Mad For Middle Grade: Writing Quotes

Welcome to MAD FOR MIDDLE GRADE!  We’re here the first Monday of every month, discussing middle grade writing, chatting about from our favorite middle grade books, introducing our own middle grade titles, sharing middle grade writing advice, and generally obsess over everything middle grade! And if there’s any middle grade topic you’re interested in, we’d love to hear it in the comments!

The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and four fantastic middle grade books are headed your way in May:


by Tracy Holczer

Release date: May 1


by Kate Hannigan

Release date: May 13


by Rebecca Petruck

Release date: May 13

9780448456850_IHB_3Sleep_CV_front (1)

by Michelle Schusterman

Release date: May 15

Congratulations to Tracy, Kate, Rebecca, and Michelle! Their books are fantabulous, so definitely seek them out!!!

And now, for this week’s topic:

Question: What is your favorite quote about writing and why?

Kate Hannigan

51nY5kdGT2L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

―Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

For me, this applies to those messy, ugly, unruly first drafts. It’s not about producing something tidy and perfect. It’s about getting the thoughts out, the brain dump. There will be time later for shaping and polishing. But if we’re shooting for perfection, we’re snuffing out that spark of creativity.


Dana Alison Levy

Delacorte/Random House

18769364My older brother […] was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. […] he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.

–Anne Lamott Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I’ve now written five novels (though some will never see daylight), so I know, empirically, that I can crank out 80,000 words on a regular basis. But still, every time I face a blank page, or a massive revision, I remember this quote. Just take it bird by bird.


Skila Brown
Candlewick Presscaminar

Writing is hard for every last one of us…Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.
–Cheryl Strayed (from TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS)
My sister framed this for me and it sits on my desk, right next to a picture of our coal-mining grandfather. It keeps my butt in the chair.



Jen Malone
Aladdin/Simon & Schuster


–Chinese fortune cookie 

I do have other quotes I love by real actual people (although, as evidenced in Lauren Magaziner’s THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES, someone quite real writes all those fortune cookie slips) but this phrase has become my motto for 2014. It applies to my writing, for sure, and reminds me to not hold back in what I write and which parts of my writing I share with others (those extra messy first drafts, for one), but it also applies a lot to this debut year where I’m putting myself out there in new ways: asking strangers to read, review, talk about, blog about, and (hopefully) buy my book. That doesn’t always feel natural to me, but I’m learning to embrace the discomfort and grow from it. Someone else (okay, fine, I think it was Oprah. Fortune cookies and Oprah–I’m so very cliche!) once said “If you aren’t at least a little bit uncomfortable, you aren’t doing life right.”


Lauren Magaziner

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.

–Ernest Hemingway

I live by this quote. Sometimes it’s tempting to get lost in pretty sentences that look and sound beautiful. But resist the temptation; instead, write to build something.


ByTheGraceLouise Galveston

Follow your bliss.

–Joseph Campbell

I’m at my happiest when I’m creating. So I try to create something every day, for everyone’s sake.


Rebecca Behrens

WhenAudreyA writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.

–Ursula K. Le Guin

I’ve scribbled down many other, more practical writing quotes–tips on being brave when facing a blank page, or on how to tidy up a messy draft, or mnemonic devices on lay versus lie. But this writing quote helps me see the big picture; it reminds me how important and powerful words are, and that storytelling, while often a fun and delightful way to spend one’s time, shouldn’t be taken lightly.


Edith Cohn
20518878SPIRIT’S KEY

If I have something I want to say that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I write it in a book for children. Children still haven’t closed themselves off with fear of the unknown, fear of revolution, or the scramble for security. They are still familiar with the inborn vocabulary of myth.

–Madeleine L’Engle

This quote inspires me to dream big and think outside the box with my writing.


Gayle Rosengren

MoonSaidThe difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

–Mark Twain

On first reading this may seem more humorous than inspirational, but like most “simple” adages, it embodies true wisdom, which in this case comes from one of our country’s most esteemed, beloved and prolific writers.

Sometimes we get so caught up in writing a story that we forget to take notice of each word we choose to tell it with.  But no matter how compelling the storyline, what takes it from the realm of a good story to a powerful one rests in the tiny building blocks we use to shape it–the words.  Thoughtful, patient selections of just the right word make all the difference.  So on that final draft, no matter how anxious we are to ship it off to agent or editor and collapse in an exhausted heap, we must try to hold back, proceed slowly, linger thoughtfully over each word, and ask ourselves if another one might say it just a little better. 


Adriana Schanen

51XMyuS393L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hop-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender come sit by my fire.
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

–“Invitation” by Shel Silverstein

Nothing gets my all-over-the-place brain in the writing way like a hit of Shel Silverstein. This classic opener to “Where the Sidewalk Ends” is a lifelong favorite, an invitation to leave the literal world behind and cross over into the sublime.


Heidi Schulz
HOOK’S REVENGEHookCover_frontonly_72

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

—Stephen King

I write for the same reason I read: I love stories. So if you see me curled up in my favorite chair, book in hand, please don’t disturb me. I’m working. 



Tara Dairman

If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

–Toni Morrison

The biggest missteps I’ve taken as a writer have been in trying to write what I “should” instead of the kind of book that, as a reader, I would most enjoy. And given that the publishing process requires you to read and reread your book until you’re blue in the face, it may as well be a story that’s right up your alley! 🙂


Rebecca Petruck

SteeringTowardNormal_FinalWhat we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

–“Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot

These words have been with me for twenty years. (Even painted on a wall!) They comfort me with the interconnectedness of things. Stories were how I felt part of the world, inspiring me to reallysee it and want to see more. When I write, I imagine my stories as introductions to the world for other readers, too, and encouragement to go beyond their everyday and explore.


UnderTheEggLaura Marx Fitzgerald

“Perfect is the enemy of good.”

Using this line as a mantra is the only reason I got a word, a sentence, a chapter, let alone a book written. And you know what? The book still isn’t perfect. But it’s published.



Jennifer Downey

I…I….I don’t HAVE a fav51qfkCHJ1QL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_orite quote about writing! Not one that I’ve hung on a wall, or know by heart, or have tattooed on my forearm for easy reference. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate such quotes, and I know I’ve come across many great ones voiceover-ed in documentaries, typed in light italics at the start of book chapters, and scrawled across the top of chalkboards. I’ve just never felt so strongly about one writing quote that it became my guiding light. Well, truth to tell, some did affect me strongly, but I was too lazy to write them down. Okay, okay, don’t look at me that way! Yes, I confess that I DID possibly manage to copy one or two down on scraps of paper but then lost them before I could hook the sentiments into a suitable rug design. And now I’ve got bupkus. I actually considered googling “writing quotes”, picking one, and claiming it as mine own special one. THAT’S the sad bus station at which my life of quotelessness has left me. So let that be a lesson to you. I’m not sure which one exactly it is…but have at it!


What are your favorite writing quotes? Let us know what speaks to you–we are ready to be inspired by quotes we haven’t heard before! And remember, if there is there a topic you’d like us to discuss next month, feel free to let us know in the comments!

Enjoy those May flowers! We’ll be back on June 2nd!

Lauren Magaziner is a 4th grader at heart, watches way too much TV, and loves to steal people’s toes to make Toecorn, which tastes like chewy, meaty popcorn. Only one of those is true. (Okay… you caught me. They’re all true.) Her MG debut THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN WITCHES—about a boy who becomes a witchling’s apprentice in a town full of dangerous, Toecorn-loving witches—is forth-coming from Dial/Penguin on August 14, 2014.

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