Friday, 7 September 2012

Sympathy begins at home

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In February of 1905, the following letter was sent to an aspiring writer by Jack London — the renowned author responsible for, most notably, White Fang and The Call of the Wild. In actual fact, it was a form letter used many times by London until, a couple of years later, he vowed to read and respond to as many manuscripts as possible in an effort to better study his fellow man. An example of such a response, written nine years later, can be seen here.

(Source: No Mentor but Myself; Image: Jack London, via.)

Oakland, California
Febraury 20, 1905

Dear Sir:

Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a friend-author, he loses that friend, or sees that friendship dim and fade away to a ghost of what it was formerly.

Every time a writer tells the truth about a manuscript (or book), to a stranger-author, he makes an enemy.

If the writer loves his friend and fears to lose him, he lies to his friend.

But what's the good of straining himself to lie to strangers?

And, with like insistence, what's the good of making enemies anyway?

Furthermore, a known writer is overwhelmed by requests from strangers to read their work and pass judgment upon it. This is properly the work of a literary bureau. A writer is not a literary bureau. If he is foolish enough to become a literary bureau, he will cease to be a writer. He won't have time to write.

Also, as a charitable literary bureau, he will receive no pay. Wherefore he will soon go bankrupt and himself live upon the charity of friends (if he has not already made them all his enemies by telling them the truth), while he will behold his wife and children went their melancholy way to the poorhouse.

Sympathy for the struggling unknown is all very well. It is beautiful—but there are so many struggling unknowns, something like several millions of them. And sympathy can be worked too hard. Sympathy begins at home. The writer would far rather allow the multitudinous unknowns to remain unknown than to allow his near and dear ones to occupy pauper pallets and potter's fields.

Sincerely yours,

Jack London