Compton Mackenzie

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

Markham House,
Kings Road Chelsea, S.W.
Aug. 1, ’20

Dear Mr. Jones,

Forget that you intend to be a writer. Be quite sure in fact that you don’t intend to be a writer. Try every profession and occupation in turn with a profound belief that at last you know what you want to do. Then if you find you still want to write, write. But of course read everything you can get hold of except the daily papers, the magazines, the critical weeklies and the reviews. Laugh at yourself as regularly as you clean your teeth. Fall desperately in love as often as you can. Be prodigal in everything. Try to find out why Virgil was such a great poet. Get Boswell’s Life of Johnson by heart. Avoid ‘Georgian’ poetry like the plague and modern novelists including myself like the devil. If you have literary ambitions try to remember that somehow or other, mysterious though it may seem to you, your parents must be responsible. You can learn a lot from them, much more than from

Your obedient servant,
Compton Mackenzie

next: W.R. Raleigh