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Writing What They Want

by The Editor Company   


Aside from natural gifts, professional training and persistent application, actual experience is the most valuable factor in showing a writer who is trying to make a living, what not to do. A few writers have at some time been either editors or editors' assistants, and have thus acquired an opportunity to "know things" in a way the outsider can arrive at often only through long and disheartening efforts.

There are fashions in the printing and sale of literary work, as well as in the public taste which determines the nature of our current mental diet. A few years back the "family," the sensational and the juvenile weekly flooded the land, and gave a wide, if not very remunerative market to the average individual writer. Now the dollar monthly, the Sunday issue, and the syndicate are perforce his main reliance.

It is safe to say that while the market is, in a sense, more restricted to hopeless mediocrity, the rates of pay are better, and therefore the outlook is more encouraging to those whose abilities are up to the present mark. Originality, freshness, and a happy faculty of saying things in the right way were never in more profitable demand.

A great name is a good thing, a very good thing, for a writer to have, whether as a writer, statesman, divine, soldier, pugilist or—alas—even as a criminal. But, lacking these, what to many of us may be even better, is that inborn discernment of what people every­where like to read, which is in itself almost a "gift divine." One of the best aids to this sort of perception, however primitive, is a judicious culling of the current newspapers for ideas, sug­gestions to be utilized as starters. To illustrate: in "doing" certain little twelve to fifteen hundred word skits that are used in the daily press, it will be found that certain novel, even absurd conceptions are helpful, when things more probable and stereotyped are apt to produce stories that will be returned. Not that these last are necessarily bad stories, or even hack­neyed, but that they lack the fresh pertinence which, in so short an effort, seems essential to a, perhaps, rather jaded editorial taste.

A brief paragraph announcing the death of a "cat-eyed" man who could "see things in the dark" brought one writer a moderate cheque by its utilization in a humorous sketch. Clip­pings relating to flying machines, automobiles, submarine boats, wireless telegraphy, have in turn been useful in stimulating the commercial adroitness of roaming fancies. A cracksman in a strange town, breaking into a new jail, under the impression it was a nearby bank, proved a good find. A funny item about a ludicrous old mule called Jawbones in a Texas paper was another. A woman on a train losing a satchel containing the cremated remains of her husband, and the awkward delay of the funeral service in consequence; a man haunted by his deceased grandfather, until by marriage he finds he has become one of his grandfathers; the funny results of sending a short pair of artificial legs to a tall motorman who has lost his own, while a short widow (similarly bereft) receives the long ones that should have gone to the motorman; all these and other conceits have been useful, maugre their apparent trivial absurdity.

In short, to have one's work available, to make a living by it, we must not only cut the garment according to the cloth, but make it fit the prevailing fashion. And mere fashion is always more or less freakish. Of course good work, great work, must always be fundamentally true. That which is ephemeral, however, must be the average writer's main financial reliance, and while doing his best, he or she must obey the current requirements of his market, be they what they may.