Shoot them now while they’re still happy

That was Dorothy Parker’s advice for those who had friends who wanted to be writers.

When I was a college English department instructor, my “Bible” was The End of Intelligent Writing: Literary Politics in America (1974) by Richard Kostelanetz. My colleagues thought it was overly grim, though they didn’t worry about literary politics because they weren’t teaching their students how to become writers. Their students were simply supposed to enjoy literature and then if they enjoyed it enough, teach it to others.

It was a closed-loop quite soundly divorced from considerations of what it took to write and produce that literature. According to my “Bible” prospective writers were up against a closed club. The author called “The New York Review of Books” the New York Review of Each Other’s Books. The club would let you in if you, say–killed somebody and wrote a book about it or if you were a famous, and hopefully infamous, celebrity submitting a tell-all book about almost anything. But fiction: a hard sell then and now.

I should have been a firefighter.

I’ve been haunted for years by the words of author Lila Shaara posted in Beatrice in 2006: “I grew up seeing writing as something that gripped you in poisoned talons, gave you little or nothing back, drove you to addiction and depression, and killed you young.”

Some writers will disagree. They are the 1% who dodged the bullet when we tried to shoot them and somehow clawed their way through the politics of publishers and agents and against overwhelming odds, and are still happy. (Too happy, I would say, from what I read in their newsletters.) The other 99% are insane or selling used cars in Fargo.

Once upon a time, there was a gag that most newspapermen and women thought they had a book inside them, the response being, that was a good place for it to stay. I agree. These days, they can self-publish and potentially earn enough per month to buy a happy meal. I’m not sure that’s an improvement over the world of 1974 when who you were dictated whether or not you succeeded. Or met with an “accident.”

I think the Mafia operates the same way,

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

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Will write for food

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

  • I tried writing for money and it didn’t work out.”
  • My parents’ greatest sorrow–other than the fact I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth–was that my grades in English classes were always lower than my grades in my other classes. They knew I was running from destiny before I did.
  • On my first visit to the radiation department to talk about upcoming cancer treatments, the doctor asked what I did for a living. When I told him I was an author, he asked how many of my books had been published. When I said, “All of them,” he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but we do have a financial assistance program for the indigent.”
  • I once set up a card table downtown with a poster that said, “Will write for food.” A cop brought me a tomato and mayo sandwich and said, “Okay, ace, write something.” I took out a scrap of paper and wrote, “Mama don’t allow no tomato sandwiches ’round here.” “Buddy,” he said, “you’re no James Patterson.” “Story of my life,” I said.
  • When people look at me funny during a conversation, my wife explains that I’m a writer. That usually shuts them up.
  • On the plus side, when people know I’m a writer of fiction, they think I’m just making stuff up whenever I insult them with one wisecrack or another. This has given me a lot of latitude for saying just about anything to anyone.
  • Most English teachers can sense fear; mine always sensed flippancy. They discovered sooner or later that I thought high school and college English departments were doing their best to train people to hate reading and writing.
  • I was once thrown out of a college English class for challenging the professor’s negative views about journalism. He said journalism was hack writing. I said many of the world’s greatest authors began as journalists. He stipulated that but said they were in the minority, and that most journalists couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. When I said, “you probably can’t either,” he told me to get out. My father, who was dean of that university’s school of journalism, went over and had a talk with him, ensuring that I was back in the class the next day. Afterwards, I kept out of trouble (mostly) and ended up getting a B in the course.
  • Writing is like drugs. I’ve spent large amounts of time looking for a 12-step program to help me quit. So far, no luck on that.
  • People keep saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. I usually ask if anyone is still using swords these days. When they look at me funny, my wife says, “he’s a writer.”
  • If you decide to write for food, pick something you like. There’s no point in working all day for a tomato sandwich. much less humous. Go for a steak or a plate of oysters or wine that costs $500 per bottle. Otherwise, you’re not only selling yourself short, but you’re eating stuff that doesn’t taste good.

Malcolm

A few potentially humorous quotes about writing

When a blogger is too tired to write something original, s/he compiles a list of something or other. Today’s list is composed of funny quotes about writing.

  • writing“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” ― Dorothy Parker
  • “I wrote a few children’s books. Not on purpose.” – Steven Wright
  • “Frankly, my dear, I should bury your script in a drawer and put a lily on top.”  – Noël Coward
  • “If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us.” — William Faulkner
  • “If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.” – Kingsley Amis
  • “One trouble with developing speed-reading skills is that by the time you realize a book is boring, you’ve already finished it.” –   Franklin P Jones
  • “Unless a reviewer has the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore the bastard.” – John Steinbeck
  • “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” — Robert A. Heinlein
  • Historian: an unsuccessful novelist.” – H. L. Mencken
  • “Panicky despair is an underrated element of writing.” ― Dave Barry
  • “I leave out the parts that people skip.” – Elmore Leonard
  • “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx
  • “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” – Robert Benchley
  • “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain
  • “When male authors write love stories, the heroine tends to end up dead.” ― Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    “In Hollywood the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.” – Will Rogers
  • “I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.” – Patrick Dennis
  • “This is the sixth book I’ve written, which isn’t bad for a guy who’s only read two.” – George Burns