Today marks the 177th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth. Born on November 30, 1835, Twain is considered a writer’s writer — in the same league as Shakespeare, Dickens, and Cervantes — an author that both Ernest Hemingway and Kurt Vonnegut considered the greatest of the greats. (Vonnegut even named his son Mark after the venerable author.) William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature.”

To celebrate Mark Twain’s birthday, let’s hear from the master himself — and read his advice about writing.


(author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and scores of other novels, memoirs, essays, and additional literary works)


“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

 “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities…”

 “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”

 “…use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences…don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in…a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”

 “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

“The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail.”

 “One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.”

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”

 “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.”

“Write what you know.”

 “To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement …Anybody can have ideas – the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”