Toni Morrison Quotes on Writing: The Complete Collection

toni morrison quotes on writing
by CJ McDaniel // June 6 // 0 Comments

It’s uncommon for stories to possess a historical and cultural base, specifically African-American. However, Nobel prizewinner and legendary writer Toni Morrison made sure to explore this theme in the literary world. Her works depict the Black American experience in an unjust society, focusing on their psychic and social lives in many areas of contemporary society. Her rich narratives, descriptions, representations, and provoking language influenced a generation of writers, evident in how many people look at her words for empowerment. Toni Morrison’s timeless quotes on writing are also an incredible source of wisdom and strength, especially for anyone who aspires to venture on the same path as hers.

American writer Toni Morrison was born with the birth name Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, on February 18, 1931. She grew up in an African-American working-class family that possesses intense love and appreciation for Black culture. For example, although racial discrimination was a constant threat in their area, her family ensured they could keep their integrity regardless of how others put them down. Meanwhile, the horrifying reality of racism in America, which she saw first-hand, influenced her works that it became the central theme of her stories.

Morrison’s early interest in literature paved the way for her career path centered on writing. Her epic power and richly-expressive depictions of Black America spoke to readers with much intensity, giving them an awareness of an essential aspect of American reality. Hence, her significant contributions were never left in the dark since she received various awards, including the most-renowned “Noble Prize” and “Pulitzer Prize.” Indeed, anyone searching for inspiration for writing will never go wrong in relying on Toni Morrison’s quotes and thoughts as they convey a powerful message on the field and more.

Toni Morrison Quotes About Writing

Toni Morrison remains one of the most celebrated authors in the world. Her groundbreaking novels, plays, children’s books, essays, and compelling interviews will undeniably stand the test of time. Moreover, her brilliance in writing earned her countless prestigious awards and literary distinctions, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her prominence comes from more than her examination of the Black experience, particularly the Black female experience. Her poetic writing style and rich use of language also contributed to it.

Hence, the following Toni Morrison’s quotes on writing are a gift many, most especially writers, can live by for life.

The writing is – I’m free of pain. It’s the place where I live; it’s where I have control; it’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.

Toni Morrison

I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.

Toni Morrison

Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.

Toni Morrison

I always start out with an idea, even a boring idea, that becomes a question I don’t have answers to.

Toni Morrison

Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it.

Toni Morrison

I write the way women have babies. You don’t know it’s going to be like that. If you did, there’s no way you would go through with it.

Toni Morrison

Writing is really a way of thinking–not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.

Toni Morrison

There’s a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living, you make enormous compromises…. If you write for life, you’ll work hard; you’ll do what’s honest, not what pays

Toni Morrison

I don’t wait to be struck by lightning and I don’t need certain slants of light in order to be able to write.

Toni Morrison

I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort.

Toni Morrison

I type in one place, but I write all over the house.

Toni Morrison

One has to work very carefully with what is in between the words. What is not said. Which is measure, which is rhythm and so on. So, it is what you don’t write that frequently gives what you do write its power.

Toni Morrison

The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Toni Morrison

I don’t want you to write about what you know, because you don’t know anything. I don’t want to hear about your boyfriend or your grandma… I’m getting a little tired of ‘my life story as fiction’. Please don’t tell me about your little life – is there nothing larger? More important?

Toni Morrison

When I write, I don’t translate for white readers…. Dostoevski wrote for a Russian audience, but we’re able to read him. If I’m specific, and I don’t overexplain, then anyone can overhear me.

Toni Morrison

People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.

Toni Morrison

…black women write differently from white women. This is the most marked difference of all those combinations of black and white, male and female. It’s not so much that women write differently from men, but that black women write differently from white women. Black men don’t write very differently from white men.

Toni Morrison

Wait, wait, wait, wait. Don’t try to write through it, to force it. Many do, but that won’t work. Just wait, it will come.

