Whatever It Takes, Apparently

Not so many years ago a teacher of the art of writing began the advertisement of his services with the announcement that millions of people can write fiction without knowing it. He would have been safer had he said that millions of people are certain that they can write fiction a great deal better than those engaged in the profession. Even so, it is my belief that the consistent craftsman of fiction is very rare. His talent, which is in no sense admirable, is intuitive. In spite of the dictum of Stevenson on playing the sedulous ape to the great masters, it has never been my observation that education helps this talent. On the contrary, undue familiarity with other writers is too apt to sap the courage and to destroy essential self-belief, through the realization of personal inadequacy. It encourages a care and a style that confuse the subject, and the net result is nothing.

Instead, a writer of fiction is usually the happier for his ignorance, and better for having played ducks and drakes with his cultural opportunities. All that he really requires is a dramatic sense and a peculiar eye for detail which he can distort convincingly. He must be an untrustworthy mendacious fellow who can tell a good story and make it stick. It is safer for him to be a self-censored egotist than to have a broad interest in life. He must take in more than he gives out. He must never be complacent, he must never be at peace; in other words, he is a difficult individual and the divorce rate among contemporary literati tells as much.

— John P. Marquand, Wickford Point