A.C. Benson

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

Magdalene College
Cambridge
June 11 1920

Dear Mr. Jones,

I am interested to read what you say in your letter. I must not however reply as fully as I could wish, as I am not very well just now, & cannot do much writing.

But I can give you some advice & gladly do so. The first thing is I am sure to read good and solid books — authors with a real style of their own such as Ruskin, Pater, Stevenson, Charles Lamb, Wells. Don’t read ordinary magazines or poor novels. You will find an interesting essay in Stevenson’s Virginibus Pueresque and if you come across a book of mine Escape & Other Essays you will find an essay on authorship, which contains much of what I should say to you.

Then I should advise you regularly to write a short piece — describe an incident you have seen, or a place you have visited, or a book you have read. Take pains just to get the points that come out clearly in your own mind, and say it all as clearly and simply as you can — don’t try to bring in picturesque words unless they really express what you want to say — and do not try to write in anyone else’s style, unless you do it merely for practice, to see if you can imitate an author you admire. But the point is to have your own way of seeing and saying things, and the closer you can observe and be interested in all that you see and hear, the better it will be. Turn your thoughts inward. One can be interested in things and people without exactly liking them; and the point is not to select only the things you like, for special study, but to see what the truth and reality of all that is going on about you is.

This is all that I can say now, but I hope it may be of use to you. You have my best wishes.

Sincerely yours,

A. C. Benson

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