Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mark Twain, Failed Blogger?

Roughing It has long been my favorite work by Mark Twain.  Of his autobiographical works, it is more mature and less contrived than Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, more vital than Following the Equator, and less sloppy than his Autobiography. For some reason the following passage, about his brief stint as an editorial writer for the Territorial Enterprise, has been stuck in my head for years. Tonight I recalled the passage again and suddenly realized--he sounds like a struggling blogger:

    In the Editorial Chair 

     I wanted a change. I wanted variety of some kind. It came. Mr. Goodman went away for a week and left me the post of chief editor. It destroyed me. The first day, I wrote my "leader" in the forenoon. The second day, I had no subject and put it off till the afternoon. The third day I put it off till evening, and then copied an elaborate editorial out of the "American Cyclopedia," that steadfast friend of the editor, all over this land. The fourth day I "fooled around" till midnight, and then fell back on the Cyclopedia again. The fifth day I cudgeled my brain till midnight, and then kept the press waiting while I penned some bitter personalities on six different people. The sixth day I labored in anguish till far into the night and brought forth--nothing. The paper went to press without an editorial. The seventh day I resigned. On the eighth, Mr. Goodman returned and found six duels on his hands--my personalities had borne fruit.

Twain being a bad ass (1901)

     Nobody, except he has tried it, knows what it is to be an editor. It is easy to scribble local rubbish, with the facts all before you; it is easy to clip selections from other papers; it is easy to string out a correspondence from any locality; but it is unspeakable hardship to write editorials. Subjects are the trouble--the dreary lack of them, I mean. Every day, it is drag, drag, drag--think, and worry and suffer--all the world is a dull blank, and yet the editorial columns must be filled. Only give the editor a subject, and his work is done--it is no trouble to write it up; but fancy how you would feel if you had to pump your brains dry every day in the week, fifty-two weeks in the year. It makes one low spirited simply to think of it. The matter that each editor of a daily paper in America writes in the course of a year would fill from four to eight bulky volumes like this book! Fancy what a library an editor's work would make, after twenty or thirty years' service. Yet people often marvel that Dickens, Scott, Bulwer, Dumas, etc., have been able to produce so many books. If these authors had wrought as voluminously as newspaper editors do, the result would be something to marvel at, indeed. How editors can continue this tremendous labor, this exhausting consumption of brain fibre (for their work is creative, and not a mere mechanical laying-up of facts, like reporting), day after day and year after year, is incomprehensible. Preachers take two months' holiday in midsummer, for they find that to produce two sermons a week is wearing, in the long run. In truth it must be so, and is so; and therefore, how an editor can take from ten to twenty texts and build upon them from ten to twenty painstaking editorials a week and keep it up all the year round, is farther beyond comprehension than ever. Ever since I survived my week as editor, I have found at least one pleasure in any newspaper that comes to my hand; it is in admiring the long columns of editorial, and wondering to myself how in the mischief he did it!

1 comment:

Susan Smith-Peter said...

Great post! It's a relief to see that even someone as prolific as Mark Twain sometimes had trouble cranking out the work.