Book Writing

The 9 Best Harper Lee Quotes

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Harper Lee’s works played a pivotal role in drawing attention to societal issues, including identity and racism, and that is why she is one of the greatest female authors of the century. This American novelist gave us insight into the mind of a writer and into human nature through the narratives of her characters. She taught us to see life through different eyes, and that was her gift to the world. Let’s see what we can learn from her life and some of the best Harper Lee quotes.

Harper Lee’s life story

Harper Lee came into this world on April 28, 1926, as the youngest of four children. Her early childhood was spent in Monroeville, Alabama. During her childhood, she loved to read. She attended a private school and later enrolled in the University of Alabama. She then studied in Oxford and returned to the University of Alabama to pursue law. She ended her studies six months before graduation, not knowing that she was destined to become one of the most famous 20th century female authors. 

Lee moved to New York in 1949 and worked as a reservation clerk for two airlines. She quit work to work on To Kill a Mockingbird, during which time she relied on the support of a few friends. The novel would not be published until 1960. It was an instant success and sold 500,000 copies in one year. To Kill a Mockingbird was later translated into 10 languages and made into a movie in 1962. She was destined to become one of the most famous 20th-century female authors. 

As one of the most famous American women authors, Harper Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2007 and the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama in 2010. In 2015, her manuscript, Go Set a Watchman was published as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was originally a first draft of the latter. Lee died in her sleep on February 19, 2016, at the age of 89. 

Harper Lee’s most notable work

Harper Lee only produced two fiction works, To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 and Go Set a Watchman in 2015. To Kill a Mockingbird is considered a classic and is required reading in middle schools. The plot and characters in the book were loosely based on events and people around the American novelist in her childhood home of Monroeville, Alabama. 

Both of Lee’s books deal with some taboo subjects that were not talked about by popular women authors at the time of her writing, but they were still a part of the underbelly of the American landscape. Lee’s greatest feat was to bring attention to them and open the road for discussion and debate. Lee’s greatest talent as a writer is to bring the characters to life and allow the reader to get to know them through dialogue. Her ability to make us laugh and to make us cry is her greatest contribution to the world of literature. 

9 best Harper Lee quotes

Harper Lee taught us a lot about life, and as writers, we can learn from her quotes in her novels and from her quotes about life. Here are nine of the best Harper Lee quotes and my thoughts on them. 

1. “Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.”

It is one thing to get advice, but you have to be able to put it to use in your daily life. Knowledge is only useful when you find a way to apply it to your life and mission. When you gain knowledge, you should always ask yourself how you are going to use the knowledge and take action. 

2. “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – from To Kill a Mockingbird

This is one of my favorite quotes about facing challenges. Challenges make us grow, and those that scare us a little make us grow even more. The key to success is to look that challenge in the face, break it down into small steps, and start moving forward anyway. 

3. “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” – from To Kill a Mockingbird

In this quote, Atticus points out the Jem is exaggerating, but this can apply to writing, too. The key to good writing is to be succinct. Adjectives in the right amount add flavor, but too many sound like you are exaggerating. 

4. “Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent.”

This quote applies to fiction-writing more than content production, but you should always write about something that you are passionate about if you want to connect with the reader. Everyone has something within them that they want to say. Now, we have more platforms than ever to express our innermost passions and create something that readers will enjoy. 

5. “A man can condemn his enemies, but it’s wiser to know them.” – From Go Set a Watchman

This quote also applies to your competition. It is always bad form to criticize someone in the same business as you, but if you can get to know them, then you can find a way to improve your products and services so that the choice is obvious. You can learn from your competitors and use this knowledge to get ahead of the game. You never win by writing about someone else’s faults, but you win by offering a better quality product. 

6. “The book to read is not the one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”

This quote applies to the concept of showing, not telling. Even if you do not aspire to be a great fictional novelist, you should paint a picture and allow your readers to draw their conclusions. Readers do not want to be handed information and told what to think. They want to explore it and see where it leads them. 

7. “Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing.”

Nobody starts out as an expert, whether you are thinking about writing a blog, starting a podcast, or starting an online business. Everybody starts from the beginning and learns as they go. Success is a continual process of learning and refinement until you get it right. 

8. “You don’t have to learn much out of books, it’s like if you want to learn about cows, you go milk one.” – from To Kill a Mockingbird

This quote reminds us that the best way to learn is by doing. Many people put off starting a business because they think they do not know enough. There is so much information available out there that you can get bogged down in the details. The best way to become a master in your craft is to get started and learn from both your mistakes and successes. That is the key to success.

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    9. “People in their right mind never take pride in their talents.”- from To Kill a Mockingbird

    Even those who are at the top of their field are usually the most humble. They know that talent only gets you so far and that true success lies in the principle of continual learning. There is always someone out there who can do it better than you, and that is why learning is a never-ending process. 
    Harper Lee did not set out to change the world with her writing, but she did anyway and left us with a legacy that has stood the test of time. The best way to become a better writer is to learn from the masters like Toni Morison and C.S. Lewis. Creating a work that stands the test of time is the greatest achievement that any writer can hope for, and the greatest compliment a reader to give them is to pass it on for others to enjoy. We can learn about ourselves and gain insight into the craft of writing from these best Harper Lee quotes and from her works.

    Chris Craft

    Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Founder of InspireFirst and Nao Media.