Advice from the Masters: Mark Twain

Dec 12, 2012 | Better Writing

Mark Twain is one of those people, like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, or Lao Tzu, who get credit for a lot of witty things they didn’t say. And many of the things they actually did say get distorted and amplified as they’re passed from brain to brain.

That doesn’t seem to matter much in most contexts, where those quotes are used for motivation. But if you want to be accurate you should do some research. You may find something interesting.

The following quote is from George Bainton’s book, The Art of Authorship: Literary Reminiscences, Methods of Work, and Advice to Young Beginners, published in 1890. Bainton solicited the quote from Twain. And Twain gave credit for the original idea to Josh Billings

That’s the pen name used by Henry Wheeler Shaw. In the late Nineteenth Century, he and Twain had comparable reputations as humorists. Since Billings’ original version was both affected and slightly different, I’ll go with Twain as the author of this bit of sage writing advice.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts.