Don’t Panic: 14 Underappreciated Douglas Adams Quotes for Writers, the Universe and Everyone

Here author Douglas Adams poses holding a copy of the book which has “Don’t Panic” written on the front cover. 29th November 1978. (Photo by Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

– from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

While Douglas Adams’ satirical space jaunt Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy never grows old, everyone’s heard about towels and ill-fated flower pots and dozens of other quotes from the Guide a hundred times over. But there’s so much more he wrote and said that’s worth absorbing, which is why we’re celebrating with a few wisdoms you might not remember—or that you may not have read at all. (And most of them are particularly appropriate for writers too.)

So grab your towel, put down your Vogon poetry and dive into these impeccable Douglas Adams quotes about media, information, life, technology and more.

Editor’s Note: A quote that was originally misattributed was corrected in the selection below.

14 Underappreciated Douglas Adams Quotes for Writers (and Everyone)

1. For when you’re trying to wrap your head aroud a complicated idea:

“What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that’s really the essence of programming. By the time you’ve sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you’ve learned something about it yourself.”

— from Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)

2. For when your plot takes you somewhere you weren’t expecting:

“… my methods of navigation have their advantage. I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

— from The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Ch. 13 (1988)

3. For when you’re pondering the mystery of life:

“For us, there is no longer a fundamental mystery about Life. It is all the process of extraordinary eruptions of information, and it is information which gives us this fantastically rich, complex world in which we live; but at the same time that we’ve discovered that we are destroying it at a rate that has no precedent in history, unless you go back to the point when we are hit by an asteroid!”

— from “Parrots, the Universe and Everything” a talk at the University of California, Santa Barbara—Adams’ final public appearance before his death in May 2001

4. For when you’re in need of a different perspective:

“He was constantly reminded of how startlingly different a place the world was when viewed from a point only three feet to the left.”

— from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), Random House

5. For when you’re having trouble working out that troublesome inconsistency in your narrative:

“Solutions nearly always come from the direction you least expect, which means there’s no point trying to look in that direction because it won’t be coming from there.”

— from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), Random House

6. For when you need a fun fact … or two:

“I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day. My favorite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantelpiece, in order to prove it could be done. This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favorite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.”

— from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), Random House

7. For when you’re on the hunt for ideas:

“So where do the ideas actually come from? Mostly from getting annoyed about things. Not big issues so much … as the little irritations that drive you wild out of all proportion.”

— from the introduction to The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

8. For when you’re worried about the future of printed books and media:

“It’s important to remember that the relationship between different media tends to be complementary. When new media arrive they don’t necessarily replace or eradicate previous types. Though we should perhaps observe a half second silence for the eight-track. — There that’s done. What usually happens is that older media have to shuffle about a bit to make space for the new one and its particular advantages. Radio did not kill books and television did not kill radio or movies — what television did kill was cinema newsreel. TV does it much better because it can deliver it instantly. Who wants last week’s news?”

— from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Future (2001), a BBC Radio 4 program on how new media and technology will change our lives

9. For when you’re working on a deadline:

“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

— from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), Random House

10. For those looking to avoid clichés in their writing:

“One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious, as in It’s a nice day, or You’re very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you alright? At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behaviour. If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favour of a new one. If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working. After a while he abandoned this one as well as being obstructively cynical.”

— from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

11. For when you’re questioning reality:

“‘How can I tell,’ said the man, ‘that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?'”

— from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)

12. For those times when you realize you’ve evolved as a writer:

“They were not the same eyes with which he had last looked out at this particular scene, and the brain which interpreted the images the eyes resolved was not the same brain. There had been no surgery involved, just the continual wrenching of experience.”

— from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (1984)

13. For when you’re feeling out of touch with new technology:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

— from The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time (2002), Random House

14. For when you’re crafting a story with an unsual timeline:

“Anything that happens, happens.
Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn’t necessarily do it in chronological order, though.”

— from Mostly Harmless (1992)


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