“Advice To Writers”

I saw a tweet yesterday that reminded me: Be careful about authoring advice on the internet. For it led me to find myself recalling a letter I remembered seeing from Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald in which Hemingway reacts to and critiques (if that is the right word) Scott’s recently released Tender Is The Night novel.

[Tender Is The Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934. Photo by me, Bristol, England, 2019.]

It is a superb mess of jibber-jabber that a friend would write to a friend – because you wouldn’t write like this to a mere acquaintance, to say nothing of to a stranger. (Although perhaps you would be more likely to assail a stranger than an acquaintance.) It is full of both barbed criticism and effusive praise. Here’s just one gem of a paragraph:

…I’d like to see you and talk about things with you sober. You were so damned stinking in N.Y. we didn’t get anywhere. You see, Bo, you’re not a tragic character. Neither am I. All we are is writers and what we should do is write. Of all people on earth you needed discipline in your work and instead you marry someone who is jealous of your work, wants to compete with you and ruins you. It’s not as simple as that and I thought Zelda was crazy the first time I met her and you complicated it even more by being in love with her and, of course you’re a rummy…

That’s merely for starters. Do writers write that way privately to friends? Uh, err, well…

Rainy England
December 3, 2019

I ain’t ever addressing you as “Dear” you perpetually drunk SOB:

Thanks for your note. And I’m still waiting for you to finish writing your great novel. Thirty-five years or something and it’s still not done? I can’t wait to see it. You can do it. You can be great. I don’t want to be dead when you’ve finally finished it.

I should get back to writing too. I can’t live without it. My last one is I guess either really good or really awful depending on who reads it. That’s always the game. Gotta not pay attention to all the noise. What will the next be? I’m thinking up to 1815 or something like that. There’s lots more to write and say. Everyone getting older. The kids growing up. So much damn potential if I just can get it together. I will manage to I think. And on Twitter, you know, I’m getting sick and tired of author “advice” being retweeted that looks profound at a first read, but on closer inspection is actually a pile of steaming stuff, like this…

[Screen capture of Twitter.]

“Advice to writers” my foot. Hemingway pointed out in flippin’ 1928 in a letter that what worked best for him was when he wrote what he knew about. Good grief, it’s not exactly an obscure quote or unknown belief of his. You may not agree with it but goddammit it was said by someone famous who we can agree at least had some idea of what the hell he was talking about there, so discounting it as totally false is what I consider totally stupid.

I didn’t know who that author quoted there is as I’d never heard of him before seeing that tweet. I googled him and he’s big. But in sci-fi. Assuming that quote is accurate – and it is the internet, so you have to be careful – his first book was based on his Vietnam War experiences. And he also wrote a novel based on Hemingway. But DON’T write what you know? Huh? It’s like me not knowing Jefferson wrote “All men are created equal…” Okay, maybe not that bad, but you get my point. If you won’t write what you know, sure as hell don’t write what you don’t know. So, yeh, of course he said he believes that, but you and I and half of the world also know that if most sci-fi guys wrote only about sci-fi stuff most really knew lots about it would probably all be storylines sourced from their personal adventures reheating coffee in the microwave or something. He takes a shot too at English (male?) profs’ morals and I don’t care about English profs’ secret morals either way, but are we supposed to think sci-fi male writers are all Clooney and Pitt when so many fall back on writing ludicrous fantasy women and how many of those guys don’t even know any real women to write about anyway. I’ll stop. Not my genre. I’m sure some are great writers. Me, sure, who am I to talk? I know I wasn’t in Europe in the 1790s, but people are people and love and all of that stuff is perpetual. It’s just the clothes and other stuff that’s different. Paris and London were both much the same then as now. Smaller, yeh, but much the same. I know lots about that era, so I feel I can write that stuff because I feel I do know it. I wouldn’t try to write about life in Kamchatka or in Siam in 1790 because I’ve got no clue. Good writing sense from Hemingway there if you ask me. That tweet to me is the worst example of confusing a weak witticism with actual wisdom.

Oh, I was reading this again the other night. I have been at it for nearly a year…

[From War And Peace, on Kindle for iPad. Photo by me, December 1, 2019.]

…and if you or I wrote that, it would be garbage. Tolstoy does, it’s genius. But I’m enjoying it more since my last masterpiece was released because I can’t really read very much when I am writing. I try to read some, just to read something(s) other than my own writing. However, I find that is a double-edged sword. You know, I once caught myself having almost plagiarized myself. I found in one of my earlier novels a paragraph that was just like one I was writing in a current manuscript. I changed it, but it shook me. I hate that sort of thing, but it is so easy to do. I also don’t want to read anything by you – damn I still can’t get that last short story outta my head – or anyone really while I’m writing because I’m afraid something I see may make such an impression on me that I may inadvertently “borrow” it. That is definitely a no-no.

My readers? I can’t write this way on the blog because as near as I can tell they are all so proper and smart and they travel widely and read loads. They would think I was drunk or something at 8 o’clock in the morning. Most of them still seem to be women – not science fiction fantasies but real ones. I also gotta watch it in my books because lots of them know so much about the places I write about and if make a misstep they’ll spot it. The French especially love to catch you in a mistake. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Damn, keep this all to yourself.

I hope your kids are okay. So Little E. didn’t leave you after all? You are really lucky. You deserved her walking out after what you pulled in Scotland, chief. Why the hell my Mrs puts up with me, I’ll never know, but I love her so much and she for some reason says she loves me. Oh, this is the view from the lounge, just after dark the other day:

[Moon over Potton, England. Photo by me, December 1, 2019.]

I can now spend some time looking out windows and with War and Peace. You, no. Finish your damn book and email it to me! I want to read a new one also by Delphine Woods. It looks like she’s gone full on gothic nuts and I bet it’s fantastic. That Amazon sample. To write like she does so well and be like nineteen or something? Sonafabitch. With Christmas coming there are so many others out there I want to read too.

Yeh, burn this. I don’t want it on the internet sometime. Anyway, I have to get back to writing a blog post.

Your friend,

P.S. Of course I know you can’t burn this. I’m not that stupid. Delete it after you have read it. I don’t want to get into trouble.

What we authors write in private to each other that you guys never see! LOL!

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are. 🙂