Virginia Woolf Quotes on Writing: The Complete Collection

virginia woolf quotes on writing
by CJ McDaniel // June 14 // 0 Comments

If you’re looking for inspiration in pursuing your passion or improving your craft, an incredible start would be to learn from the greats. Hence, if you’re specifically into writing, acquiring knowledge from literary figures like Virginia Woolf provides just the right inspiration. Virginia proved her brilliance as an essayist, novelist, and critic. Thus, this earned her recognition as one of England’s most prominent writers and one of the most memorable female writers of the 20th century. To this day, Virginia Woolf inspired many writers, established and emerging, that her wealth of knowledge, in the form of quotes on writing, further solidifies her status in literature.

Born in London, England, on January 25, 1882, Virginia Woolf spent her early years in a privileged English household with her free-thinking parents. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an author and historian, even included in the prominent figures in the golden age of mountaineering. Meanwhile, her mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen, was a celebrated Englishwoman who later served as a Pre-Raphaelite model, a nurse, and wrote a book on the profession. Growing up in such a household most likely influenced her to become an incredible artist or writer. Woolf started writing as a young girl, even coming up with a family newspaper called the “Hyde Park Gate News,” which recorded her family’s humorous anecdotes.

Woolf established herself as an influential writer and pioneering feminist. Her famous works include modern classics “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To the Lighthouse,” and feminist texts “A Room of One’s Own” and “Three Guineas.” She also proved that past struggles shouldn’t let you down or hinder you from pursuing your passion. Hence, it’s unsurprising how her works and words resonate with generations of readers. The same goes with writers, as Virginia Woolf’s quotes about writing continue to give people insight into the craft while inspiring many to write.

Virginia Woolf Quotes About Writing

English writer, critic, and feminist Virginia Woolf’s most famous novels are “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse.” Both stories, including her other works, were experimental yet mesmerizing. These writings explored human relationships, social class hierarchy, and the fast-changing world she witnessed during her time. Meanwhile, her style involves portraying her characters’ inner thoughts, impressionism, and focusing on everyday activities. This distinct style showcases her deep understanding of her craft and passion for it.

There are many reasons why Woolf remains a significant figure in literature. Hence, you’ll find this Virginia Woolf quotes about writing valuable, whatever genre or style you use in writing.

Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

– Virginia Woolf

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.

– Virginia Woolf

I want to write a novel about Silence,” he said; “the things people don’t say.

– Virginia Woolf

I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual

– Virginia Woolf

Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

– Virginia Woolf

Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

– Virginia Woolf

Arrange whatever pieces come your way.

– Virginia Woolf

As I grow old I hate the writing of letters more and more, and like getting them better and better.

– Virginia Woolf

Madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does.

– Virginia Woolf

When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet. . . indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

– Virginia Woolf

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.

– Virginia Woolf

If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in some sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things.

– Virginia Woolf

When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.

– Virginia Woolf

For it would seem – her case proved it – that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fibre of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.

– Virginia Woolf

The habit of writing for my eye is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.

– Virginia Woolf

A good essay must have this permanent quality about it; it must draw its curtain round us, but it must be a curtain that shuts us in not out.

– Virginia Woolf

I am writing to a rhythm and not to a plot.

– Virginia Woolf

I mean it’s the writing, not the being read, that excites me.

– Virginia Woolf

For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.

– Virginia Woolf

But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles.

– Virginia Woolf

Life piles up so fast that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections.

– Virginia Woolf

One ought to sink to the bottom of the sea, probably, and live alone with one’s words.

– Virginia Woolf

I got out this diary, & read as one always does read one’s own writing, with a kind of guilty intensity.

– Virginia Woolf

We are nauseated by the sight of trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print.

– Virginia Woolf

The most extraordinary thing about writing is that when you’ve struck the right vein, tiredness goes. It must be an effort, thinking wrong.

– Virginia Woolf

Language is wine upon the lips.

– Virginia Woolf

I feel that by writing I am doing what is far more necessary than anything else.

– Virginia Woolf

If one could be friendly with women, what a pleasure – the relationship so secret and private compared with relations with men. Why not write about it truthfully?

– Virginia Woolf

So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery, and the sacrifice of wealth and chastity which used to be said to be the greatest of human disasters, a mere flea-bite in comparison.

– Virginia Woolf

The world was going on as usual. All the time she was writing the world had continued.

