Willa Cather on Journalism and Writing

In 1906, Willa Cather moved from Pittsburgh, where she had been working as a journalist, to New York City, where she established herself as a literary editor at the journal McClure’s. In this letter to the Maine writer Sarah Orne Jewett written on Dec. 19, 1908, Cather describes her frustrations with journalism and her desire find more time to write on her own terms:

Mr. McClure tells me that he does not think I will ever be able to do much at writing stories, that I am a good executive and I had better let it go at that. I sometimes, indeed I very often think that he is right. If I have been going forward at all in the last five years, [i]t has been progress of the head and not of the hand. At thirty-four one ought to have some sureness in their pen point and some facility in turning out a story. In other matters — things about the office — I can usually do what I set out to do and I can learn by experience, but when it comes to writing I’m a new-born baby every time — always come into it naked and shivery and without any bones. I never learn anything about it at all. I sometimes wonder whether one can possibly be meant to do the thing at which they are more blind and inept and blundering than at anything else in the world …

I have to lend a hand at home now and then, and a good salary is a good thing. Still, if I stopped working next summer I would have money enough to live very simply for three or four years. …I would write a little — “and save the soul besides.”

This letter comes to light after a number of letters Cather penned in her lifetime are being published in a new book to be released next month.

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