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Nothing to Do with Baseball: On Writing

Robert Benchley (from the Life archive)

Over the years, I have received many notes asking me, "How do I become a writer?" These are very hard to answer, in part because if you have to ask the question you may be beyond the answer.You become a writer by writing, and the rest is perseverance and not a little bit of luck.

This evening, I was spelunking about the web looking for an item by one of my writing heroes, Robert Benchley, and came across a signed letter that was available on eBay earlier this year. Had I known about it, I would have bought it three times over. Alas, I have missed my chance. Still, I am very gratified to have read it, because in it the great humorist, who was reviewing plays at the time, is apparently responding to someone who has asked him the same kind of question. Here is what he said in his letter of December 1, 1927:

You ask for information which is practically impossible to give. If you can write, you can write. That's all. If you can't write, the sooner you find it out the better. And the only way to find out is to to try writing and send your stuff to some magazine. You can't cultivate any appreciations, or faculties, that I know of. Most every dramatic critic that I know of, including myself, got his job through luck and had no idea of being a dramatic critic until he got it. You don't have to have anything but the chance to be one.

My only advice would be not to take yourself seriously as a writer--not to think of yourself as a writer--not to cultivate yourself to be a writer. If you can write, write. If you can't, don't.

Is it possible to love your hero even more on the basis of reading an old letter? If so, I do now.