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

next: W. Pett Ridge

W. R. Raleigh

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

The Hangings,
Ferry Kinksey, near Oxford
9 Oct. 1920

Dear Sir,

It is a part of my business to help people here learn to write. Perhaps I can help them, a little, in two or three years. So what can I do for you? Most efficient help is detailed and is given on actual work done. No general maxims will make a writer.

Hours in the air, and nothing else, make a flying man. I advise you to write, but not for writing’s sake. Write what you have seen, or known, or what you want to say. Then revise it and correct it.

I am sorry I cannot read the first half of your signature, which (like most signatures written by that egotist, man) is written more for the writer’s satisfaction than for the reader’s information. But I hope this will find you.

I cannot possibly undertake to criticise work by correspondence, but I hope you can get someone at hand to help you.

Yours very truly,
W. R. Raleigh

next: A.C. Benson

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

George Bernard Shaw

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

13th April 1920
Lucan House
Lucan Co.
Dublin

Dear Sir:

I go to Welwyn, not to see people, but to avoid seeing them and get some work done.

May I point out to you that the discrepancy of 48 years between our ages makes me rather shy of encouraging you to choose me as a new acquaintance. Try a younger man. I already have more friends than I have time to entertain; and I am poor company for literary novices.

Nobody can help you in literature. Write what you can; and get it published as best you may. And don’t expect anyone except a publisher’s reader to read it before it is in print.

Make friends with rising suns, not with the setting ones.

Faithfully,
G. Bernard Shaw

next letter: Compton Mackenzie

Lennox Robinson

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

Abbey Theatre
Dublin
Oct. 28th

Dear Sir,

Read the best English — the classical best English — and nothing but the best; live as fully as possible, mixing with all kinds of people; write constantly and burn most — or all — of what you write a month later. Don’t be in a hurry to publish or to ‘arrive.’ If you have the genuine thing in you you’ll ‘arrive’ without worrying about the exact route. See plays and pictures, listen to music.

Lennox Robinson

next: George Bernard Shaw

H. de Vere Stacpoole

How to become an author

Letters to a young writer, 1920

Astle House
Castle Hedingham
Essex
July 23rd ’20

Dear Mr. Jones,

Many thanks for your letter. It is very difficult to give advice to a writer but I would suggest that you should read as much and as widely as possible — and write as much as you can. You can only learn to write by writing; it doesn’t matter whether your work is accepted or not, it’s the practice that counts. Write as simply as you can, and let the fewest words possible convey your meaning.

I’m afraid that is all I can say on the matter, except that, when your work begins to sell put your affairs in the hands of a good Literary Agent — also never sell a copyright. Wishing you luck,

Yours sincerely,
H. de Vere Stacpoole

next: Lennox Robinson