We use metaphors in writing all the time, but what about metaphors about writing? We need metaphors that explain the writing process and experience, and as a result, reveal something about it.
Some of the most famous writing metaphors involve blood as the prime imagery. Here’s my favorite writing metaphor quotation:
“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” -Gene Fowler
And another quote, rather like it:
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemmingway
Beyond blood, there are a lot of writing metaphors that could be used. Below is a list of metaphors about writing. If I’ve written a full blog post about the metaphor, it is listed as a link and you can click to read the full, extended metaphor. (Please note: some of these metaphors can also be defined as similes because they use the word “like,” but a simile is really a subset or type of metaphor.)
Writing is like kissing, and can be just as engaging…at least if you know your audience.
“Good writing is like a windowpane.” –George Orwell
Writing is like exercise. Ideally we’d all do it at least 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
Metaphors about writing from author E. L. Doctorow:
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” –E. L. Doctorow
“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” –E. L. Doctorow
Writing is like building a bird’s nest: you’re assembling the best materials in the best way possible.
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” –John Steinbeck
Writing is a battle:
“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of a job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” -Neil Gaiman
Writing is like plate spinning. There’s a lot to focus on and try to keep up all at once.
“I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” – Gustave Flaubert
“The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.” -William H. Gass, A Temple of Texts
Additional Metaphors About Writing
- “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” –Pablo Picasso
- “The artist must create a spark before he can make a fire and before art is born, the artist must be ready to be consumed by the fire of his own creation.” –Auguste Rodin
- “Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things—thoughts, ideas, opinions.” –Paulo Coelho
- “Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.” –E. B. White
- Writing is like walking on a bed of coals, and then finding oneself on a tropical beach.
- Writing is like taking care of sick kids. It takes a lot of work, can keep you up all night, and can involve some gross messes…
How To Effectively Use Similes and Metaphors in Your Writing
Similes and metaphors are used in many forms of writing - from newspapers and magazines to novels and in many other fields of writing too. They can be used to help to communicate a specific message more effectively and to place emphasis on a particular point and they are also used to both enhance a description of something in order to enable it to have more of a powerful effect on the reader and they can also be used to, perhaps, simplify a particular passage of text or to help explain something more clearly.
Where Similes & Metaphors Are Similar To Each OtherBoth similes and metaphors share some common traits. They are both used to make comparisons and also both work by often connecting two items which might not otherwise be connected. They can also both be used in a highly creative manner in order to achieve their desired effects which are outlined in the paragraph above. However, they are not one and the same thing which is why it’s important to point out the differentiations between them.
What Are Similes & How Can They Be Used Effectively?Similes compare two things by association which are not like each other but which, when used, can make the meaning via the association more descriptive. They do this by using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. They can also be used where the association is stated either implicitly or explicitly. Thereby, they can be used in a way that leaves the reader in no doubt of what the author is trying to convey or, in some instances, the author may prefer to use a simile which can be open to interpretation by the reader which, therefore means that different readers may have different connotations of what the author is trying to say and that might be the intention of the author.
Here is an example of an explicit simile where the reader is left in no doubt of the author’s intent:
- “I knew it would end in trouble when I saw all the beers and chasers on the bar. He was drinking like a fish.” - Here, the reader is left in no doubt that the person the author is talking about has been drinking a lot.
Here is an example of an implicit simile where the author’s description might seem vaguer or where it might be interpreted by different people in different ways:
- “The skill of the pilot as he manoeuvred the plane through the mountainous region before swooping down towards the runway was as precise and as controlled as an eagle following its prey.” - Here, although most of us would take that to mean that the pilot was very skilled in controlling the plane and reaching his intended target, some people may have different perspectives on how they picture the plane as it comes in to land.
Certain similes have also become used stereotypically over the years to become part of everyday speech. For example, an often used simile is “as stubborn as an ox” and whilst there is no problem with using that phrase when writing, it’s hardly original but it might equally be the best choice of words to convey what you want to say. Similes are also used in an ironic manner to make comparisons which are the total opposite to what the author means to say. An often cited example is “he was as much use as a chocolate teapot” which basically means he was no use at all. You’ll often see similes used in this fashion in writing for comedy.
What Are Metaphors & How Can They Be Used Effectively?Metaphors are also used in a similar fashion to similes in that they make comparisons. However, where a simile points to similarities between different concepts, a metaphor draws a direct parallel.
Here is an example of the use of a metaphor:
- “As he told her that their relationship was over, she felt the singe of rejection burning inside her.” - Here, although we know that there was no singeing or burning going on, the description conveys the deep sense of emotional pain she was feeling when he told her that the relationship was over.
There are also many different types of metaphors and the way we use them. For example, the use of living and dead metaphors whereby the example above could be considered to be a living metaphor whereas phrases like “you are my world” or “it took a few drinks to break the ice” would be considered as examples of dead metaphors whereby the visual transfer of an image presented by the metaphor is not as easy to picture and our sense of meaning of it is more associated with our understanding of the phrase.
There are no hard and fast rules about the use of metaphors and similes when writing nor is there any restriction as to how often you should use them. However, what you should consider is whether they add meaning to what you’re trying to say as overuse can simply turn a reader off or confuse them.
That said, some of the most successful songs in the modern era have solely relied on the use of metaphors and similes with little else besides to convey a message, e.g. ‘Ironic’ by Alanis Morissette and both ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and ‘I Am The Walrus’ by The Beatles are three prime examples which almost entirely consist of similes and metaphors.
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