Writing Quotes, Some of Them Funny, from the Past, for Writers Present and Future

By Mike Feinsilber

“The pen is mightier than the sword, and considerably easier to write with.” — Marty Feldman. (He was an English comedy writer, comedian, and actor. He smoked as many as six packs of cigarettes a day, drank copious amounts of coffee and ate a diet rich in eggs and dairy products. Dead of a heart attack at 47.)

 “I never write ‘metropolis’ for seven cents when I can write ‘city’ and get paid the same.” — Mark Twain. (Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ pen name was steamboat slang for 12 feet of water. His mother was fun-loving, but, according to legend, young Sam  never saw his dour father smile. At age 10, he witnessed a slave being put to death with a piece of iron by a white overseer. At age 34, following the publication of The Innocents Abroad, this red-haired Westerner had become one of the most famous writers in America.)

“No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” — Isaac Babel. (He was a Russian journalist, playwright, translator, and short story writer, the author of stories that are considered masterpieces of Russian literature. Due to his long affair with the wife of the chief of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police,  he was arrested by the NKVD, “confessed” under torture to being a Trotskyist terrorist and foreign spy, and was executed in 1940, an event that has been called a catastrophe for world literature.)

“More has been screwed up on the battlefield and misunderstood in the Pentagon because of a lack of understanding of the English language than any other single factor.” — Gen. John Vesey. (Before graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard. He described being a first sergeant in combat as his toughest job in uniform. After fighting at the Anzio beachhead in Italy in World War Two, he got a battlefield commission, a field promotion to officer rank given to an enlisted person for outstanding leadership demonstrated in the midst of battle. Vesey ultimately rose to hold the highest military rank—chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired after 46 years in uniform and as the last four-star WWII combat veteran on active duty.)

“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”  — Joseph Pulitzer. (Born in Mako, Hungary, in 1847, he was eager to be a soldier, but because of his weak eyesight and frail health was turned down by the Austrian army, Napoleon’s Foreign Legion, and the British Army. So he came to the United States and joined the Union Army, collecting a bounty as a substitute for a draftee.  He made his way to St. Louis, learned English in the city’s Mercantile Library and  became a newspaperman through a quirk. In the library’s chess room, he so astutely critiqued a game that the players, who were editors of the leading Germany language paper, offered him a job. At age 25, he was a newspaper publisher.)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was his full name. He was the namesake and second cousin three times removed of the author of the National Anthem!)

Mike Feinsilber spent about a quarter century with UPI in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Harrisburg, Newark, New York, Saigon and Washington and about a quarter century with AP in Washington, with a spell as assistant bureau chief and a stint as writing coach. He was a deskman, reporter, and editor, and he covered Congress and 18 political conventions.

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