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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Adversity or success, both are helpful

“I think that everything you do helps you to write if you're a writer. Adversity and success both contribute largely to making you what you are. If you don't experience either one of those, you're being deprived of something.” – Shelby Foote

Historian and novelist Shelby Foote is best known as the writer of the massive 3-volume history of the Civil War.   A son of the South who grew up in the Mississippi Delta, Foote's life and writing paralleled the radical shift from the agrarian planter system of the Old South to the Civil Rights era of the New South.

 Relatively unknown until his appearance in Ken Burns’ award-winning PBS documentary The Civil War (in 1990), he introduced a generation of Americans to a war that he believed was "central to all our lives.”  Although he was not one of America's best-known fiction writers, he did write half-a-dozen novels and gain the admiration of his more famous peers—among them Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, and his literary hero William Faulkner.  His book Follow Me Down is often compared to Faulkner’s writing.

Foote did all his writing by hand with an old-fashioned nib pen, disdaining the typewriter. “I don't want anything to do with anything mechanical between me and the paper, including a typewriter, and I don't even want a fountain pen between me and the paper. I'm a slow writer: five, six hundred words is a good day. That's the reason it took me 20 years to write those million and a half words of the Civil War.”

Born on this date, he started writing as a high school
sophomore and really never stopped for the next 75 
years until his death in 2005.  His advice to beginners: “If you want to study writing, read Dickens. That's how to study writing, or Faulkner, or D.H. Lawrence, or John Keats. They can teach you everything you need to know about writing.”

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