7 Things We Can Learn From Dead Writers

Sometimes it’s nice to have a little help from an experienced writer. It is great to have a mentor, but can we learn anything from those who lived 50, 100, or 200 years ago? Walk with me through history. The following nuggets of wisdom cover the gamut. Some are funny, some are serious, and all of them are right on target.

Writing - Mark Twain - quote

Mark Twain

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  Mark Twain (Author 1835 – 1910) (Click to Tweet this) 

Mark Twain was on to something here. Good writing is clear, correct and helpful. One way to assure this is to check for costly errors. Even if you are a fiction writer and you make up stories, facts are still important to make the story realistic and relevant. Even if the world of your story is made up, it will still have laws and rules that govern it.

“Many books require no thought from those who read them, and for a very simple reason; they made no such demand on those who wrote them.” Charles Caleb Colton (English Author & Cleric, 1780 – 1832)

I find this both comical and compelling. Writing requires reflection and research coupled with passion and perspiration. In order for our words to have life, we need to observe people, experience living, and then have the courage to write it down.

Henry David Thoreau understood this when he said, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” (American Author, 1817 – 1862)

Writing - H. G. Wells - quote

H. G. Wells

We should remain teachable, but stand up for our writing and our style. Because the truth is, just as there are editors with wisdom, there are others who want to change your efforts for no good reason. As H. G. Wells once observed, “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s script.” (English Author, Historian 1866 – 1946)

Most types of journalism have their place, but I believe outstanding writing comes from the uplifting circumstances. There’s an abundance of writing about corrupt people and poor choices. Ronald Reagan, actor, politician and writer once quipped, “Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed there are many rewards, if you disgrace yourself you can always write a book.”  (40th President of U.S. 1911 – 2004)

In spirit, we should remain humble, remembering humorist Evan Esar’s expression, “Most new books are forgotten within a year, especially by those who borrow them.” (American Humorist 1899 – 1995)

In my case, I seldom loan out my books.  Instead, I’d rather buy someone a copy and by doing so, support the author I enjoy and secure my library.

Regarding books being forgotten, we should remember words have immeasurable potential. Whether on Barnes and Noble’s Top-Ten shelf, in a bargain bin at Wal-Mart, or at a yard sale table, our words don’t diminish. A new dollar bill and a discolored, crumpled one have the same value. Those words still have the ability to provide a glimpse of hope, fuel for the mind, or inspiration for a soul.

Writing - Ben Franklin - quote

Ben Franklin

By choosing to listen to our legacy of writers, we can live honorably, write vividly, and echo the words of Benjamin Franklin,

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, write something worth reading or do something worth [the] writing.”  (American author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer 1706 – 1790)

If these thoughts inspired you, pass them on to someone, leave a comment below, or sign up for future posts. Until next time, write on.




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8 comments on “7 Things We Can Learn From Dead Writers
  1. Emily says:

    don’t keep up with all your posts so well…to busy keeping up with my busy boys, but when i get to read, your posts are always great!

  2. Great article, Peter. I couldn’t agree more with the wisdom pouring out of it. We can learn a lot from writers long dead, particularly that writing is about our view of the world and not about speculation on what will sell faster:)
    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Julie Luek says:

    Experience and living with integrity– good fodder for books.

  4. Erica says:

    Great post, as always. 🙂

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"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
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