Walt Whitman’s Advice to Writers

Walt Whitman, Vintage, American Author, AuthorI recently read an Open Culture post discussing Walt Whitman’s advice to new writers.  Before you read Whitman’s advice, know he was contrary.  He liked to contradict people.  He reminds me a lot of Twain who seemed to enjoy being argumentative just for the fun of it. Some of this may seem dated at first read, but think about it. With no further ado:

Walt’s advice: “Whack away at everything pertaining to literary life—mechanical part as well as the rest. Learn to set type, learn to work at the ‘case’, learn to be a practical printer, and whatever you do learn condensation.”

Sue here:  Setting type may not be necessary, but learn your craft backwards and forwards.  Learn to edit.  Learn to do layout.  Learn your programs and how to photograph and the various bells and whistles.  This isn’t a quick, easy field.  Learn all you can.

Walt’s advice: “To young literateurs I want to give three bits of advice: First, don’t write poetry; second ditto; third ditto. You may be surprised to hear me say so, but there is no particular need of poetic expression. We are utilitarian, and the current cannot be stopped.”

Sue here: This set people off, but think like Whitman.  Poetry isn’t an easy sell.  We are a practical nation that gives more value to writing instructions than writing verse.  If you plan to write poetry, it will be a hard sell. Don’t whine (that last part is pure me).

Walt’s advice: “It is a good plan for every young man or woman having literary aspirations to carry a pencil and a piece of paper and constantly jot down striking events in daily life. They thus acquire a vast fund of information. One of the best things you know is habit. Again, the best of reading is not so much in the information it conveys as the thoughts it suggests. Remember this above all. There is no royal road to learning.”

Sue here: Observe.  Observe some more.  Make it a habit.  Then learn to write with depth.


Whitman was a literary survivor.  His advice may not be sunlight and faeries but it is practical.  Excuse me, but I feel the need to study layout.