As I Please
Tribune, 17 November 1944
Some weeks ago, in the course of some remarks on schools
of journalism, I carelessly described the magazine the Writer as
being ‘defunct’. As a result I have received a severe letter from its
proprietors, who enclose a copy of the November issue of the Writer
and call on me to withdraw my statement.
I withdraw it readily. The Writer is still alive and seems to be much the same as ever, though it has changed its format since I knew it. And I think this specimen copy is worth examining for the light it throws on schools of journalism and the whole business of extracting fees from struggling freelance journalists.
The articles are of the usual type, ‘Plotting Technique’ (fifteenth instalment) by William A. Bagley, etc., but I am more interested in the advertisements, which take up more than a quarter of the space. The majority of them are from people who profess to be able to teach you how to make money out of writing. A surprising number undertake to supply you with ready-made plots. Here are a few specimens:
Plotting without tears. Learn my way. The simplest method ever. Money returned if dissatisfied. 5s. post free.
Inexhaustible plotting method for women’s press, 5s. 3d. Gives real mastery. Ten days’ approval.
PLOTS. Our plots are set out in sequence all ready for write-up, with lengths for each sequence. No remoulding necessary – just the requisite clothing of words. All types supplied.
PLOT 5: in vivid scenes. With striking opening lines for actual use in story. Specimen conversation, including authentic dialect . . . Short-short, 5s. Short story, 6s. 6d. Long-complete (with tense, breathless ‘curtains’) 5s. 6d.: Radio plays, 10s. 6d. Serial, novel, novelette (chapter by chapter, appropriate prefix, prose or poetical quotations if desired) 15s. 6d. – 1 gn.
There are many others. Somebody called Mr Martin Walter claims to have reduced story-construction to an exact science and ‘eventually evolved the Plot Formula according to which his own stories and those of his students throughout the world are constructed . . . . Whether you aspire to write the "literary" story or the popular story, or to produce stories for any existing market, remember that Mr Walter’s Formula alone tells you just what a "plot" is and how to produce one. The Formula only cost you a guinea, it appears. Then there are the ‘Fleet Street journalists’ who are prepared to revise your manuscripts for you at 2s. 6d. per thousand words. Nor are the poets forgotten:
you poets neglecting the great post-war demand for sentiments?
I do not wish to say anything offensive, but to anyone
who is inclined to respond to the sort of advertisement quoted above, I
offer this consideration. If these people really know how to make money out
of writing, why aren’t they just doing it instead of peddling their secret
at 5s. a time? Apart from any other consideration, they would be raising up
hordes of competitors for themselves. This number of the Writer
contains about thirty advertisements of this stamp, and the Writer
itself, besides giving advice in its articles, also runs its own Literary
Bureau in which manuscripts are ‘criticized by acknowledged experts’ at
so much a thousand words. If each of these various teachers had even ten
successful pupils a week, they would between them be letting loose on to the
market some fifteen thousand successful writers per annum! Also, isn’t it
rather curious that the ‘Fleet Street journalists’, ‘established
authors’ and ‘well-known novelists’ who either run these courses or
write the testimonials for them are not named – or, when named, are seldom
or never people whose published work you have seen anywhere. If Bernard
Shaw or J. B.
Priestley offered to teach you how to make money out of writing, you
might feel that there was something in it. But who would buy a bottle of
hair restorer from a bald man?
One favourite way of falsifying history nowadays is to
alter dates. Maurice
Thorez, the French Communist, has been amnestied by the French
Government (he was under sentence for deserting from the army). Apropos of
this, one London newspaper remarks that Thorez ‘will now be able to return
from Moscow, where he has been living in exile for the last six years’.
A correspondent who lacks the competing instinct has
sent a copy of Principles or Prejudices, a sixpenny pamphlet by
Kenneth Pickthorn, the Conservative
M.P., with the advice (underlined in red ink): ‘Burn when read.’
Not one of the persons who say that economic factors govern the world believes it about himself. If Karl Marx had been more economically than politically interested he could have done better for himself than by accepting the kindnesses of the capitalist Engels and occasionally selling articles to American newspapers.
Aimed at ignorant people, this is meant to imply that Marxism regards individual acquisitiveness as the motive force in history. Marx not only did not say this, he said almost the opposite of it. Much of the pamphlet is an attack on the notion of internationalism, and is backed up by such remarks as: ‘No British statesman should feel himself authorized to spend British blood for the promotion of something superior to British interests.’ Fortunately, Mr Pickthorn writes too badly to have a very wide appeal, but some of the other pamphleteers in this series are leveller. The Tory Party used always to be known as ‘the stupid party’. But the publicists of this group have a fair selection of brains among them, and when Tories grow intelligent it is time to feel for your watch and count your small change.
The Estate of Eric Blair
Reproduced here under educational Fair Use law