Sixteen Don’ts for Poets (1917)

“Sixteen Don’ts for Poets” by Arthur Guiterman

from Literature in the Making (1917)

“Don’t think of yourself as a poet, and don’t dress the part.

“Don’t classify yourself as a member of any special school or group.

“Don’t call your quarters a garret or a studio.

“Don’t frequent exclusively the company of writers.

“Don’t think of any class of work that you feel moved to do as either beneath you or above you.

“Don’t complain of lack of appreciation. (In the long run no really good published work can escape appreciation.)

“Don’t think you are entitled to any special rights, privileges, and immunities as a literary person, or have any more reason to consider your possible lack of fame a grievance against the world than has any shipping-clerk or traveling-salesman.

“Don’t speak of poetic license or believe that there is any such thing.

“Don’t tolerate in your own work any flaws in rhythm, rhyme, melody, or grammar.

“Don’t use ‘e’er’ for ‘ever,’ ‘o’er’ for ‘over,’ ‘whenas’ or ‘what time’ for ‘when,’ or any of the ‘poetical’ commonplaces of the past.

“Don’t say ‘did go’ for ‘went,’ even if you need an extra syllable.

“Don’t omit articles or prepositions for the sake of the rhythm.

“Don’t have your book published at your own expense by any house that makes a practice of publishing at the author’s expense.

“Don’t write poems about unborn babies.

“Don’t—don’t write hymns to the great god Pan. He is dead; let him rest in peace!

“Don’t write what everybody else is writing.”

(Read the entire essay after the jump)

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“To read and to read and to read and to read” (Faulkner’s advice to young writers)

Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, you may have touched on this previously, but could you give some advice to young writers? What advice would you give to young writers?

William Faulkner: At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that—that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, train himself, in infinite patience, which is to—to try and to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance. That is, to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is, to be—to curiosity—to—to wonder, to mull, and to—to—to muse why it is that man does what he does. And if you have that, then I don’t think the talent makes much difference, whether you’ve got that or not.

Unidentified participant: How would you suggest that he get this insight? Through experience?

William Faulkner: Yes, and then the greatest part of experience is in the books, to read. To read and to read and to read and to read. To watch people, to have—to never judge people. To watch people, what they do, with—with—without intolerance. Simply to—to learn why it is they did what they did.


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Originally published in World Literature Today. Images via Defining Myself Secondhand.