– Virginia Woolf

Nothing induces me to read a novel except when I have to make money by writing about it. I detest them.

– Virginia Woolf

A masterpiece is something said once and for all, stated, finished, so that it’s there complete in the mind, if only at the back.

– Virginia Woolf

Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote, I thought, looking at Antony and Cleopatra; and when people compare Shakespeare and Jane Austen, they may mean that the minds of both had consumed all impediments; and for that reason we do not know Jane Austen and we do not know Shakespeare, and for that reason Jane Austen pervades every word that she wrote, and so does Shakespeare.

– Virginia Woolf

I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again – as I always am when I write.

– Virginia Woolf

I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can’t cross: that it’s to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish.

– Virginia Woolf

Writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial.

– Virginia Woolf

Occupation is essential. And now with some pleasure I find that it’s seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.

– Virginia Woolf

The good diarist writes either for himself alone or for a posterity so distant that it can safely hear every secret and justly weigh every motive. For such an audience there is need neither of affectation nor of restraint. Sincerity is what they ask, detail, and volume; skill with the pen comes in conveniently, but brilliance is not necessary; genius is a hindrance even; and should you know your business and do it manfully, posterity will let you off mixing with great men, reporting famous affairs, or having lain with the first ladies in the land.

– Virginia Woolf

I must try to set aside half an hour in some part of my day, and consecrate it to diary writing. Give it a name and a place, and then perhaps, such is the human mind, I shall come to think it a duty, and disregard other duties for it.

– Virginia Woolf

Lord, how tired one gets of one’s own writing.

– Virginia Woolf

A thousand things to be written had I time: had I power. A very little writing uses up my capacity for writing.

– Virginia Woolf

Mr. Beerbohm in his way is perfect … He has brought personality into literature, not unconsciously and impurely, but so consciously and purely that we do not know whether there is any relation between Max the essayist and Mr. Beerbohm the man. We only know that the spirit of personality permeates every word that he writes … He is without doubt the prince of his profession.

– Virginia Woolf

This is not writing at all. Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.

– Virginia Woolf

A novelist’s chief desire is to be as unconscious as possible. He has to induce in himself a state of perpetual lethargy. He wants life to proceed with the utmost quiet and regularity. He wants to see the same faces, to read the same books, to do the same things day after day, month after month, while he is writing, so that nothing may break the illusion in which he is living – so that nothing may disturb or disquiet the mysterious nosings about, feelings around, darts, dashes, and sudden discoveries of that very shy and illusive spirit, the imagination.

– Virginia Woolf

The way to write well is to live intensely.

– Virginia Woolf

You have a touch in letter writing that is beyond me. Something unexpected, like coming round a corner in a rose garden and finding it still daylight.

– Virginia Woolf

What a labour writing is … making one sentence do the work of a page; that’s what I call hard work.

– Virginia Woolf

There was a day when I liked writing letters — it has gone. Unfortunately the passion for getting them remains.

– Virginia Woolf

People ask me why I write. I write to find out what I know.

– Virginia Woolf

O why do I ever let anyone read what I write! Every time I have to go through a breakfast with a letter of criticism I swear I will write for my own praise or blame in future. It is a misery.

– Virginia Woolf

To write a novel in the heart of London is next to an impossibility. I feel as if I were nailing a flag to the top of a mast in a raging gale.

– Virginia Woolf

To know whom to write for is to know how to write.

– Virginia Woolf

And when we are writing the life of a woman, we may, it is agreed, waive our demand for action, and substitute love instead. Love, the poet has said, is a woman’s whole existence.

– Virginia Woolf

To write weekly, to write daily, to write shortly, to write for busy people catching trains in the morning or for tired people coming home in the evening, is a heartbreaking task for men who know good writing from bad. They do it, but instinctively draw out of harm’s way anything precious that might be damaged by contact with the public, or anything sharp that might irritate its skin.

– Virginia Woolf

As an experience, madness is terrific … and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about.

– Virginia Woolf

Writing is still like heaving bricks over a wall.

– Virginia Woolf

Why does one write these books after all? The drudgery, the misery, the grind, are forgotten everytime; and one launches another, and it seems sheer joy and buoyancy.

– Virginia Woolf

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today — that they are stored with other meanings, with other memories, and they have contracted so many famous marriages in the past.

– Virginia Woolf

If newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art.

– Virginia Woolf

I think writing, my writing, is a species of mediumship. I become the person.

