Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Quote File: Work

With particular attention to the work of writing, as I have about two hundred quotes on that topic; and also happiness, vocation, time, discipline, excellence, and the meaning of life.

Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing. -- Robert Benchley

Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need. -- Voltaire

To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe. -- Anatole France

Until the age of fifty we have to learn, and after fifty we have to work until the end occurs. –- Jose Saramago

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. -- Teddy Roosevelt

Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something. -- Robert Heinlein

Nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a
design. -- Harry Crews

First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do. -- Epictetus

What you have to do and the way to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that is another matter. -- Peter F. Drucker

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance but to do what lies clearly at hand. -- Thomas Carlyle

The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind. -- Diane Arbus

I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it--but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work. -- Thomas Edison

A problem is a chance for you to do your best. -- Duke Ellington

Don't hope more than you're willing to work. -- Rita Mae Brown

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. -- Theodore Roosevelt

Happiness is a by-product of cheerful, honest labor dedicated to a worthwhile task. -- Sidney Greenberg

The main thing that separates happy people from other people [is] the feeling that you're a practical item, with a use, like a sweater or a socket wrench. -- Barbara Kingsolver

Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for. -- Joseph Addison

There are three ingredients to the good life; learning, earning, and yearning. -- Christopher Morley

To love what you do and feel that it matters -- how could anything be more fun? -- Katherine Graham

All happiness depends upon courage and work. -- Honore de Balzac

The struggle to reach the top is itself enough to fulfill the heart of man. One must believe that Sisyphus is happy. -- Albert Camus

Life begets life. Energy becomes energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich. -- Sarah Bernhardt

People don't choose their careers; they are engulfed by them. -- John Dos Passos

If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature ... you will be happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this. -- Marcus Aurelius

I've come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that's as unique as a fingerprint -- and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you. -- Oprah Winfrey

Every calling is great when greatly pursued. -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

Vocations which we wanted to pursue, but didn't, bleed, like colors, on the whole of our existence. -- Honore de Balzac

Maybe the best we can do is do what we love as best we can. -- Galway Kinnell

When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. -- John Ruskin

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. -- Louis Nizer

You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go. -- Nikos Kazantzakis

It’s difficult to beat making your living thinking and writing about subjects that matter to you. -- Eleanor Holmes Norton

I see myself as someone who drops tiny crumbs of nourishment, in the form of comment and conversation, into the black enormous maw of the world's discontent. I will never fill it up or shut it up; but it seems my duty, not to mention my pleasure, to attempt to do so, however ineptly. See me as Sisyphus, but having a good time. -- Fay Weldon

Every day I'll wake up around noon. Then I'll go to the track and I'll play the horses ... Then I'll come back and I'll swim and ... have dinner and I'll go upstairs and I'll sit at the computer and I'll crack me a bottle [of wine] and I'll listen to some Mahler or Sibelius and I'll write, with this rhythm, like always. -- Charles Bukowski

The intellect of man is forced to choose / Perfection of the life, or of the work, / And if it take the second must refuse / A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark. -- William Butler Yeats

While writers dearly love to work, they stand with parsons and painters and philosophers in loving just as dearly to be paid for it. -- Dalton Trumbo

Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day. -- Robert Hass

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. -- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful, lest you let others spend it for you. -- Carl Sandburg

We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose. -- Charles Baudelaire

Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime. -- W.E.B. Du Bois

I learned that you should feel when writing not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like children stringing beads in kindergarten -- happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. -- Brenda Ueland

The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing. -- Mignon McLaughlin

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. -- Jack London

I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done. -- Barbara Kingsolver

Plumbers don't get plumbers block and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expect sympathy for it? -- Philip Pullman

The work never gets easier. It gets harder and more provocative. And as it gets harder you are continually reminded there is more to accomplish. It's like digging for gold. And when you find the vein, you know there's a lot more where that came from. -- Sam Shepard

If your work speaks for itself, don't interrupt. -- Henry J. Kaiser

Miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them. -- Chaim Weizmann

Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves. -- Andrew Carnegie

Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. -- Zen Buddhist proverb

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules. -- Anthony Trollope

Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. -- Gustave Flaubert

I think that everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. I think your mind really controls everything. -- Michael Phelps

Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance. -- Samuel Johnson

Genius is eternal patience. -- Michelangelo

Patience is also a form of action. -- Auguste Rodin

The cure for anything is salt water -- sweat, tears, or the sea. -- Isak Dinesen

Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt. -- Jose Ortega y Gasset

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better. -- John Updike

The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. -- Vince Lombardi

The secret of joy in work is contained in one word -- excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it. -- Pearl S. Buck

The only lifelong, reliable motivations are those that come from within, and one of the strongest of those is the joy and pride that grow from knowing that you’ve just done something as well as you can do it. -- Lloyd Dobens, Clare Crawford-Mason

Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity. -- Louis Pasteur

Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. -- Abraham Lincoln

I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen. -- Frank Lloyd Wright

The artist is nothing without gift, but gift is nothing without work. -- Émile Zola

Whatever you can do, do with all your might, for there is neither deed, nor planning, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, toward which you are heading. -- Ecclesiastes 9:10

I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done. -- Marie Curie

I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult. -- E.B. White

You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. -- Marie Curie

The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men. -- George Eliot

The happiest excitement in life is to be convinced that one is fighting for all one is worth on behalf of some clearly seen and deeply felt good. -- Ruth Benedict

All of us want to do well. But if we do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. -- Anna Quindlen

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand. -- Woodrow Wilson

We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know. -- W.H. Auden


  1. What a wonderful collection of quotes! Thank you!

  2. Very inspiring. Let me add another one:

    "Fun is doing hard things well."
    - my dad (the coach)

  3. "The world is made up of stories, not atoms."

    Uri Gordon

  4. Is it ironic that I read this while at a job I loathe? I was hoping it would guilt me into focusing better, but really I now just aspire to do something worthwhile.

    The EB White one is my favorite and may be my new mantra for 2009. Thanks!

  5. Lovely quotes! Thank you!
    Here's one more...
    The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
    ~ Chaucer
    PS Cheryl! Have you read this article in the New Yorker, THE LION AND THE MOUSE
    The battle that reshaped children’s literature.
    by Jill Lepore?
    It centers around E.B.White's Stuart Little.

  6. The best quote I know right now is "Yes We Can"
    And "Yes We Did" and "Yes We Shall" And I think I will adopt them all personally!

    This country has grown up and now it seems it might just act like it!

  7. Cheryl,
    Thank you for those quotes, I'm grateful that you hav collected them. I am saving this post and will add to it over time.


  8. I like the Blixen (Dinesen) one the best. She was such a practical and poetic gal.