I don’t mind having others put words in my mouth—not when their words are witty, wise and succinct. Put another way: I love using quotes in my writing.
I’ve been collecting quotes since I was a teen. My notebooks, computer files and bookshelves are filled with them. It’s no wonder then that more than half of the dozens of books I’ve published are quotation anthologies, original and otherwise.
Quotes, I find, add depth and perspective to my work. They’re great openers and closers, and allow me to speak with authority on everything from politics and love, to cooking and funerals. I use quotes to make readers ponder, laugh and get all mushy. Sprinkled judiciously, they elevate the quality of my writing.
Quotes shouldn’t be overused, however. Insert too many and you’ll interrupt your flow, not to mention convince readers you can’t write unassisted. Used sparingly, they’ll punch up your prose.
Take care when choosing quotes. The differences among them may be subtle or sharp, even when they deal with the same subject. Examples:
- Love is a kind of military service. (Latin proverb)
- Love rules without rules. (Italian proverb)
- You can always get someone to love you—even if you have to do it yourself. (Tim Masson)
Choose those that are as short and simple as possible. They’ll keep your writing moving and keep key points from getting tangled in words. Examples:
- Our sons, who so easily recognize our errors, and rightly denounce them, will have to confess their own, later on, and they be as bad as ours, perhaps worse. (Bruce Hutchinson)
- Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth. (Peter Ustinov)
Avoid quotes that are overused. Reach, instead, for those with an interesting twist or play on words. Examples:
- We have nothing to fear but fear itself. (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
- That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. (Neil Armstrong)
- God gives the nuts, but he does not crack them. (German proverb)
- When women go wrong, men go right after them. (Mae West)
Whenever appropriate, aim for the funny bone or at least the clever. Readers will love you for it. Examples:
- Is sex dirty? Only if it is done right. (Woody Allen)
- They say hard work never hurt anybody, but I figure why take the chance? (Ronald Reagan)
- I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception. (Groucho Marx)
Readers also will appreciate your helping them see themselves and life anew, and giving them reason to hope and persevere. Examples:
- You only live once—but if you work it right, once is enough. (Joe E. Lewis)
- Life is meant to be spent not to be saved. (D.H. Lawrence)
- It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts. (Adlai Stevenson)
Even if you don’t use quotes in your work, you can use them to spark ideas and lift your spirits. Heaven knows we writers can use all the help we can get.
In conclusion then, it’s okay to let others speak for you, especially when they have something better to say. On that you can quote me.