He began by expressing empathy for the uncertainty she must now be feeling:
To date, from all your writing, you have made perhaps five hundred dollars for two short stories and a travel article. To finance school and to write your novel you have lived meagerly with little encouragement and have risked the disapproval of your family, who have understandably said, "Here is this girl nearly thirty years old now, unmarried, without a job or a profession, still mooning away at her writing as if life were forever. Here goes her life through her fingers while she sits in cold rooms and grows stoop-shouldered over a typewriter." So now, with your book finally in hand, you want desperately to have some harvest: a few good reviews, some critical attention, encouragement, royalties enough to let you live and go on writing...
You would like to be told that you are good and that all this difficulty and struggle and frustration will give way gradually or suddenly, preferably suddenly, to security, fame, confidence, the conviction of having worked well and faithfully to a good end and become someone important to the world.
Stegner warned, however, that fame, fortune, and accolades would most likely not be forthcoming. Not because her work was not good: "You write better than hundreds of people with established literary reputations.” The problem, he explained, was that her writing was aimed over the heads of the mass of readers, and would therefore only ever be appreciated by a small audience of "thoughtful readers." She would thus always find herself struggling—"pinched for money, for time, for a place to work."
So was all this worth it? "I would not blame you,” he wrote, “if you ... asked, Why spend ten years in an apprenticeship to fiction only to discover that this society so little values what you do that it won't pay you a living wage for it?"
But in the end, he argued, living to practice an art that one does well is its own reward:
For you ... it will have to be art. You have nothing to gain and nothing to give except as you distill and purify ephemeral experience into quiet, searching, touching little stories ... and so give your uncommon readers a chance to join you in the solidarity of pain and love and the vision of human possibility.
But isn't it enough? For lack of the full heart's desire, won't it serve?
Two decades later, in "Writing, Typing, and Economics" (March 1978) economist John Kenneth Galbraith weighed in with more pragmatic writing advice. Though a professor of economics, he was also recognized as a prolific and talented writer. He had been an editor of Fortune magazine and was the author of numerous essays, reviews, and books.
Galbraith's first suggestion was to resist the fantasy that good writing can only be accomplished during moments of inspiration:
All writers know that on some golden mornings they are touched by the wand—are on intimate terms with poetry and cosmic truth. I have experienced those moments myself. Their lesson is simple: It's a total illusion. And the danger in the illusion is that you will wait for those moments. Such is the horror of having to face the typewriter that you will spend all your time waiting. I am persuaded that most writers, like most shoemakers, are about as good one day as the next (a point which Trollope made), hangovers apart. The difference is the result of euphoria, alcohol, or imagination. The meaning is that one had better go to his or her typewriter every morning and stay there regardless of the seeming result. It will be much the same.
He also emphasized the importance of revision. "Anyone who is not certifiably a Milton," he wrote, "had better assume that the first draft is a very primitive thing. The reason is simple: writing is difficult work." This difficulty, he warned, is enough to drive many a writer to drink. He therefore advised against relying on alcohol as a crutch. "It is, quite literally, very sobering," he pointed out, "to reflect upon how many good American writers have been destroyed by this solace—by the sauce. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner—the list goes on and on." He offered a rule of thumb: "Any writer who wants to do his best against a deadline should stick to Coca-Cola. If he doesn't have a deadline, he can risk Seven-Up."