Colson Whitehead on Writing: 5 Hilarious and Inspiring Quotes

Want to get a bunch of word nerds to sit up and pay attention first thing in the morning? Invite Colson Whitehead, the funny and inventive author of Underground Railroad, to speak.

The Pulitzer Prize winner spoke to Content Marketing World attendees about his not-so-linear path to literary success—and offered a few learnings beneficial to any creative.

Check out a few of our favorite quotes from his keynote speech.

“There’s a time to wait, and there’s a time to bite off the project you don’t think you can pull off.”

Whitehead sat on the idea for Underground Railroad for 15 years, he said. He did not feel ready as a writer to tackle the ambitious idea when it first percolated. It took publishing seven books—and an honest conversation with his wife—to help him realize it was time to take it on. “The value in waiting was that I learned how to calibrate realism and fantasy,” he said of Underground Railroad, which balances both.

“If you know how to do something, why do it again?”

With each book, Whitehead reinvents the type of story he’s telling, covering the gamut from the zombie apocalypse to coming of age in New York. Underground Railroad follows an imagined world in which the Underground Railroad is a literal train runaway slaves ride to freedom with each state representing a different version of what America could be.

The takeaway: Why tell the same stories (and get the same results) when there is so much room to experiment, learn and innovate?

“The story is more important than you.”

A lesson for writers and brands around the world: Remove the ego, and let the creative shine.

“The thing I fear most about creative work is just not knowing when I’m coasting.”

Related to above: There has never been more content to consume than there is now. It’s a challenge in a sea of sameness to create work that is original and inspiring.

“I wanted to be a writer. I get to work from home, I don’t need to wear clothes and I get to just make up stuff all day.”

Thanks, Colson, for perfectly articulating #IntrovertGoals, and for the hilarious, endearing and inspiring session.

colson whitehead quote
colson whitehead

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Colson Whitehead on Writing at CM World

Who knew a Pulitzer Prize winner at a marketing conference could be so funny? Highlights from Whitehead’s Content Marketing World keynote.