Emotional Investment in Writing

Emotional Investment in Writing
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Post Written by Jennifer Kiley
Created by the secret keeper
Posted 01.16.13

F. Scott Fitzgerald 28 years

F. Scott Fitzgerald echoes Anias Nin’s importance of emotional investment in writing and offers honest advice on the essence of great writing: the following are from letters he wrote to two aspiring writers. The first is to a young writer who is a family friend in her Sophomore year at Radcliffe College and the second letter is to his 15 year old daughter who is just entering high school. He does not hold back. That I think would be unkind to give someone a sense of false hope if they do not have it or if they need to work harder to go deeper inside and bleed for their words and the writing of their stories.

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming — the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.

The following is the letter he sent to his 15 year old daughter. He may appear more gentle but he seems to me to be just as direct with her as he is with the college student who is a friend.

Grove Park Inn
Asheville, N.C.
October 20, 1936

Dearest Scottina:

…Don’t be a bit discouraged about your story not being tops. At the same time, I am not going to encourage you about it, because, after all, if you want to get into the big time, you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience. Nobody ever became a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter—as indissolubly as if they were conceived together.

Let me preach again for one moment: I mean that what you have felt and thought will by itself invent a new style so that when people talk about style they are always a little astonished at the newness of it, because they think that is only style that they are talking about, when what they are talking about is the attempt to express a new idea with such force that it will have the originality of the thought. It is an awfully lonesome business, and as you know, I never wanted you to go into it, but if you are going into it at all I want you to go into it knowing the sort of things that took me years to learn.

…Nothing any good isn’t hard, and you know you have never been brought up soft, or are you quitting on me suddenly? Darling, you know I love you, and I expect you to live up absolutely to what I laid out for you in the beginning.

Scott

Very inspirational advice worth taking to heart and give one moments of reflection. jk the secret keeper…

8 thoughts on “Emotional Investment in Writing

  1. “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.”

    F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, “The Rich Boy”

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  2. Great stuff! It takes a long time to learn the technique of writing, and that is only one small part of the process. Must write uniquely from passion, from the soul, pouring one’s heart into every, single word; each must be understood in its own right as a thing-in-itself. The colour, texture and rhythm of words must be considered many times over. The task demands total commitment and love.

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  3. Pingback: Pretend Fitzgerald is Writing to You | I'm Really a Robot

    • Yes, ‘Touche!’ is a perfect response. a person who may have some talent but does not have the soul, as opposed to his daughter who was blessed or cursed with the need of the artist to express themselves from deep within.A painfulness and often a bleeding from within.

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