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Notes and Quotes

Excerpts and notes from presentations made to English classes at Marin County schools.



Writing makes things real. The proof is in the cherished love letters we keep--we keep them because the written words seem to make the feelings real. The proof is also in the sympathy cards we send to sick friends--we send them because a written card feels like it carries more weight than a mere phone call. And the proof is in the historic documents that make our independence and our laws concrete.

Phone calls disappear the moment we hang up, but written love notes and sympathy cards can be saved forever; the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are visited daily by citizens who come away inspired by their country's "mission statements." We memorialize special events with words on plaques; we carve words onto the bases of statues; we seal written messages in time capsules, send coded messages into space, and tattoo words onto skin.

In all these cases, writing has the power to make feelings, hopes, memories, and events seem real.

Writing makes things permanent. Consider the legal phrase "get it in writing": once something is in writing, it gains strength and permanence (as opposed to "get it in speech," which immediately vanishes into thin air). When students get their beautiful photo-filled yearbooks in June, what's the first thing they do? They hand them to friends so they'll write messages inside. When we meet a famous person, what do we ask for? An autograph.

 Memories, feelings, and experiences become permanent once they're written down.

The act of writing is like turning on a time machine. We put scratches and lines and circles on paper in the right order, and someone living far away, or living hundreds of years from now, will know what we said, what we meant, what we thought, how funny we were, and what we loved.

Conversely, we know what people who lived thousands of miles aways, and thousands of years ago, thought and said and felt, simply because they wrote. Writing transcends time and distance.

Writing comes naturally to human beings. We love to communicate with writing (even though we sometimes complain about it). Note the billions of words of Facebook text eagerly typed out every single day, or the billions of texts and e-mails flying around the planet at this moment. When you watch people typing into Facebook (or reading what's been typed), you see them smile and laugh with delight. Writing comes naturally, because writing can bring happiness.

Writing conveys/expresses/describes/defines like nothing else can.  True, movies easily show us external actions, but they sometime struggle to reveal unseen thoughts and inner feelings. Writing, not movie-making or youtubing, is an easy, inexpensive, immediate way to reveal what you think, feel, and imagine.

Sometimes it only takes a little motivation and a little guidance for shy, inarticulate students to become purposeful writers who can confidently express their humor, their love, their creative power, and their intelligence, to the delight of themselves and others.

Writing precedes other creative acts. Most movies, TV shows, songs, speeches, and video games began as words on a page before they became something else:

  • Lincoln didn't improvise his famous "Gettysburg Address"--he wrote it first
  • When George Lucas had his initial ideas about Star Wars, he didn't immediately start casting actors and building sets and filming scenes; he took two years off to sit in his Marin County house and write out the story in detail
  • Same with Lord of the Rings--before it was a movie trilogy, it was a powerful, classic book
  • Football teams study written pages of playbooks before they play games
  • Budding companies write out mission statements before they launch.

To write is to generate, and prepare, the creative acts to come.


Word: Melismatic
Found in: an article about music in movies
Part of speech: adjective
Definition: "a single syllable expressed over several musical notes"


"The drive to write, that primal glee we felt as children when we learned the letters that formed our world, is a drive that has been buried in our frantic, electrical, telephone age."
Julia Cameron




"Wearing down seven #2 pencils is a good day's work."
Ernest Hemingway




"Good prose is like a window-pane."
George Orwell




"When we start to write, we prime the pump and the flow of ideas begins to move. It is the act of writing that calls ideas forward, not ideas that call forward writing."
Julia Cameron




The quotes at

Julia Cameron's quotes come from her book The Writer's Life, published in 2001 by Penguin Putnam

Ray Bradbury's quotes come from his book Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, published in 1989 by Capra Press

Stephen King's quotes come from his book On Writing, published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster

All other quotes come from Jon Winokur's book Writers on Writing, published in 1990 by Running Press