Moulders Lane

Category: Reading

How Writers Get Published: The Lure of the Pen – Flora Klickmann (1917-18)

I’ve been looking through another volume of The Girl’s Own Annual and found a series of articles by the Editor, Flora Klickmann, entitled The Lure of the Pen or, how to get rid of all your Romantic claptrap about Being An Artist and write something that will actually Get Published. One of the things I really like about Klickmann’s writing is that so many of the points she makes are just as valid today; and the ideas and suggestions in this set of articles have been incredibly useful in boosting my own glacially paced efforts.

It’s statistically impossible that I’m the only person with my particular set of problems as a writer, so the idea that others out there will also find the articles helpful is probably a good one. With this in mind, I’m going to do a review of each article here with my thoughts on what I found particularly useful. (If you want to read the articles in full, they’re in book form at Project Gutenberg; the American edition from 1920.) And then maybe we’ll all start writing, rather than trying to write!

Klickmann’s first article is concerned with the problem of the would-be writer from the publisher’s perspective i.e. – where you are all going wrong. This was incredibly helpful and a good eye-opener, with Klickmann pulling no punches:

‘In the business of Making Literature … genius is rare. Nearly-genius is almost as rare. The only quality that presents itself in abundance is entirely untrained mediocrity.’

As Editor of a popular monthly magazine, Klickmann reads about nine thousand stories, articles and poems over the course of the year, not including those read by others of her staff. Of all these, it’s rare that more than than about six hundred form suitable material for the magazine: the market is there for the writers, in fact she’d like to buy double the amount she does; but the writers just aren’t producing what she needs.

Rejected manuscripts tend to fall into three categories:

the piece isn’t suited to the policy and requirements of the publishing house, or her magazine;

their subject matter has already been covered by the magazine;

and, the largest pile:

the piece has no marketable value.

The key problem, in this last, is the mindset of the would-be writer, that has to be overcome before any progression from un-marketable to marketable work can be achieved:

‘[domestic service is the only other vocation] where the candidates expect good pay at the very start without any sort of training, any experience, any specialised knowledge, or any idea of the simplest requirement of the business from which they hope to draw an income’

The examples she gives of practitioners in other areas puts her point into very clear perspective: we would find it laughable that an artist would submit a painting professionally, announcing that this is his/her first attempt at drawing; a musician expect to play at a concert when she has had no training; or a dressmaker expect large fees as, without the most basic knowledge, she feels convinced that she could make a dress. Yet Klickmann has experienced all these attitudes amongst would-be writers.

As she goes on to outline, the difficulty with literature is its subjectivity: ‘no matter how you much you try and pin it down, some new genius is sure to break out in a fresh place’. (This comment seems quite prescient, given the development of Modernism over the next ten years.)

Most novices in the above-mentioned fields will recognise and accept that there are specific techniques involved that can be taught and must be practised – what Klickmann calls the ‘mechanical’ processes that are invaluable in assisting the would be artist, musician or dressmaker along the right road towards the longed for goal.’ adding ‘True, such advice cannot make good a lack of real genius, yet it may help to develop nearly-genius, and that is not to be despised.’

Literature, however, is an ‘intangible’ medium – apart from ‘the bare laws that govern the construction of the language’ there are ‘no similar universal structures that will pass on the knowledge needed to write well’. This ‘inability to reduce writing to any set of specific rules’ means that one frequently encounters the amateur writer/poet who sees himself as an Artist, untrammelled by any such mundane considerations as his readers – a type that Wodehouse used to great effect in many of his stories.

Klickmann goes on to point out:

‘despite this prevailing idea that we all possess heaven-sent genius, which is ready to sprout and blossom straight away with no preparatory work .. some training is imperative; and if the would-be writer is to go far, the training must be rigorous and very comprehensive.’

This certainly struck a chord with me – for someone who detests the flights of high Romanticism I seem to have great difficulty in curbing my own irrational leanings in that direction and what I like, and find valuable, in these articles is the way they both highlight, and puncture, my own prejudices. I have always been extremely sniffy, in the past, about formal training for writers for the very ‘writer as Artist’ reason she cites but, after all, what could be more natural, practical or valuable? (Why am I so resistant to seeing prose writing as a craft, as I have no difficulty in seeing art or music, or even scriptwriting?)

What’s encouraging, though, is that that most of the faults in a writer’s work can be ‘remedied with study and practice’; so that, even though your story is nowhere near a work of genius, you will at least be able to produce something that editors will want to publish.

From Klickmann’s considerable experience, the main recurring faults that characterise unmarketable submissions are omissions –

a lack of:

any preliminary training;

specialised knowledge of the subject dealt with;

modernity of thought and diction;

the power to reduce thought to language;

cohesion and logical sequence of ideas;

ability to get the reader’s view-point;

new and original ideas and themes;

the instinct for selection;

a sense of proportion

and in later articles she’ll be showing the would-be author how to overcome these failings.

With all the writing courses, groups and ability to blog these days I’d be surprised if beginners still send their ‘early, crude efforts to editors’ any more; and the unguided or self-admiring ‘small literary coteries’ formed by ‘ardent amateurs’ – another Wodehouse favourite – are probably somewhat more focused these days.  But her comment ‘The craving for “self-expression” is one of the characteristics of this century’ is more true than ever a hundred years later, though the medium that now lures is not the pen but the mobile device.

