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Writing - The Writer, His Methods

( Originally Published 1922 )



Do Not Despise a Humble Beginning.—While the writer should always aim to do the best work of which he is capable, this does not mean that he should despise the day of small beginnings. Better work tomorrow can only be accomplished upon the foundation of good work, carefully finished, today.

It is not unusual to meet a beginner who -says, "I do not care to consider the preparation of short articles or unimportant stories. My idea is to write something that will be worthy of the highest class literary periodicals of the day." This is a worthy aim, but an unwise mental attitude likely to lead to disappointments and possibly to utter discouragement. It is as if the musical student without knowledge of notes or time should remark, "I do not wish to spend any time on unimportant details. I prefer to be a Paderewski at once."

Why a Writer Should Exercise Daily. The writer who would succeed must be physically fit. We are told of men and women who have succeeded in spite of great physical handicaps—Stevenson, Byron, Poe, and others. These individuals were exceptional, and what they might have accomplished, had the best of health been theirs, will never be known. The writer must eat sanely and temperately if the system is to function properly and the brain to be clear and alert. Indulgence in a single bad habit is likely to undermine success, for you cannot serve in the most efficient way unless you are not only dear-brained and clear-eyed, but clean-souled as well. The public is becoming more and more discriminating, and it demands that every message, no matter where given or how, shall ring true.

As the writer's work is sedentary, a regular amount of physical exercise is necessary. An hour spent in the open air may or may not be particularly beneficial, depending upon the mental attitude and bodily poise of the individual. A slouching gait, rounded shoulders, or purposeless meandering, will not amount to much mentally or physically. If, however, the writer will set aside a certain regular period every day for brisk, out-of-door exercises; will stand with the body in a perpendicular line from the ball of the foot to the hip and the point of the shoulder, being careful not to let the spine sag as he walks, breathing deeply as he goes, and rejoicing he is alive, he will gain much.

Such exercise should not be wholly purposeless, for the mind must be pleasantly occupied. The writer should go forth to gain a fact, to execute an errand, to observe exactly how nature looks and acts under given circumstances, or for some definite purpose, if only to have a good time. He will then return to his desk refreshed and invigorated.

Important Rules to Remember.—The work of the writer is of a nerve-trying nature as it calls for close concentration. The nerve cells of the body are best filled up and renewed by drinking plenty of water daily, by having an abundance of fresh air, and by an abstemious but nourishing diet.

To do a good day's work should be the aim of every writer. Some set themselves a certain daily task and do not stop until one, two, or three thousand words, as the case may be, have been completed ; others work as the inspiration seizes them ; still others sit down quietly for half an hour every morning, and carefully plan out the work of the next day, deciding what ought to be done and what must have first attention. The latter method usually brings excellent results; it pre-vents random work and the neglect of definite, timely effort.

Regular hours of sleep are exceedingly necessary for the writer, and, while some may do better work at night or very early in the morning, yet these things are largely a matter of habit, and working hours should be arranged and coordinated with sleeping hours to keep the physical fitness of the worker always at par.

The Four-Square Development.—It is a mistake for the writer to live constantly within confining walls, or to grind at his desk continually without seeking inspiration. To succeed he needs personal, four-square development.

(1) The best quality of work cannot be done without physical well-being.

(2) Real progress and mental development require that he may profit by contact with the great minds of all time through the printed page.

(3) To write about life accurately, one must know life, and so the social side must not be neglected.

(4) The writer, above all others, should be able to perceive and appreciate the unselfish, the altruistic, and the vision of human possibility and divine love. To neglect one's spiritual development may condemn to utter superficiality.

Do Not Worry About Your Education. There are those who sigh, "No one knows how I long to write, but I fear I lack sufficient education."

Education is relative. By some it is gained in schools and universities, by others in Life's University of Experience. There are those who have had the advantage of rare academic opportunities, yet who lack the faculty of telling what they know to others. There are men and women writers of note who know no language but their mother tongue and a part of whose education has been gained through reading and study when the regular day's work was done.

Education is an advantage, of course, unless it makes one a slavish imitator of others—then it ceases to be education and becomes bookishness.

If you have a message for others, give it honestly, clearly, and with telling directness, being careful to verify your facts and to advance no weakening theory. Ideas are more important than the mere dress in which they are clothed. There are many more who can groom and polish than there are who can create. Education is not to be minimized, but a reasonable amount can be acquired by those who are sufficiently in earnest. Euducation must be of the perceptions and of the heart, however, as well as of the head.

Where to Do Your Writing.—Every one who essays to write should have some place devoted to the work; for, while it is possible to take notes anywhere, we become more or less creatures of habit and do our best work in the spot which is so familiar that we become unconscious of our surroundings and readily absorbed in the work in hand. Most people can do better work in a place where interruptions are few; others have developed their power of concentration to a point where they can write in a city newspaper office with the click of type-writers and the clang of heavy presses in their ears. But there is no gainsaying the fact that writing and thinking against continuous noise is a much greater nervous strain than writing amid quiet surroundings.

An Elaborate Equipment Not Necessary. Every writer should have a roomy desk, the books and magazines devoted to the craft, some sort of a simple filing system, a type-writer, good light for night and day, and the means of good ventilation and temperature regulation suitable to the time of year. As far as possible, the writer's surroundings should be such as to give him no concern or thought. Discomfort distracts the mind; reasonable comfort is an economy.

