Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Somerset Maugham


 Thanks to Colleen over at Silver Threading for facilitating this weekly community event.


“All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary— it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.”

– Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham states the obvious – all the words writers use in our stories can be found in the dictionary unless we make them up like Dr. Seuss.  The art or magic of writing is in how we arrange words in the right sentences.

Take a look at some famous quotes and decide if you rearrange or change some words would the sentences be as memorable or effective.

William Shakespeare’s famous quote from Hamlet “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” would not sound as poetic if it was rewritten as “The question that is: to be, or not to be:” The exact words just rearranged come out not quite as poetic as the Bard’s arrangement.

Consider the John F. Kennedy quote that inspired a generation including a future President: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”   It would not seem as powerful if rewritten as “Do not ask what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”  Almost the exact words with the exception of the addition of another “ask”.  The sentence makes the same point but it loses some of its powerfulness in the rewrite.

Or the famous quote delivered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt following the attacks on Pearl Harbor “Today is a day that will live in infamy.” would not be so memorable and quotable if FDR said “Today is a day that will live on in our nation’s memory as a day notoriously associated with evil acts.”  Same sentiment expressed and the rewrite uses the same exact six first words but replaces the last two with a phrase of thirteen words, which express the same sentiment but definitely not as quotable as FDR’s.

The lesson learned from Somerset Maugham’s quote is: although all the words a writer uses can be found in the dictionary it takes practice, editing and rewriting to arrange the words we all can find in the dictionary into brilliant, memorable stories.

About Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham , a British playwright, novelist and short story writer, was born on January 25, 1874. According to Wikipedia, Maugham was one of the most commercially successful and gifted writers of the twentieth century. Reportedly Bryan Connon, his biographer wrote that “no writer of his generation … graced the world of English letters with more complete or more polished assurance”.

A complete list of his works can be found on Wikipedia.

2 thoughts on “Writer’s Quote Wednesday – Somerset Maugham

  1. Pingback: Writer’s Quote Wednesday Weekly Wrap-Up from 4/15/15 | Silver Threading

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