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Saroyan’s Advice to Aspiring Writers (and Mencken’s suggestion to would-be editors)

William Saroyan, American writer.

William Saroyan

H. L. Mencken, satirist, social critic, cynic,...

H. L. Mencken

Looking for writing advice? You might want to pick up the 1931 edition of The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze by William Saroyan. Read the preface. Here, Saroyan set forth some practical rules for writers.

His first rule: “Do not pay any attention to the rules other people make,” he wrote. “They make them for their own protection, and to hell with them.”

Rule Number Two: “Write the kind of stories you feel like writing. Forget everybody who ever wrote anything.”

He added a few other rules, including, “learn to typewrite.”

At the end of his preface, he wrote his most “solid advice.” It’s still worth following, whether or not you’re a writer:

“Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” — William Saroyan

But Saroyan was also on the receiving end of literary career advice. As a young novelist, he thought that might like to be an editor. So he sent a letter describing his goal to H.L. Mencken, a journalist, essayist, and well-known editor of the influential literary magazines The Smart Set and The American Mercury.

Here’s the advice that Mencken proffered:

American Mercury with Al Hirschfeld's caricatu...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Dear Saroyan, 

I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth.” — H.L. Menken


Read, write, and edit on!
by Maryann Hammers

More words to the wise:

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This entry was posted on August 5, 2013 by in editing, essays, words, writing and tagged , , , , , .
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