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The Art of Story Writing : I Entering a Literary Career

by Nathaniel C. Fowler, JR   

CHAPTER I - Entering a Literary Career

WOULD I advise one to take up literature, or any other class of writing, save journalistic work, as a means for a livelihood, and to devote his energies exclusively to the production of books and other literary matter? It is easier to ask the question than it is to answer it. It is true that many men and women, even thousands of them, earn their living with their pens, and some of them have obtained fame. Certainly no work is more fascinating or more deeply appeals to the inner emotions and sentiments than literature does. Literature may be considered the world's best vehicle of progress. Without it, civilization would never have a chance to expand.

Nations, as well as people, are known by their literature. The spoken word may lose itself in the atmosphere, but the printed word may live forever.

There are few callings which have a right to occupy, with the litterateur, the front of the stage of life. Good literature fairly breeds self-satisfaction of a kind which the literary man has a right to be proud of. Not only is the successful writer satisfied with himself, but he has the even greater satisfaction of knowing that he is one of the pillars of civilization, one of the main props of the house of immortality. Nevertheless, from the heights, we must drop to the earth itself, and we must consider literature, for the time being, as a commodity, that we may view it commercially as well as ethically.

If one is not self-supporting, I would advise him not to launch his craft upon the sea of literature, unless he has an anchor ready to be cast to windward, and there is attached to it a cable strong enough to hold. Many of the most successful writers occupy salaried or remunerative positions, and are not obliged to butter their bread with their pens. They take up writing, not always as a side issue, but as an extra duty. They provide for themselves financially in some other way, and do not let go their grasp on their regular profession or trade, until they are well established as writers. Upon general principles, I would not advise any would-be author to enter the field of literature, unaccompanied by a flour barrel and a lunch basket, because it may be some time before even his best work will be sufficient to pay for food and clothing.

Every man or woman, rich or poor, should be sufficiently familiar with some trade, business, or profession to be able to earn his living, that he may have proper food and clothing, and may not become a burden upon his friends or his community. Then, and only then, do I think it is safe for him to consider the making of literature the means of livelihood.

If he is fairly well provided for, or is earning a living, he will, in most cases, have opportunity to test his literary strength.

If he fails, he has lost so much time. If he succeeds, he may take up literature exclusively.

So long as this world has a material side to it, and while the possession of money is necessary to feed the material boiler, without which the mental engine will not run, it is well for one to consider the material, and to have some grasp upon it, before he looks up into the clouds, which, however beautiful they may be, are not sufficient to sustain life.

The beauty of literature, and of everything else which appeals to our better selves, cannot warm the fireless body, or, by itself alone, furnish clothing, food, or lodging.

If you have the ability to write, you have the capacity to be self-supporting. But do not attempt to feed the world with words on an empty stomach. Ground yourself sufficiently in the material, to be able to meet the necessities of life. With these as a foundation, you may then attempt to do those better things which lift man above the animal and make the material of second consequence. At the start, it is not of second consequence, it is of first importance. The literature that lives is from the mind of living writers, not from those who have not sufficient of the necessities of life to more than kindle the fire which burns in the head of literature. Then, no one can write living words who has not lived, who has not experienced material things, who has not seen the dull, unpolished side of the shield of life, which, without it, could not sustain the glory of the other side. If you would be a literary light, store material oil, or your light will flicker and go out.