Toni Morrison

Sometimes what I write on the page frightens me, so I feel free when I write, but I don’t feel safe.

Toni Morrison

I think one of the reasons I’m so thrilled with writing is because it is an act of reading for me at the same time, which is why my revisions are so sustained.

Toni Morrison

If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic….Authors arrive at text and subtext in thousands of ways, learning each time they begin anew how to recognize a valuable idea and how to reader the texture that accompanies, reveals or displays it to its best advantage.

Toni Morrison

I have a lot of respect for readers because I’m a reader. That’s how I got into writing.

Toni Morrison

Usually I try to be there by six. Everything has been taken off the walls so that there’s nothing to arrest my sight. On the bed I have Roget’s Thesaurus, a dictionary, a Bible, and a deck of playing cards.

Toni Morrison

What’s interesting about writing is the invention, the creative thing. Writing about myself is a yawn.

Toni Morrison

The formula for creative writing in high school or college is write what you know. And I said they don’t know nothing. Imagine something. Do you know what it’s like to be a Madame in Paris, when you’re too old to have any clients. No, you don’t. I don’t either. Write about it.

Toni Morrison

There is a certain kind of peace that is not merely the absence of war. It is larger than that. The peace I am thinking of is not at the mercy of history’s rule, nor is it a passive surrender to the status quo. The peace I am thinking of is the dance of an open mind when it engages another equally open one — an activity that occurs most naturally, most often in the reading/writing world we live in. Accessible as it is, this particular kind of peace warrants vigilance.

Toni Morrison

Write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.

Toni Morrison

Teaching is about taking things apart; writing is about putting things together.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Quotes About Writers

Morrison’s interest in writing started at an early age. However, she didn’t immediately release her first novel right after her academic years. She started her career as a professor at Howard University for seven years, then moved to New York to become a senior editor for a renowned publishing house. During her time as an editor, she felt the lack of novels that spoke to readers such as herself. Hence, she began to produce fiction, and as these books received success, Morrison decided to become a full-time writer. Given her profession, she worked and befriended several writers, justifying her knowledge about writers in general and the craft.

Following is a selection of quotes by Toni Morrison, covering topics about writers, their writing, and what she thinks about them.

I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.

Toni Morrison

When you first start writing-and I think it’s true for a lot of beginning writers-you’re scared to death that if you don’t get that sentence right that minute it’s never going to show up again. And it isn’t. But it doesn’t matter-another one will, and it’ll probably be better. And I don’t mind writing badly for a couple of days because I know I can fix it-and fix it again and again and again, and it will be better.

Toni Morrison

I can’t explain inspiration. A writer is either compelled to write or not. And if I waited for inspiration I wouldn’t really be a writer.

Toni Morrison

The Nobel Prize is the best thing that can happen to a writer in terms of how it affects your contracts, the publishers, and the seriousness with which your work is taken. On the other hand, it does interfere with your private life, or it can if you let it, and it has zero effect on the writing. It doesn’t help you write better and if you let it, it will intimidate you about future projects.

Toni Morrison

Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.

Toni Morrison

Of course I’m a black writer… I’m not just a black writer, but categories like black writer, woman writer and Latin American writer aren’t marginal anymore. We have to acknowledge that the thing we call “literature” is more pluralistic now, just as society ought to be. The melting pot never worked. We ought to be able to accept on equal terms everybody from the Hasidim to Walter Lippmann, from the Rastafarians to Ralph Bunche.

Toni Morrison

I think being an editor really helped me take other people’s notes on my writing. I’d get a note like ‘It’s too wet’ or ‘The first couple chapters are good, but then the rest of the pages were so wet that they were completely illegible’ or ‘Did you dip this in Sprite? This smells like Sprite. Why would you dip your novel in Sprite?’ And instead of pushing back, I’d listen. That’s an incredibly important skill for a young writer to have.