A Partial Book Review: Middlebrow Wodehouse: P. G. Wodehouse’s Work in Context ed. Professor Ann Rea (2016)

Rather like looking for a word in Chambers, running a Google search means you never know what odd thing you’re going to discover. The latest piece of flotsam to strike my bemused gaze is a new book on Wodehouse: Middlebrow Wodehouse: P. G. Wodehouse’s Work in Context published in January of this year and written by a gaggle of American and British academics. Having read through some of the sections previewed online, I’m rather intrigued to know if anyone’s read it and, if so, what they think?

Although claiming to be examining Wodehouse ‘in context’ it seemed to me that the writers knew pretty little about that context: Read the rest of this entry »

Looking after One’s Wardrobe in January (1916) – Norma May Hanshew

This is a scan of a fascinating article in the January issue of the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for 1916 that describes how the woman of moderate means met the fashion demands of the time.

A synopsis of the full issue with scans of some of the other articles can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »

The Girl’s Own Paper – Jan 1916 (part three)


Part Two

All scanned material copyright The Lutterworth Press.

The household section at the back of each issue of The Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine, to me one of the most fascinating parts, begins in January 1916 with an article entitled Dishes for the January Parties – How to obtain good Effects from Simple Means by Kate Radnor. This describes recipes suitable for ‘a small friendly evening gathering or young people’s party supper’ that are ‘more effective than heavy joints of meat or stiff uncut poultry’. There’s some interesting social points intermingled with the recipes: supper is always served cold, which means no vegetables (?) but if Christmas pudding is served ‘(and it is quite correct to do so)’ – an amusing example of etiquette as social division rather than etiquette as courteous good manners – this must be hot. Cream is thinner in winter, cooking is done on fires and involves extremely long cooking times, and everything has to be left until the next day to set. Particular dishes, or even the whole supper, are often ordered in from a confectioners to save trouble. The point of the article is that these often don’t taste any better than home produced but are ‘superior in style and effect’, something which can easily be imitated.

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The Editor’s Page – The Girl’s Own Paper (January 1916)

This is a scan of The Editor’s Page in the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine of the early twentieth century, and part of my project looking at women’s experiences of the First World War, during this centenary year, through the eyes of the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for 1916.

Flora Klickmann’s points, in this page from the January issue, are just as valid a hundred years later: that we, ourselves, are the British Nation, that it is not a separate abstract thing for which we have no responsibility; that increased general prosperity and leisure is proving our undoing and that we are forgetting higher ideals and duties; and that there is an increasing viewpoint that money forgives all sins; in many respects the article could easily have been written for our own times.

A rather fascinating sidelight is thrown on the perceived division of responsibility in the period: it is women who ‘make or mar the social fabric’ while men are responsible for the virtue of business and political systems.

A coda calling for knitters to provide much needed hospital wash cloths highlights the unprecedented nature of a war of this scale in the dependence on amateur assistance by the authorities.

A synopsis of the full issue with scans of some of the other articles can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »

Mobilising Women Workers – How the War is Demanding the Services of all and how Each One can Assist (Jan 1916)

As part of my project looking at women’s experiences of the First World War, during this centenary year, through the eyes of the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for 1916 – this is a scan of an interesting article in the January issue that describes the growing realisation of the role that women will have to play as the Great War progresses.

A synopsis of the full issue with scans of some of the other articles can be found here.

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Sketching in Hertfordshire (Jan 1916) – Maude Angell

This is a scan of an interesting article in the January issue of the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for 1916, describing a sketching holiday in Wheathampstead, then a rural district of Hertfordshire despite being just 25 miles from London.

A synopsis of the full issue with scans of some of the other articles can be found here

More illustrations of Wheathampstead houses can be found in the article on women war workers.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Girl’s Own Paper – Jan 1916 (part two)

Jan GOPPart One

The middle section of the January issue has just one short story with the rest articles on hobbies, topics of interest for the 1916 woman and an exhortation for female assistance with the War.

Sketching in Hertfordshire – The Little Bits by the Way written and illustrated by Maude Angell is an account of a sketching holiday, with tips on landscape work, by the G.O.P’s writer on all things Art. What’s particularly interesting is that the olde-worlde village of Wheathampstead she describes is only 25 miles from King’s Cross, which gives you some idea of how surprisingly little London spread in 1916. As I very much doubt the buildings she drew still exist, the full article may be of interest to local historians.

Mobilising Women Workers – How the War is Demanding the Services of all and how Each One can Assist is another fascinating article that pinpoints developments in the War and its effect on ordinary people. The Government is belatedly waking up to the fact that the male workers in commerce and industry, needed in the army, are going to have to be somehow replaced if the economy is to be kept going and that women could be useful here. (But don’t get any ideas, it’s just for the duration.)

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The Barrier to Intimacy by Alice Miller (1915)

This is a fun and surprisingly modern short story that I found when looking up the background for the serial in the January issue of the Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine for 1916.  There’s a distinctly Wodehousian tone in the dilemma of the two characters – in the light of which the placement of the particular prayers at the footer seems a little misjudged.

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Securing a Pension – An Important Matter for the Wage-Earning Girl of To-Day (Jan 1916)

This is a scan of an interesting article from the Girl’s Own Paper and Women’s Magazine for January 1916, which throws a light on women’s financial position during the early twentieth century, particularly as a result of the Great (First World) War.  A synopsis of the whole issue with scans of other articles can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »