Advice for young writers


“You must- do you hear me, young man? -you must work harder… Too many whores! Too much boating!  Too much exercise! Yes, that’s quite right: a civilised man does not require as much locomotion as doctors would have us believe.”

This was Flaubert’s advice to the young Maupassant, who he acted as tutor to. “If you have any orginality,” Flaubert told him, “you must dig it out. If you don’t have any, you must get some.”

If only these excellent precepts had been drilled into me by my own writing tutors! How many diseases might have been avoided! Those foolish hours walking!

These, alas, were not the only snippets witheld. I should also have benefited from an injunction to subscribe to various publications, in order to be familiar with the kind of work actually being published. I should have been advised that a story once written, like a fine confit, improves from being left; that a sequence of well-crafted sentences is far from being a story; that some things are always a matter of taste and that I, though still a pup-in-arms, was a goddamn genius whose star was a light that bless-ed and bedazzled.

If only this had been the case! Then I would have gladly taken part in the preparations for my tutors’ burials. I, like Maupassant, would have bathed them in eau de Cologne, dressed them in silk underwear, then a suit complete with waistcoat, cravat and skin gloves. I would have brushed their famous moustaches, covered as much of their terrible wounds as powder and care might allow. I would have engaged a choir of sweet voices, bloodied my knees in prayer. But this, alas, was not to be. They are in their pauper’s grave, while I, who live, regret.

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