Toni Morrison

Sex is difficult to write about because it’s just not sexy enough. The only way to write about it is not to write much. Let the reader bring his own sexuality into the text. A writer I usually admire has written about sex in the most off-putting way. There is just too much information.

Toni Morrison

What I’m interested in is writing without the gaze, without the white gaze … In so many earlier books by African-American writers, particularly the men, I felt that they were not writing to me. But what interested me was the African-American experience throughout whichever time I spoke of. It was always about African-American culture and people — good, bad, indifferent, whatever — but that was, for me, the universe.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Quotes About Language

Toni Morrison was famous for her rich use of language, which was evident in her literary contributions. However, apart from her fiction, Morrison also delivered an impressive piece in the form of speech—the 1993 Nobel Lecture. This transcendent Nobel Prize speech was spectacular, as it showed the power of language and how the right and wrong use of it can affect people. Morrison’s book changed lives, and the same goes for the mentioned speech.

The powerful tool of language can impact one’s life, and Morrison woke and educated us to understand its power. Furthermore, the quotes below, taken from her writings, will give you more of Toni Morrison’s insight regarding language.

It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Toni Morrison

There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

Toni Morrison

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

Toni Morrison

Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

Toni Morrison

This word “LOVE” – discredited, “clicheed” – can be restored and love, the instinct, the impulse to care for somebody in the hope that somebody will care for you – plus our language, the language, a language – is about all we have. With everything else going on, this is what makes us, what keeps us human.

Toni Morrison

Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not, permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.

Toni Morrison

Word-work is sublime… because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference-the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

Toni Morrison

She is convinced that when language dies, out of carelessness, disuse, indifference and absence of esteem, or killed by fiat, not only she herself, but all users and makers are accountable for its demise. In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love.

Toni Morrison

I’m a writer in the world. I translate the confusion that I might feel, the dread that I know I feel, moving towards some other place, moving away from puny language, from all that dread into some other kind of language.

Toni Morrison

A dead language is not only one no longer spoken or written, it is unyielding language content to admire its own paralysis. Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences.

Toni Morrison

If we had no language we’d have nothing.

Toni Morrison

I have difficulties with contemporary language. Big difficulties. I counted, you know, something like 160 words have disappeared from the English language because of the use of the word “like.” “I’m like, he’s like” – not “thought,” not “as if .”

Toni Morrison

Maybe [I care about language] because I’m an editor, maybe because I’m picky, but it’s all we got, don’t shrink it. Don’t dumb it out, make it little.

Toni Morrison

The language must be careful and must appear effortless. It must not sweat. It must suggest and be provocative at the same time.

Toni Morrison

The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers.

Toni Morrison

We’re all surrounded by what I call faux language, fake language of commerce, of news media.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Quotes About Books

Have you ever wondered what helped Morrison develop her passion for writing? The answer traces back to her childhood. Her parents cultivated her interest in writing, with storytelling, songs, and folktales becoming a formative part of her early years. Moreover, she became an avid reader growing up, eventually working at the Lorain Public Library as a secretary for the head librarian. Yes, she grew up being surrounded by books!

With this knowledge, enjoy these quotes and thoughts by the award-winning American writer Toni Morrison as she speaks about books.

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

Toni Morrison

Books ARE a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.

Toni Morrison

In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book — leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity.

Toni Morrison

The unflattering reviews are painful for short periods of time; the badly written ones are deeply, deeply insulting. That reviewer took no time to really read the book.

Toni Morrison

I feel like today we always glorify the young, just-plucked-from-college writer. But it’s much harder to start writing later, in middle age, struggling on a book around a full-time job and family.

Toni Morrison

All the books that were being published by African-American guys were saying ‘screw whitey’, or some variation of that. Not the scholars but the pop books. And the other thing they said was, ‘You have to confront the oppressor.’ I understand that. But you don’t have to look at the world through his eyes. I’m not a stereotype; I’m not somebody else’s version of who I am. And so when people said at that time black is beautiful – yeah? Of course. Who said it wasn’t? So I was trying to say, in The Bluest Eye, wait a minute. Guys. There was a time when black wasn’t beautiful. And you hurt.