A good typewriter of standard make, fresh, clear ribbons, good paper, and carefully prepared work are necessary that manuscripts may compete successfully in attractive appearance with others in the editorial office. A carelessly prepared manuscript, or one showing many corrections, is a poor business proposition. The salesman who would approach his customers with soiled linen and shoes run down at the heel, with unshaven face and untrimmed hair, might save in personal expense, but would limit his income decidedly. "There is an economy that tendeth to poverty." It is better business to have a manuscript typewritten by some one capable of doing it well, than to send it forth indifferently prepared.

While, it is desirable for every writer to have a typewriter, it is not absolutely necessary. Futhermore, you need not buy a machine. There are a number of firms all over the world who make a business of renting typewriters for only three or four dollars monthly. If you do not want to rent a machine, you can get your manuscripts typewritten for a very small sum by Most any stenographer.

No one should be discouraged, however, who can not have everything at once. We must learn to do the best we can with what we have, always remembering that the main thing is to have original ideas to offer. To know what we want to do, to fix our eyes determinedly on the goal, and to work persistently toward that end, is sooner or later to accomplish our purpose. We can have what we want if we want it earnestly and persistently enough.

How to Prepare a Manuscript for Sale.—In preparing manuscripts only one side of the paper should be used. The regular typewriter sheet, eight and one-half by eleven inches, is the most favored size. Use plain white unruled paper. The name and address should be written in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, the number of words—if a story or article—noted in the upper right-hand corner, and the remark "Usual Rates" directly underneath this. About one-third way down, write the title, spacing it accurately in the middle of the page and using all capitals. If a nom de plume is used, it is written under the title and separated from it by the word "By." Editors do not favor nom de plumes as they complicate the task of office bookkeeping. An author endeavoring to build up a reputation should send out work he will be willing to own, so that his prestige may be steadily cumulative. A nom de plume is the mark of the amateur.

Further pages of the manuscript should be numbered in the center of the page at the top. To avoid loss of pages, or confusion in case they are separated, it is a good idea to write the title at the top of each succeeding page following the first. Thus, the title "Counter Currents" will appear in the center of the first page and at the top of the other pages.

How to Submit a Manuscript for Sale.—Manuscripts are preferably folded twice to fit an envelope of legal size. They are never rolled and are clumsy if folded once. Two sizes of envelopes should be kept. The smaller size should take in the twice-folded, typewritten sheet easily and should bear the name and address of the sender, together with stamps enough to bring the manuscript back in case it is rejected. The outside envelope should be large enough to take in the return envelope and the manuscript and yet leave at least an inch to spare at the end. The envelope sizes known as No. to and No. 11 fill this description. The outer envelope is addressed as follows:

The manuscript should not be slipped into the return envelope, but the two placed side by side in the larger envelope. The outside envelope should bear in the upper left-hand corner the address of the sender and be fully stamped for FIRST CLASS delivery. It is not necessary to send a letter to the editor, unless some special information relative to the manuscript is necessary.

Other Useful Suggestions.—A small but accurate postal scale is a great convenience, for then the correct number of stamps may be enclosed for return. A manuscript record is essential.; This should be a three-by-five card on which is entered the facts of each offering. Devote one card to each manuscript, as shown on next page.

When a manuscript is accepted and paid for, remove the card to a second box kept for that purpose. The date when accepted, and when paid for, together with the price, may also be given. Separate cards in both boxes by alphabetical index.

Clippings are valuable, but they must be indexed or they are soon lost or forgotten. There are many systems for filing clippings—scrap books, subject envelopes, indexed clipping folders, and the like. Every writer will have to work his system out to suit his own particular needs. A system, how-ever, there should be, and it is of little benefit unless it is kept up regularly.

How a Single Idea May Be Utilized in Many Ways. —While the beginner is not advised to try all kinds of writing at once, it is well for him to realize that a single fact, like a jewel, may have several distinct facets or possibilities. A writer who found it necessary to prepare an article on olive growing and harvesting for a trade paper, came across information which could not be used to advantage there. This material was utilized by writing another informative article for young people on olive culture and the curing processes used for green and ripe olives; another was done for a household publication, on the medicinal uses of olive oil; and still another for a similar publication on olives and olive oil on the home table. Nor was this all, for facts still remained to be used at a convenient season, regarding the mechanical methods of extracting olive oil, the different commercial uses of the olive pits, distinguishing characteristics of the different grades of olives, Bible references to the olive in ancient times, etc., etc.

Study Markets.—Not only is it wise to study the policy of different magazines and studios, but it is well to have a general knowledge of the different classes of markets, so that we may know at once where an experience, an anecdote, a write-up, a story, or a photoplay will likely find a welcome. Many individuals pass quantities of good material daily simply because they do not realize there is a place for it. It is not to be expected that any one writer will become acquainted with all of the field, or even a small part of it at once, but the acquaintance may be steadily broadened until the leading publications in a definite field at least are known.

Do Not Impose Upon Editors.—Do not ask an editor for criticisms, or reasons for rejection. Editors are busy men. They are paid to perform the regular duties of their offices, and not to furnish a free course of instruction to those who choose to ask for it. If a kindly disposed executive happens to make a suggestion because he sees promise in your work take it kindly, and, above all things, heed it! Such a suggestion has been offered in a wholly disinterested manner and for your good. Do not besiege such an editor with letters for further help, or he will rue the day he was tempted to give any advice at all.

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