Contacts Are Everything to Writers


Here’s something rare for writers (not exclusively fiction writers) from Ben Stein’s Diary

“About a month ago, I met a woman at a meeting. She told me she wanted to be a writer. She sent me a few very brief selections of her work. It was amazingly fine stuff. I told her I would help her become a self-supporting writer, but she has vanished from the Internet. My febrile brain kept cranking though, and I have a few tips for those who seriously want to be working, paid writers:

Contacts are everything. Aspiring writers should be friends with those who are already successful writers. Your servant was helped incredibly by friendship with the great essayist, columnist, historian, and novelist. Bill Safire. Through the intermediation of a fine man named Earl McGrath, I became friends with Joan Didion, whose book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, is as good as any book of essays I have ever read. She is a living legend and she was extremely helpful to me and I worship at her shrine. My old professor of film at Yale, Stanley Kauffmann, the kindest, best teacher I ever had after Lowell Harriss, took me under his wing. He used his amazing power as Film Critic for the NY Times to get me jobs teaching and writing. He just died and he is missed desperately. These people were giants. Their help for me was immeasurable. Later in life, encouragement came in by the carload and my favorites were letters from Herb Gold, a genuinely great novelist. (Buy and read his book Swifty the Magician.)

You really cannot make it as a writer without connections.

“Write about topical issues, at least at first. You can write about your dating life at some point, if you wish (and I used to a lot). But when you are starting, write about something in the news — like, how does a budget crisis affect my life as a designer of handbags? And if it doesn’t affect it, why is the budget crisis such a big deal?

“Use the force and power of the news to advance your own career.

Do not try to be too stylish or too cute in what you write. Just describe straightforwardly and don’t try to set a new standard in stylized prose.

“If at all possible, do not now or ever take a writers’ workshop. Don’t let other people take up space rent-free in your brain. Write as well as you can and as much as you can, and don’t let other people — unless they are Joan Didion or Herb Gold — tell you how to write.

“Write every single day except the Sabbath and read great writers like Fitzgerald and Nabokov all day and all night. And get enough sleep.”

OK, so Stein’s on the opposite side of the political aisle from you, so what? We’ve made politics a religion in this country. That’s a mistake. Politics is circumstantial, mostly. Totalitarian governments need one set of political opponents to straighten things up. Governments with no structure and no power need a different set of opponents to improve things.

Monopoly is the real enemy in politics, same as in business or any other ecosystem where competing forces strike a tentative balance and work to improve one another….

So maybe I’m going to try to find Stein’s email address, or some way to contact him. And maybe I’m going to send him a little snippet of my best writing. You should do the same. And if you’re a woman, you should mention that fact, because this guy truly loves everything about women. (I’ve read enough of his stuff to know.)

Good luck! Be brave.

M. Talmage Moorehead

My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.

It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.

But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.

So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 10,000 word file will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)

Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog ( Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.


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