m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

On Hiring Writers

Here are a few quotes from Joseph Epstein. The first two are from “Writing on the Brain,” a review of The Midnight Disease by Alice W. Flaherty published in Commentary, April 2004:

I was recently asked what it takes to become a writer. Three things, I answered: first, one must cultivate incompetence at almost every other form of profitable work. This must be accompanied, second, by a haughty contempt for all the forms of work that one has established one cannot do. To these two must be joined, third, the nuttiness to believe that other people can be made to care about your opinions and views and be charmed by the way you state them. Incompetence, contempt, lunacy—once you have these in place, you are set to go.


At one point, Dr Flaherty remarks that depression among writers is eight to to ten times higher than among the general population. My own nonscientific response to this is that it makes very good sense, since there must be eight to ten times more people writing than there ought to be. These people, being in the wrong line of work, have earned their depression.

The last one quote is from his response to several letters in the July-August issue:

I wonder if Christopher Orlet [a letter writer] knows the old Russian proverb to the effect that a poet always cheats his boss. I take the point of this proverb to be that a true writer, under the lash of necessity, can struggle along at a job to make a living, but his heart and his mind will always be elsewhere. My advice to Mr. Orlet, or to anyone else whose dentist tells him that he is writing a novel, is to get the hell out of that dental chair as quickly as possible.