Even outside of literature and science, quotes can fulfill many functions and enrich our lives. So today, I would like to go into a couple of options to integrate inspiring quotes in your everyday life and to introduce some of my favorites.
And if I get to know some more during the following discussion, so much the better…
Why should you include quotes in your everyday life?
If you leave out the group of quotations circulating within journalism and science, the vast remainder probably consists of “inspiring quotes” that we encounter on social media each and every day. And of course, we like those and diligently share them with our friends and family. So far, so good.
Now, that basically means we already have quotes in our lives, doesn’t it? Well…
It depends on what purpose a quote is supposed to answer for you. If, for instance, you’re dealing with a witty short dialogue out of the latest rom-com – and I cannot believe that my German-conditioned brain spat out that abbreviation – then this will hardly be a quotation that is applicable within your everyday life.
There’s no appeal, no morale, no ideal that you crave to follow.
But there are enough counter-examples; quotations that encourage, inspire and excite us every day.
When is a quote inspiring?
You could tell a long rigmarole about the etymology of the word “inspiration”, about the ghost that blows through the words and captures our imagination, etc. I approach this question a little less philosophically.
In my world, quotes are inspiring when they…
- … open up new perspectives on things already known,
- … get to the heart of complex coherencies so that you can interiorize them, or,
- … structure activities in such a way that their description helps the reader when executing them or even to improve the activities’ results.
A quotation that falls into one of those categories might well make it onto my corkboard or into a picture frame. Yes, I frame quotes. Sue me.
There may well be well-written movies attending to the viewer with wise aphorisms, motivating speeches or worldly pearls of wisdom, but I’m more of a bookworm than a movie buff, even though I can whistle one or two movie scenes backward.
Hence for me, there’s a fine, but not a strict line between literary or philosophical quotes and movie lines. (Feel free to disabuse me. I’m looking forward to all of the great movie quotes coming my way.)
That said, philosophy and literature offer different levels of applicability in day-to-day life, or at least that’s my experience.
Inspiration through philosophy’s aspiration towards ideality
Many philosophers – per self-definition – strive after a better or an ideal life, howsoever they may define it in the individual case.
Sometimes, it’s about your relation to God, in other cases about your role in society, personal fulfillment, or nutrition.
I don’t tend to read a philosopher’s work over and over, just as I described it for my reading habits concerning literary writers. During my first years of studying, I could get really enthusiastic about Nietzsche’s scathing language criticism. And anyone who knows me personally can tell you, I still enjoy irony – perhaps too much.
But I still wouldn’t want to digest the collected works of good old Friedrich.
Example: Marc Aurel’s Meditations
Another philosopher whom I actually have enjoyed reading (or listening to – speaking of audiobooks – is Marc Aurel. When my father passed away in 2016, I had just purchased his Meditations by pure coincidence. Before, I had seen a documentary on Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), who stated that he had read this particular book over and over again during his entire lifetime.
No matter what I personally think of Helmut Schmidt, to me, that sounded like substantial reading.
So, December came around, like I said. And I wanted to do anything but reading. So I leafed through the edition for some time and switched to the audiobook later.
I cannot say that this book opened my eyes, that nothing was the way it was before, that the skies burst open to enlighten me. But I did write down a whole lot of quotes back then, and I read them time and time again. Especially quotes on serenity towards the unchangeable. In this situation, many quotes simplified the world around me or opened new perspectives to me.
Did I agree with everything inside that book? – Of course not.
And yes, I know about the persecution of Christians under the direction of Marc Aurel. But that wasn’t what the book was about at that moment, at least not for me. The book became an advisor; I didn’t want to read a historical source.
But that’s only a little example of the effect philosophical quotes might have on you. One thing is for sure, there will be something for every philosophical taste if you’re searching for inspiration regarding your own life.
Quotes on writing
Granted, this category is not for everybody. There are those few unique writers’ quotes that you can actually apply more generally.
Just think of all the Oscar Wilde quotes within the world’s prefaces!
But most of these quotes are written by writers for writers. No matter at what point you currently are on your journey – novelist-to-be, student, journalist – you should have some guiding figures and sentences.
