasty. Arbitrary is what I call that rule. It’s madness. Wasteful madness.

Kettle chips, if they’re still dry and not stale, are totally fine if they’ve been on a dry floor for an hour or so. I’ve checked. You’re welcome.

Seriously, though, millions of people all over the world already know that. Those that make sick faces when I pop something in my mouth that I just picked up have been brainwashed to believe that after ten seconds, anything that lands on the floor is POISON!

I’d say I rise above that stuff, but, again, . . .  not even on the radar. And, no, I was not raised in a barn. And my mom is way better at housekeeping than I’m ever likely to be. And cooking, too. Definitely. That part is more embarrassing. I do make a decent meatloaf, though. And my hamburger stew is legendary. Ask my kids (two of them, anyway).

Anyway! On to #3:

“Throughout the centuries, there were men who took first steps, down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision.”Ayn Rand, @greatestquotes

And another one that’s similar:

“The writers I respect most had an undying commitment to a vision.” — Jewel Kilcher, @quotes4writers

What is this “vision” that supposedly makes its adherents more respectable?

Not all visions are laudable. Not all “first steps” are made in the pursuit of goodness or with a view to be a blessing to others.

The vision of one man might include being “relentlessly helpful,” which is admirable.

The vision of another might include genocide. Or creating the first zombie virus.

Personally, I’d have a hard time respecting the latter.

Now, it’s possible you’re reading this and thinking, “Good grief, woman! Why can’t you just imagine the best possible meaning for someone’s words and leave it at that?”

The world has suffered grievously because enough people assumed the best about a particular leader’s “vision.”

I’m not saying we should assume the worst, either. But words mean something. And ambiguity is not a friend to those who write in the hopes of sharing what they’ve learned. So, if you truly want the best for your readers, you’ll do your best to avoid expressions that are more confusing or misleading than helpful.

Don’t assume that, because a famous author’s quote ended up on someone’s Twitter timeline or in a book of quotes by famous people, that it therefore must be wise and worth repeating. Again. And again. And . . . again.

Because unhelpful quotes don’t improve with repetition. They just become fodder for ranty posts by bloggers like me with a penchant for overreacting.

So, thank you, Mr. Twain, etc. and your fans on Twitter. This was fun.


Can you think of any quotes by famous people that drive you nuts or make you think, “Well, that didn’t help. At all”?

**Update: I’m sure I’ll find other quotes that irritate me (especially if I’m reading them on an empty stomach or on “one of those days”), so this may not be the last post about unhelpful quotes. Bear with me. Or skip those posts. I’ll never know. 

***Update #2: Behold (at the top) my rookie attempt at creating graphics for my blog posts. It’s a work on progress, and for some reason, this was the first blog post for which I created and uploaded a graphic. I used Canva, which is fun and easier to use (for me, at least) than Adobe Photoshop.

If you have any ideas on how to improve my blog graphics, please share in the comments below. And thank you, in advance. 🙂






13 thoughts on “Totally unhelpful quotes by famous authors

  1. I’ve always assumed the Twain quote was tongue-in-cheek, because, as you said, the matter of picking out the ‘wrong words’ is anything but simple.

    The one that gets me is the Hemingway quote about an unhappy childhood being the best early training for a writer. I haven’t read it in its original context so I can’t gauge the tone, but I’ve seen people present the quote as though it were serious, and I always think…really? You’re sharing this as “writing wisdom”? Maybe it would encourage people who did have unhappy childhoods, but otherwise, how is it at all helpful to promote that idea?


    1. Oh, that’s a good candidate for another “totally unhelpful quotes by famous authors” post! Like you say, it might encourage those who have had difficult childhoods, but what about those of us who haven’t? And as much as my 14-year-old tells me (often) that his life is so full of suffering he can hardly stand it, I don’t assume that that means he’ll one day be a famous author. He tells me I’m lucky that I’m not a teenage boy, because my life is sooooo much easier. So, what am I to think of my future as a writer? Plus, I had a pretty stable and happy childhood, so that’s another strike against me, I guess. 😉
      I would agree that Mark Twain’s comment was probably tongue-in-cheek. It makes sense that it would be. I just wonder, sometimes, when it’s thrown at me almost every day on Twitter as though it were supposed to be helpful or inspiring. I guess I’ve just never found it to be either.
      Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a thoughtful comment! You’ve made my day better, and I hope you enjoy the rest of yours. 🙂


  2. Lol! I often see posts about good writing quotes but I don’t think I’ve ever read a post about bad ones. I agree, I find the quotes you listed much too vague to be very helpful. I can kind of see what the authors were trying to say, and maybe in context they’re more helpful. But by themselves they don’t provide much. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re probably right that the quotes might actually be helpful if they weren’t taken out of context. I wonder what kind of conversation Mark Twain was having when he gave that quote. I only know I’m tired of seeing it on Twitter and on writing blogs. Hence the ranty post. 😉 Thanks for commenting!! Have a great evening and a great weekend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It did occur to me (after publishing the post, of course) that Mr. Twain might have said this to be sarcastic, but since he can no longer be questioned, and I don’t have the time or inclination to research it, I may never know. Still . . . this quote is EVERYWHERE. And I don’t get why it’s so freaking popular. Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad I’m not alone in disagreeing with his quote. 🙂 I’m not sure about Mr. Stenger’s quote, either. I guess it’s just more proof that famous authors (being human) say stupid shit just like the rest of us. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speaking of quotes, I have nominated you for the 3 quotes in 3 days challenge. Should you choose to accept, write a post with a quote for three days and nominate three other bloggers a day. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, wow! Thanks for the nomination. Between work and other commitments, I don’t know if I’ll be able to write three blog posts in three days — and to find three bloggers each day to nominate. Does each blogger have to accept the nomination for it to count as one of my three nominations for that day, or do I only need to nominate three bloggers (as part of a comment), whether or not they accept the challenge? I appreciate the nomination, and I’ll do what I can. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It’s pretty free form, I think just letting them know they’ve been tagged counts. And I waited to schedule my posts until I had all three written. Idk if that’s cheating.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, hey, that’s a good idea! I have one comment in mind for the first post, and I’m working on collecting the other two. I think it makes sense to write them first and then post them one per day until they’re all three published. And that gives me a little more time to work with, which I’ll need to also find nine bloggers to nominate. 😉 This could be fun.

        Liked by 1 person

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