"Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing"

Yesterday morning’s sky glowed beautifully pink. Every time I see a sunrise or sunset like that, I think of my grandmother who used to say this old weather lore every time she saw a pink sky:

“Pink sky at morning, sailors take warning;

Pink sky at night, sailors delight.”

I’ve often wondered whether there was any truth to this saying, and yesterday, after a quick look at wikipedia I discovered maybe so—because weather systems usually move from west to east, pink (or red) clouds “result when the sun shines on their undersides at either sunrise or sunset.”

Most quotes or sayings probably have origins in reality. On a roll, I decided to do some research on a quote that I only recently came acrossattributed to Robert W. Service—that I really like and can relate to:
“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

Robert W. Service, from wikipedia
The reason I like this particular quote is that I often let small, daily concerns take up too much of my time and energy, and then when I look up, I realize I’ve frittered my time away with unnecessary worry or stress. In the process, I have let go some of the larger tasks at hand. In essence, I choose to let the grain of sand wear me down. But I wondered…is that what Service meant, too?

A little research revealed that this quote is from a larger poem:

“Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

After reading this, I surmised that is probable that Service was thinking along my same lines. But I also learned more. For example, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the name Robert W. Service until I read this quote! You probably already know this, but it turns out that Robert William Service was a writer, considered the “bard of the Yukon.” He wrote many things, including The Cremation of Sam McGee. I’ve read this ballad a number of times, so I was especially surprised I didn’t recognize the name.

Another thing I learned is that although Service might have shared my annoyance with the grain of sand, he possibly did not find writing difficult! In fact, quite the opposite, as evidenced by this, that he supposedly said about writing: “For it came so easy to me in my exited state that I was amazed at my facility. It was as if someone was whispering in my ear.”

Although writing often feels like second nature, I would never describe it as easy. This feeling is shared by most writers I know, and it brings me to my final quote, one I love, attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, from wikipedia
Interestingly, Nathaniel Hawthorne spent some of his youth in Maine. He also attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were classmates and became lifelong friends. On a recent campus tour, the guide pointed out the corner dorm room that Hawthorne had lived in. Legend has it, the guide shared, that every student who’s lived in that room became an English major. I wonder what Hawthorne would say about that?

What are your favorite quotes? Are there some that have special meaning to you? Do any apply to the writing process? I’d love to hear!




  1. Great post! I love quotes! The sand in the shoe is oh-so-true.

    Here’s one that stuck with me for a while:

    “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

    Um, so yeah–I’m with Nathaniel on the damn hard writing bit. 😀

  2. One of my favorites is by Gustave Flaubert:

    “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”

    I also love the Hawthorne quote! It’s so true, and it’s why people often take good writing for granted. It only looks easy because it’s well done. It’s like when I watch figure skating–they make jumping and twisting and landing look so easy, but I could never do it.

    Thanks for sharing these great quotes. I needed a reminder about the grain of sand in my shoe today!

  3. Leah says:

    I love that quote! I’m going to print it and attach it to my bulletin board to remind me to focus on the big picture in life. Love it!

  4. Thanks for all your comments — wish I could comment on each in order, but for some reason I’m having issues with the usability of Blogger. ANOTHER grain of sand!!

    Barb, Oh, yikes, but that quote about the drops of blood is exactly how I’ve been feeling lately!! I love it, thanks for sharing!

    Natalia, The Flaubert quote is so artistic and poetic; I love it, too. And, as with most writers (I’m guessing) I’m a work in progress in that department, too.

    Leah, I need the big-picture reminder everyday, too. These days, I also need the reminder to not let things get out of proportion….so easy when trying to keep up!

  5. Blogger was unbelievably annoying yesterday. There was only a 50-50 chance my comments wouldn’t disappear into thin air anywhere I posted, including my own blog. Ugh!

    I wanted to pop back over here b/c I forgot to cite the source of my quote: Gene Fowler.


  6. Erika Marks says:

    Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’M newly inspried this morning from these. I love reading powerful quotes–particularly because I have no ability to remember them (but of course, ask me to quote any line from JAWS correctly, Julia, and I’m there. Sigh.)

    Thank you for these. I especially love the Service one. It reminds me of a similar sentiment I cherish I heard when I was hiking once as a young (and grumbling) kid–maybe Old Speck, can’t recall–anyway, the point was when you hit a steep stretch, to keep your eyes on the path and not look too far ahead, then you’ll get to the top before you know it. That idea sticks with me–even though most days I can’t help but look ahead!

  7. Barb, I know, right? About Blogger! So annoying, now I actually highlight and copy each comment prior to trying to post. Aggravating, and don’t get me started on its text editing capabilities! (p.s. Thanks for coming back with the attribution!)

    Erika, I know exactly what you mean about quotes. OMG, I have to write them down and then go back and check a zillion times to make sure I don’t forget or get them wrong! As for the JAWS quotes, hey, they’re critical and probably burned into your brain out of fear, right? (I never have been able to see that movie!). I agree with you, the sand quote really resonates for exactly that reason! (p.s. can’t picture you as grumbling…)

  8. CMSmith says:

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt.

  9. Thanks for your comment & coming by during your busy day! I love that Eleanor Roosevelt quote! She also is attributed with one of my all time favorite quotes, along the same lines:

    “You woudn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    I actually almost used it in the blog! But I couldn’t figure out how to work it in well, and the blog post was getting a little long anyway!