Writing with Intensity – Wisdom from Max Perkins (#writing)

Lately I’ve been reading Editor to Author: the Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins. Perkins was a genius editor and an editor of genius. Here’s an excerpt from one of his letters to a writer. In this letter he is rejecting a short story. There are ideas here for writers of any ilk to consider.

I think the story failed mostly in not giving the reader a keen enough sense of the reality of what happened, so that he is moved in reading. This has nothing to do with technique, or structure, or anything of that kind, but only in the ability of a writer to feel with intensity himself, and then so express himself as to make the reader feel in that way too. If this is the case, I do not know of any way of telling a writer how to get the result. Some men can do it by nature, even though in every technical  way they write badly. It has been learned by many, too, who did not seem to have it at first, but they had to teach that to themselves entirely, for it is not at all a technical matter. Many of the very best writers of narrative, such as history, etc., have been unable to succeed with fiction. you write very well, but this story is not successful, in spite of that. (Scribners, 1987, p. 109)



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