“A person afflicted with poetic longings of one sort or another searches for a kind of intellectual and spiritual privacy in which to indulge his strange excesses…I intend…merely to inform you of a new allegiance – to a routine of my own spirit rather than to a fixed household and office routine.”—E.B. White
E.B. White's Response to a 17 Year Old Aspiring Writer
Dear Miss R—-:
At seventeen, the future is apt to seem formidable, even depressing. You should see the pages of my journal circa 1916.
You asked me about writing—how I did it. There is no trick to it. If you like to write and want to write, you write, no matter where you are or what else you are doing or whether anyone pays any heed. I must have written half a million words (mostly in my journal) before I had anything published, save for a couple of short items in St. Nicholas. If you want to write about feelings, about the end of summer, about growing, write about it. A great deal of writing is not “plotted”—most of my essays have no plot structure, they are a ramble in the woods, or a ramble in the basement of my mind. You ask, “Who cares?” Everybody cares. You say, “It’s been written before.” Everything has been written before.
I went to college but not direct from high school; there was an interval of six or eight months. Sometimes it works out well to take a short vacation from the academic world—I have a grandson who took a year off and got a job in Aspen, Colorado. After a year of skiing and working, he is now settled into Colby College as a freshman. But I can’t advise you, or won’t advise you, on any such decision. If you have a counselor at school, I’d seek the counselor’s advice. In college (Cornell), I got on the daily newspaper and ended up as editor of it. It enabled me to do a lot of writing and gave me a good journalistic experience. You are right that a person’s real duty in life is to save his dream, but don’t worry about it and don’t let them scare you. Henry Thoreau, who wrote Walden, said, “I learned this at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” The sentence, after more than a hundred years, is still alive. So, advance confidently. And when you write something, send it (neatly typed) to a magazine or a publishing house. Not all magazines read unsolicited contributions, but some do. The New Yorker is always looking for new talent. Write a short piece for them, send it to The Editor. That’s what I did forty-some years ago. Good luck.
6. If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
Being boss or overseer of a range of creative projects like films, art shows, events, scrap booking (yea, that’s right), advertising campaigns etc.
7. Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?
I always get attached to what I’m doing. I can’t start something unless I know I’ll be passionate about it.
8. If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
I would want to get married and start having children before 20.
9. To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?
Around 70%, I think.
10. Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?
I worry more about doing things right; there are so many ways to go wrong whether it’s at your job, handling relationships or just general living. At least when it comes to doing the right or wrong thing, I know what’s right and I’m confident when I need to choose between right and wrong, I’ll strive for right.
1. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
Generally between the ages of 0-2 and 85-100+
2. Which is worse, failing or never trying?
It depends. Usually never trying is worse, but sometimes trying is a waste of time. But you shouldn’t not try out of fear of failure if there’s an actual possibility that you will succeed.
3. If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
Humans will always have to do something they don’t want to do. Even people who ‘have it all’ have to make compromises in life like not having enough time with their kids, too many responsibilities, too much negative press, “haters” etc. Even those brave souls that wander around the Earth living off the generosity of others have to worry about their next meal and the reality that they’ve cut themselves off from more possibility.
4. When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?
Probably. I already talk more than I need to and it’s only going to get worse if I become like my grandma.
5. What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?
Initially I’d say abortion; not just laws, but all women actually never NOT wanting their own babies. If I actually had the chance to change something though I would pick something that helped more people. I guess it would be working towards adequate nutrition and water for everyone; healthcare if there’s time…