Shelby Foote on Hard Work

In a letter to Walker Percy, Shelby Foote exhorted Percy to get to work on his desire to write fiction, saying something that is true about any craftsman pursuing any craft:

“But the most heart-breaking thing about it is: the better you get, the harder youll have to work–because your standards will rise with your ability. I mentioned ‘work’–it’s the wrong word: because if youre serious, the whole creative process is attended with pleasure in a form which very few people ever know. Putting two words together in a sequence that pleases you, really pleases you, brings a satisfaction which must be kin to what a businessman feels when he manages a sharp transaction–something like that, but on a higher plane because the businessman must know that soon he will have spent the dollars he made; but those two words which the writer set together have produced an effect which will never die as long as men can read with understanding.

So much for execution. I cant even begin to speak of conception–it comes from God.”

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  1. You should have heard Mr. LaCroix teaching composition in Beaumont High School in the fifties. He was bombastic, telling us how to write. So I wrote a paper using all of his techniques to tell him he was wrong, My source was an author named Jack Woodford, who could not write a decent novel, if he had tried. However, he wrote the best books on writing that I have ever seen in a life of seventy some years, five degrees, work on number six, attendance at 10 colleges and universities, and teaching at three schools above the secondary level. Foote, as a Civil War Historian, was kind of interesting.

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