“If you can’t annoy somebody,” asserted Kingsley Amis, “there’s little point in writing.”

Well that’s one good reason for putting words to paper (or computer), but what are some of the other reasons that keep scribes turning out reams of poetry and prose — and how do they feel about it?

To find out, we’ll take a look inside the heads of several notable writers to find out how they really feel about being wordsmiths — hopefully without spilling too much blood.

“Writing is easy,” explained Gene Fowler, “all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

OK, let’s hope that’s all the blood that’s spilled this week.

Less gory is the approach taken by Dorothy Parker, who admitted, “I hate writing. I love having written.” If she disliked the task of writing so much, how did she get started? “Writing,” she said, “is the art of applying the ass to the seat.”


According to Mark Twain, the profession isn’t so bad. “Writing is easy,” he said, “all you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” Of course, that means finding the right word for what you’re trying to say is essential, said Twain, who explained that “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

“Think like a wise man,” instructed William Butler Yeats, “but communicate in the language of the people.”

That isn’t always easy. “To write simply,” warned W. Somerset Maugham, “is as difficult as to be good.”

But once a writer has persevered and produced a book with just the right words, it’s time to send it off into the world, where it will be read and judged by the public. And critics. “Critics are a dissembling, dishonest, contemptible race of men,” said John Osborne. “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.”

Mark Twain agreed: “The public,” he remarked, “is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”

OK, writing is a hard way to make a living, but the financial rewards are really great, right? Hardly. “The dubious privilege of a freelance writer,” said S. J. Perelman, “is he’s given the freedom to starve anywhere.”

“A freelance writer,” agreed Robert Benchley, “is one who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

But in the end, Dorothy Parker found all the toil to have been well worth it. “The two most beautiful words in the English language,” she said, “are ‘check enclosed.'”

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.”

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