Bierce & Mencken on Writing, Part 8 to blupete's Essay
"[Aspiring authors] are unanimously commonplace, unanimously stupid. Free education has cursed them with aspirations beyond their congenital capacities ... they lack the primary requisite of the imaginative author; the capacity to see the human comedy afresh, to discover new significances in man's eternal struggle with his fate. ... material prosperity and popular education have made it [the urge to write] a sort of national disease."Let me quote Mencken at further length:
"Writing, they say, is the most dreadful chore ever inflicted upon human beings. It is not only exhausting mentally; it is also extremely fatiguing physically.No reference should be made to Mencken, unless reference be made to Bierce:
"... so the horrors of loneliness are added to its other unpleasantness. An author at work is continuously and inescapably in the presence of himself. There is nothing to divert and soothe him. So every time a vagrant regret or sorrow assails him, it has him instantly by the ear, and every time a wandering ache runs down his leg it shakes him like the bite of a tiger. I have yet to meet an author who was not a hypochondriac.
"... The point is that an author, penned in a room during all his working hours with no company save his own, is bound to be more conscious than other men of the petty malaises that assail all of us. They tackle him, so to speak, in a vacuum; he can't seek diversion from them without at the same time suffering diversion from his work.
"... Why then, do rational men and women engage in so barbarous and exhausting a vocation ... vanity ... His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression." (Selected Prejudices, 1927.)
"He [Bierce] believed it took about five years to train a writer. The first two years would be spent in reading and taking notes. 'If I caught him reading a newly published book, save by way of penance, it would go hard with him. Of our modern education he should have enough to read the ancients...
"'But chiefly this fortunate youth' - Bierce did not undervalue the benefits of his patronage - 'should learn to take comprehensive views, hold large convictions and make wide generalizations... And it would be needful that he know and have an ever-present consciousness that this is a world of fools and rogues, blind with superstition, tormented with envy, consumed with vanity, selfish, false, cruel, cursed with illusions - frothing mad!... He must be a sinner and in turn a saint, a hero, a wretch.'"10
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