In one of the earliest issues of The Atlantic, the poet and essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. made a direct appeal to his audience on behalf of his fellow writers: “Deal gently with us, ye who read!”
He wanted it to be known that writing isn’t an easy business: It can be frustrating, mystifying, isolating. And that’s just the beginning, if our full archive of writers’ musings on writing is to be believed. Technical writing is a battle between clarity and respectability, according to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Resonance and beauty were always chancy in the eyes of the short-story writer and novelist Eudora Welty. Critics pushed the Native Son author Richard Wright to sublimate the racism he portrayed. The Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Edith Wharton could never quite discover where inspiration stemmed from.
Writing the same year as Holmes, Thomas Wentworth Higginson had no lack of warnings for aspiring authors. But he urged them to write and keep writing in spite of it all. Luckily, at least one of his readers, 32-year-old Emily Dickinson, listened.
Each week in the Books Briefing, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas, and ask you for recommendations of what our list left out.
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What We’re Reading
John Kenneth Galbraith emphasizes the importance of straightforward facts
“The writer who seeks to be intelligible needs to be right; he must be challenged if his argument leads to an erroneous conclusion and especially if it leads to the wrong action. But he can safely dismiss the charge that he has made the subject too easy. The truth is not difficult.”