Often enough, the best thing about these aphorisms on writing is that they relate to real life and the practical activity of writing at the same time.
Of course, some writers like Hemingway leave you guessing with the most “telling” advice that writing doesn’t entail anything but sitting at a typewriter and bleed. Good old Ernest doesn’t tell us, however, exactly how much blood is required until your novel is finished.
No matter whether you look for advice in Hemingway’s work or whether you go all the way back to Quintilian – you’ll always find quotes on daily routines, stylistic ideals, metaphors, etc.
The quote itself doesn’t have to be descriptive, either. It might also present the advice in a mimetic way.
During my bachelor’s and master’s thesis, for instance, I pinned quotes by the authors I was analyzing above my writing desk, which got to the heart of my argument.
My (current) favorite quotes – Not just sayings to ponder
The quotes I actually decorate my own four walls with change somewhat irregularly. Right now, I’m looking at three quotes which I owe to last week’s reading material. I have turned to English writers once again, among them Thomas E. Ricks’ work on Churchill and Orwell*.
Even though the Pulitzer Prize initially caught my attention, Ricks mentions a couple of aphorisms on stylistic guidelines from Politics and the English Language and Why I Write. Both essays I devoured right after the book, especially since they’re available online for free.
Orwell’s stylistic guidelines for writers
My first quote is from Politics and the English Language. Don’t get confused by the title. It may hint at a guiding political theme, but that deludes. Orwell’s understanding of politics’ influence is defined in a far more comprehensive manner. That is also why the essay contains stylistic guidelines that every writer can use:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.George Orwell: Politics and the English Language
You’ll have to answer the question for yourself when you’re writing something “barbarous,” I’m sorry. Otherwise, these guidelines really boil down to the essence what you can find elsewhere scattered across several hundred pages. And even though they may not contain advice for a wide array of situations, I like the handy guide for everyday work.
What kind of writer do you want to be?
The following quote is also one of Orwell’s – and no, I am actually not a fanboy. As I said, these are owed to my current reading material. Here, George Orwell describes what kind of novels he aimed at before he even started writing.
I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound.George Orwell: Why I Write
I didn’t collect this one because of a rule or some practical use case. I admired how specific the author painted a picture of his own genre. To me, that quote is less of a take-home message and more of an indirect prompt and a monition at once:
If you write, you should have your goal in mind. And that goal should be as specific as possible. Orwell’s words almost seem like an affirmation, save that they’re written retrospectively.
Still, they inspire me to search for my own message and genre every day.
Garner’s Martini drinking skateboarders
Next to Orwell hangs Helen Garner… Well, not herself, thank God… But a cute quote, even though it contains a bit less pathos.
I suppose there must be idiots who dream of signing deals with publishers while fully intending to drink martinis in cool bars or ride around on skateboards. But the actual writers I know are experts in neurotic self-torture. Every page of writing is the result of a thousand tiny decisions and desperate acts of will.Helen Garner
I came across Garner’s quote online by accident. And I must say, I just love how precisely she describes the image of the “wannabe-writers.”
But, opposed to other writers, she doesn’t leave it pathetically at self-torture like Hemingway. She gives us at least a small glimpse into the little working steps that writing entails. More praxis than a hovering inspiration through an errant muse, but still.
Countless writers have preserved their thoughts on the process of writing, style, or working conditions. Here, too, you’re spoilt by choice, and you should follow your own taste when searching for inspirational quotes – next to classical rhetoric.
Further sources of inspiration: Diaries, correspondences, anthologies
You could pick up diaries or correspondences, as in the case of Goethe, John Keats, or Thomas Mann; with some rare writers, you’ll find entire works on writing itself, even if they have sometimes been compiled after the fact.
And if you want to learn about the more tangible wisdom of Ernest Hemingway, I can warmly recommend Ernest Hemingway On Writing*. I myself purchased the book back in Key West when I visited his house, and I still like to have a look at it every once in a while.
So these are my quotes, at least for the moment.
Did you like them? Where do you get your inspiration? And how do you collect your quotes? In a notebook, on your pinboard, in a picture frame? I’m curious about your quotes! Share them with me, in the comments, via email or on Twitter!
That’s it for now. Thanks for reading! Keep quoting!