Toni Morrison

I have the wonderful pleasure of finishing the book and closing it. And I don’t read them later.

Toni Morrison

A bestseller is a book that non-book buyers buy.

Toni Morrison

I know that my books are worthy, which is separate from me.

Toni Morrison

As a writer reading, I came to realize the obvious: the subject of the dream is the dreamer.

Toni Morrison

The idea of a wanton woman is something I have inserted into almost all of my books. An outlaw figure who is disallowed in the community because of her imagination or activity or status – that kind of anarchic figure has always fascinated me. And the benefits they bring with them, in spite of the fact that they are either dismissed or upbraided – something about their presence is constructive in the long run.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Inspirational Quotes

Morrison and her family experienced the struggles of the African-American community. Growing up, she wished to read something related to what she lived through. Successfully doing so, Morrison not only delivered accurate depictions of what the African-American community has to deal with, especially those of African-American women. She also inspired many not to be afraid to give voice to the oppressed, whether it’s through fiction or non-fiction.

Toni Morrison continues to be one of the most prolific writers whose wisdom and inspiring words lie within the pages of her writings and impactful speeches. The list of Toni Morrison quotes below exists to bring you strength and inspiration, enough to motivate you to take action, even outside the writing field.

I get angry about things, then go on and work.

Toni Morrison

The theme you choose may change or simply elude you, but being your own story means you can always choose the tone. It also means that you can invent the language to say who are you and what you mean.

Toni Morrison

From my point of view, which is that of a storyteller, I see your life as something artful, waiting, just waiting and ready for you to make it art.

Toni Morrison

You are your own stories and therefore free to imagine and experience what it means to be human… And although you don’t have complete control over the narrative – no author does, I can tell you – you could nevertheless create it.

Toni Morrison

Make a difference about something other than yourselves.

Toni Morrison

If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.

Toni Morrison

You can do some rather extraordinary things if that’s what you really believe.

Toni Morrison

You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Toni Morrison

I’m a believer in the power of knowledge and the ferocity of beauty, so from my point of view, your life is already artful—waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.

Toni Morrison

Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison Quotes About Character

The celebrated author, Toni Morrison, penned novels that prominently featured detailed African American characters. It’s safe to say that these characters delivered a significant contribution to her prominence.

Although there isn’t much in the following list of quotes, hopefully, Toni Morrison’s insight will help you develop characters that fit your writing or central theme. Check it out now!

I sometimes lose interest in the characters and get much more interested in the trees and animals.

Toni Morrison

I would solve a lot of literary problems just thinking about a character in the subway, where you can’t do anything anyway.

Toni Morrison

Some literature is knowledge, some is just data. But if I can get a “happy” ending – which is when for the characters I’m writing about, something happens that they move from wherever they are in the beginning to knowledge or wisdom, they know something they never would have acknowledged or realized if it hadn’t been for my book – that for me is what literature does.

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s writing career spans half a century, and even after her death, people continue to reflect on the impact her works had on the world. Her enduring legacy deeply inspired writers, especially African-American women writers, to not be afraid to give voice to dismissed, prejudiced, and misunderstood literature. Moreover, her indelible mark on the literary world doesn’t end in her works. Toni Morrison’s famous words in the form of quotes on writing encouraged many to stay committed to the folk and their craft.

Need more encouragement or motivation other than these quotes from Toni Morrison? Check out our selection of quotes on writing from other authors here.

CJ grew up admiring books. His family owned a small bookstore throughout his early childhood, and he would spend weekends flipping through book after book, always sure to read the ones that looked the most interesting. Not much has changed since then, except now some of those interesting books he picks off the shelf were designed by his company!