Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

An Author’s Advice To His Child . . .


We’ve had 28 posts on this blog covering various aspects of “Writing Advice”

Of course, you can use the links in the Top Tags widget in the left side-bar to find all kinds of categories of posts or you can put search terms in the Search widget in the upper right corner :-)

As far as an author’s advice to his child, I have Maria Popova at Brain Pickings to thank for an article that features two letters from Sherwood Anderson to his son: Sherwood Anderson on Art and Life: A Letter of Advice to His Teenage Son, 1927.

I’ll be sharing one of those letters here and encouraging you to visit that last link to read the other letter :-)

Maria begins her article with these words:

“The quest to find one’s purpose and live the creative life boldly is neither simple nor easy, especially for a young person trying to make sense of the world and his place in it.”

And, even though Anderson’s letters to his son are addressed to a young man pursuing painting, I feel any young aspiring writer would benefit from reading them

And, the meaning of “young” writer could be expanded to include a writer of any age who is just beginning their writing journey.

Maria also links to the book these letters came from:

Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children

The first letter from Anderson to his son:

    The best thing, I dare say, is first to learn something well so you can always make a living. Bob seems to be catching on at the newspaper business and has had another raise. He is getting a good training by working in a smaller city. As for the scientific fields, any of them require a long schooling and intense application. If you are made for it nothing could be better. In the long run you will have to come to your own conclusion.

    The arts, which probably offer a man more satisfaction, are uncertain. It is difficult to make a living.

    If I had my own life to lead over I presume I would still be a writer but I am sure I would give my first attention to learning how to do things directly with my hands. Nothing gives quite the satisfaction that doing things brings.

    Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply — ‘Look at me.’ They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.

    Next to occupation is the building up of good taste. That is difficult, slow work. Few achieve it. It means all the difference in the world in the end.

    I am constantly amazed at how little painters know about painting, writers about writing, merchants about business, manufacturers about manufacturing. Most men just drift.

    There is a kind of shrewdness many men have that enables them to get money. It is the shrewdness of the fox after the chicken. A low order of mentality often goes with it.

    Above all I would like you to see many kinds of men at first hand. That would help you more than anything. Just how it is to be accomplished I do not know. Perhaps a way may be found. Anyway, I’ll see you this summer. We begin to pack for the country this week.

    With love,

    Dad.

The part of this letter that stands out to me is:

“Above all avoid taking the advice of men who have no brains and do not know what they are talking about. Most small businessmen say simply — ‘Look at me.’ They fancy that if they have accumulated a little money and have got a position in a small circle they are competent to give advice to anyone.”

Just change “small businessmen” to “authors” and you’ve got what I would say to any aspiring writer :-)
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4 responses to “An Author’s Advice To His Child . . .

  1. Jane Watson January 16, 2013 at 7:58 am

    This sent me off on a wild tangent to look at ‘Jane Austen, A Letter to Her Niece’. Admittedly Jane is not talking to her child, but the nearest she had perhaps to a child, where she gives her niece relationship advice and the discerning reader can hear the same insights here, perhaps, as in her novels. It reminded me that many writers are often psychologists as well :-)

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai January 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

      Psychologists indeed, Jane!

      “psycho”=from Greek psukhē ‘breath, soul, mind’
      “logy”=the study of.

      So, writers study breath, soul, and mind

      Absolutely :-)

      And, Jane’s study of her niece’s breath, soul, and mind is a delightful Listen! :-)

      Like

  2. Barbara Blackcinder January 16, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    I have a daughter who has always had an interest in writing, and continues to do so regardless of her occupation. Having had no encouragement with my own development, and having kept it mostly a secret until recently, I really have no good idea on what I can say to encourage her. Especially pertinent is that it is a ‘hobby’ not intended or expected to become an occupation. I shall have to determine how to go about encouraging her no matter what route her writings take. I can only take encouragement in the fact that she has a much better chance at publishing than I ever had. Maybe this will be a large bit of encouragement in itself??

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai January 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      The only thing I want to change in your comment, Barbara, is this sentence:

      “I can only take encouragement in the fact that she has a much better chance at publishing than I ever had.”

      I think it should read:

      “I can take encouragement in the fact that she and I have complete access to the tools to publish our own books—not so when I was her age.” :-)

      Like

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