Ice Friday: E. B. White’s “Writing as a Profession”

E.B. White wrote the following on May 11, 1929 in The New Yorker:

“Writing is not an occupation,” writes Sherwood Anderson. “When it comes to an occupation a certain amateur spirit is gone out of it. Who wants to lose that?” Nobody does, replies the semi-pro, sitting here straining at his typewriter. Nobody does, yet few writers have the courage to buy a country newspaper, or even quit a city writing job for anything at all. P1000813What Mr. Anderson says is pretty true. Some of the best writings of writers, it seems to us, were done before they actually thought of themselves as engaged in producing literature. Some of the best humor of humorists was produced before they heard the distant laughter of their multitudes. Probably what Mr. Anderson means, more specifically, is that life is apt to be translated most accurately by a person who sees it break through the mist at unexpected moments – a person who experiences sudden clear images. P1000739A writer, being conscientious, is always straining his eyes for this moment, peering ahead and around; consequently when the moment of revelation comes, his eyes poppy and tired and his sensitized mind has become fogged by the too-frequent half-stimuli of imagined sight. No figure is more pitiful to contemplate than the novelist with a thousand-dollar advance from a publishing house and a date when the manuscript is due. he knows he must invite his soul, but he is compelled to add, “And don’t be late, soul!”