In 2013, I came up with the line ‘Write without fear, edit without mercy’.
I made it into a simple graphic and slapped it on Pinterest just to get a backlink.
And that, I naïvely imagined, was that. But, as I recently discovered, it so wasn’t!
I wasn’t yet an author when I wrote the line, so it never occurred to me to attribute this ‘quote’ to myself (although I did put a copyright notice on it). It was just a throwaway internet thing.
In fact, so far from seeking credit, I was probably hoping that people would think it was by a ‘real’ writer (Anne Lamott, say, or Stephen King) and hence share it more widely. So adding my own name could actually have been counterproductive.
Lacking any attribution, the line was free to proliferate across Pinterest, and thence flutter across the entire internet. So come with me now and trace its nine-year flight!
At the time, I never wrote a post with this title. In retrospect, I probably should have, because several other people have. Like this… and this… and this. Well, I guess this post – belated as it is – will have to do.
So, do you like the rather lovely ceramic paperweight depicted in that last post (and many others)? Well, very flatteringly, it seems to have been created by cult ceramics artist Rae Dunn.
I can’t find the paperweight for sale (or I’d buy it like a shot). But never fear, because there’s tons of other WWF/EWM merch out there, as you can see…
For example, there’s this delightful floral mug. (Although I’m not sure those dainty salmon-pink roses really vibe with the ‘no mercy’ sentiment.)
Or do you fancy a ‘write without fear, edit without mercy’ tote bag? Apparently it’s ‘totes deluxe’!
Or how about this rather butch T-shirt? (The graphic reminds me of the old Run-DMC logo, if anyone remembers that.)
And if you want to drill my writing wisdom into your Year 10s, you can get a print-at-home classroom poster.
There’s even a face mask, for when you want to inspire all those other writers you meet in the queue at Costa.
The quote also floats around the tinterweb as one of those (potentially irritating) ‘quotes about writing’. For example, it gets posted on Twitter fairly regularly (by a surprising range of people!):
Write without fear; edit without mercy.
— Gareth L Powell (@garethlpowell) February 1, 2019
India’s Press Freedom Rank is 142.🤔
Write without fear.
Edit without mercy. pic.twitter.com/1SLPKPbqaK
— GARIMA (@JeeGarimaa) November 16, 2021
Awesome camp for awesome kids! Write without fear, edit without mercy, 4th graders! Thank you teachers and @ElemELAR #ThisIsNorthside pic.twitter.com/2KcHEQKlVh
— Patricia Sanchez (@Pattisanchez14) March 30, 2019
Write Without Fear. Edit Without Mercy / Buy Now🔥https://t.co/uHVQTTWzL0#dailyilustration #graphicroozane #symplycooldesign #graphicdesigncentral #picame #culturacolectiva #tshirtartist #awesomedesign #tobefonseca pic.twitter.com/wdwcuoGv8I
— Tobe Fonseca ™ Studio (@tobefonseca) January 12, 2022
The quote turns up here as one of someone’s ‘little mantras about writing’, while this writing tutor apparently tells it to all the students on her course, which takes the phrase as its title. And according to this post, ‘There is a saying, “write without fear, edit without mercy”’. Hey mum, I did a saying!
Since I didn’t claim it myself, the quote sometimes gloms on to other people. For example, if you ask Google who said ‘Write without fear, edit without mercy’, it will reply that it was Rogena Mitchell-Jones, creator of this (blank) journal. (To be clear, I know this isn’t Rogena’s fault and I do not mind.)
And here it is presented in a lovely poster design and attributed to Samantha Estoesta, who presumably saw it online and used it on a slide. (To reiterate: I fully understand how this happened and don’t mind.)
“Write without fear. Edit without mercy.” — @smoestoe at @Fluxible Conference pic.twitter.com/FjiE3Qando
— Mark Connolly (he/him) (@uxMark) September 22, 2018
Finally, here’s Sandra Jeffs very courteously ascribing the quote to ‘unknown’ – as does Tom Wright in his Twitter bio. Now, at last, I unmask myself and declare: I am that unknown!
Write without fear. Edit without mercy. https://t.co/u85ea2FDT9 pic.twitter.com/mT1BSEPpuj
— Sandra Jeffs (@sandrajeffs1) January 17, 2022
I could go on, but you get the idea. I’m deeply gratified that something I wrote has travelled so far, been quoted so many times and (apparently) inspired so many. I just wish a few more of them knew that it came from me…
Thank you for the clarification! I was looking for the origin of this “quote” and now that I know, I will attribute it to you in my coming book about wring and publishing your own book (in Swedish though!)