– Virginia Woolf

As nobody can possibly tell me whether one’s writing is bad or good, the only certain value is one’s own pleasure. I am sure of that.

– Virginia Woolf

I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can’t cross: that it’s to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish.

– Virginia Woolf

Woolf Quotes About Writers

Before her outward success, Woolf faced multiple challenges in life. Her childhood may have started with happiness, but unfortunately, early traumatic events happened. These early traumas include sexual abuse and personal losses. Moreover, her health and mental stability weren’t in their best condition throughout her life. However, these struggles did not bring her down. Her literary expression continued while suffering from desolation, mental breakdowns, and dramatic mood swings.

Hence, Virginia Woolf’s story, including her works and the quotes below, will make an incredible source of inspiration for anyone writing.

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

– Virginia Woolf

Now the writer, I think, has the chance to live more than other people in the presence of … reality. It is his business to find it and collect it and communicate it to the rest of us.

– Virginia Woolf

It is from the middle class that writers spring, because, it is in the middle class only that the practice of writing is as natural and habitual as hoeing a field or building a house.

– Virginia Woolf

Anyone who has the temerity to write about Jane Austen is aware of [two] facts: first, that of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness; second, that there are twenty-five elderly gentlemen living in the neighbourhood of London who resent any slight upon her genius as if it were an insult to the chastity of their aunts.

– Virginia Woolf

So I have to create the whole thing afresh for myself each time. Probably all writers now are in the same boat. It is the penalty we pay for breaking with tradition, and the solitude makes the writing more exciting though the being read less so. One ought to sink to the bottom of the sea, probably, and live alone with ones words.

– Virginia Woolf

All great writers have, of course, an atmosphere in which they seem most at their ease and at their best; a mood of the general mind which they interpret and indeed almost discover, so that we come to read them rather for that than for any story or character or scene of seperate excellence.

– Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Quotes About Writing Poetry

Although Woolf promoted novels over poetry, her writings used some of poetry’s techniques. Her works, especially “To the Lighthouse” and “The Waves,” drew closer to poetry, even if they were in the form of prose.

Is writing poetry your strong point or expertise? Given her background in writing, you’ll find this Virginia Woolf quotes about writing poetry valuable in your craft.

What has praise and fame to do with poetry? Was not writing poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice? So that all this chatter and praise, and blame and meeting people who admired one and meeting people who did not admire one was as ill suited as could be to the thing itself- a voice answering a voice.

– Virginia Woolf

Women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. … Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.

– Virginia Woolf

It is strange how a scrap of poetry works in the mind and makes the lefts move in time to it along the road.

Virginia Woolf

Yet, it is true, poetry is delicious; the best prose is that which is most full of poetry.

– Virginia Woolf

Woolf Quotes About Art

Virginia Woolf’s impact on modern British literature is nearly impossible to measure. However, this legacy also extends to visual arts. It comes as no surprise, considering the creative influences she had within her circle, including her sister, painter Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf may have focused on writing, but you’ll also find valuable insight from her quotes about art.

To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination.

– Virginia Woolf

Really I don’t like human nature unless all candied over with art.

– Virginia Woolf

The art of writing has for backbone some fierce attachment to an idea.

– Virginia Woolf

Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

– Virginia Woolf

Who would not spout the family teapot in order to talk with Keats for an hour about poetry, or with Jane Austen about the art of fiction?

– Virginia Woolf

Art is not a copy of the real world; one of the damn things is enough.

– Virginia Woolf

You cannot cross the narrow bridge of art carrying all its tools in your hands. Some you must leave behind.

– Virginia Woolf

… if we can imagine the art of fiction come alive and standing in our midst, she would undoubtedly bid us to break her and bullyher, as well as honour and love her, for so her youth is renewed and her sovereignty assured.

– Virginia Woolf

If newspapers were written by people whose sole object in writing was to tell the truth about politics and the truth about art we should not believe in war, and we should believe in art.

– Virginia Woolf

What is a woman? I assure you, I do not know … I do not believe that anybody can know until she has expressed herself in all the arts and professions open to human skill.

– Virginia Woolf

Writing is a divine art, and the more I write and read the more I love it.

– Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Quotes About Books

While her brothers went to Cambridge for education, Wolf and her sisters had to study at home. Their parents educated them under the Victorian influence, supplementing them with classic books and other English literature from their house library. Hence, it’s unsurprising how, apart from her writings, the following Virginia Woolf quotes about books exist. If you’re interested, check it out to see her thoughts about books!

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

– Virginia Woolf

I am reading six books at once, the only way of reading; since, as you will agree, one book is only a single unaccompanied note, and to get the full sound, one needs ten others at the same time.

– Virginia Woolf

Books are the mirrors of the soul.

– Virginia Woolf

As for my next book, I won’t write it till it has grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall.

– Virginia Woolf

Few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning.

– Virginia Woolf

At last she shut the book sharply, lay back, and drew a deep breath, expressive of the wonder which always marks the transition from the imaginary world to the real world.

– Virginia Woolf

For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.

– Virginia Woolf

Nothing could be slow enough, nothing lasts too long. No pleasure could equal, she thought, straightening the chairs, pushing in one book on the shelf, this having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of living, to find it with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day sank. Many a time had she gone, at Barton when they were all talking, to look at the sky; seen it between peoples shoulders at dinner; seen it in London when she could not sleep. She walked to the window.

– Virginia Woolf

Does housekeeping interest you at all? I think it really ought to be just as good as writing and I never see where the separation between the too comes in. At least if you must put books on one side and life on the other, each is a poor and bloodless thing; but my theory is that they mix indistinguishable.

– Virginia Woolf

Of course, literature is the only spiritual and humane career. Even painting tends to dumness, and music turns people erotic, whereas the more you write the nicer you become.

– Virginia Woolf

We agreed that people are now afraid of the English language. He [T.S. Eliot] said it came of being bookish, but not reading books enough. One should read all styles thoroughly.

– Virginia Woolf

Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes.

– Virginia Woolf

They lack suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within.

– Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Quotes About Character

Virginia Woolf formulated tangible characters, giving readers access to their judgments, longings, and insecurities. This skill for constructing fictional characters made her works interesting and far unique from any other authors during her time.

If you’re struggling to craft the right personalities for your story, get inspired by Virginia Woolf’s quotes about character.

We read Charlotte Bronte not for exquisite observation of character – her characters are vigorous and elementary; not for comedy – hers is grim and crude; not for a philosophic view of life – hers is that of a country parson’s daughter; but for her poetry. Probably that is so with all writers who have, as she has, an overpowering personality, so that, as we say in real life, they have only to open the door to make themselves felt.

– Virginia Woolf

Talents of the novelist: … observation of character, analysis of emotion, people’s feelings, personal relations.

– Virginia Woolf

That perhaps is your task–to find the relation between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity, to absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly and saturate it completely so that your poem is a whole, not a fragment; to re-think human life into poetry and so give us tragedy again and comedy by means of characters not spun out at length in the novelist’s way, but condensed and synthesized in the poet’s way–that is what we look to you to do now.

– Virginia Woolf

The way to rock oneself back into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air. Second the reading of good literature. It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced from the raw. One must get out of life…one must become externalised; very, very concentrated, all at one point, not having to draw upon the scattered parts of one’s character, living in the brain.

– Virginia Woolf

But the novels of women were not affected only by the necessarily narrow range of the writer’s experience. They showed, at least in the nineteenth century, another characteristic which may be traced to the writer’s sex. In Middlemarch and in Jane Eyre we are conscious not merely of the writer’s character, as we are conscious of the character of Charles Dickens, but we are conscious of a woman’s presence of someone resenting the treatment of her sex and pleading for its rights.

– Virginia Woolf

As a creator of character his peculiarity is that he creates wherever his eyes rest … With such a power at his command Dickens made his books blaze up, not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people upon the fire.

– Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Quotes About Creativity

Starting from her characters to her stories’ plots, Woolf penned nothing but creativity. This creativity sparked early in life, further encouraged by her family and peers. Hence, even if there isn’t much in the following Virginia Woolf collection, these quotes about creativity should ignite your creative juices and get you to begin writing.

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

– Virginia Woolf

I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.

– Virginia Woolf

Odd how the creative power at once brings the whole universe to order.

– Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf ranks as one of the most significant literary icons and one of England’s most distinguished writers of twentieth-century modern literature. Her authority and work left a lasting impact that will last for generations to come. Woolf’s an inspiration to readers and writers, considering the amount of knowledge and creativity she delivered throughout her career. Virginia Woolf’s quotes about writing are also an incredible source of inspiration since she’s an astute observer of life and writing, even considered one of the greatest writers who lived.

Do you need more motivation and thoughts on writing other than these quotes from Virginia Woolf? Check out our collection 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!