Writers Are Not Nice People

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I check my email about every five seconds these days.  This query/submission process is rougher than waiting for someone to ask you to the prom.

While I’m waiting, I’m trying to get my head in the game.  I have a couple of other books out to some of the most wondrous beta readers in the universe, and I’m just beginning a new project.  I have a hard time holding lots of stuff in my head at once without mooshing it together, so my post for this week is a little different.

I recently acquired a secondhand copy of a vicious little book titled Fighting Words:  Writers Lambast Other Writers, from Aristotle to Anne Rice.  As I put my work out in the Big Scary World to face criticism and rejection, this book is especially darkly funny to me.  So as not to be selfish, I now share with you, in the spirit of the “Top Ten” lists I grew up with, this


10)  That’s not writing–that’s typing.–Truman Capote, on Jack Kerouac

9)  Reading him is like wading through glue.–Alfred, Lord Tennyson, on Ben Jonson

8)  I can’t read ten pages of [John] Steinbeck without throwing up.–James Gould Cozzens

7)  He leads his readers to the latrine and locks them in.–Oscar Wilde, on George Moore

6)  As a work of art it has the same status as a long conversation between two not very bright drunks.–Clive James, on Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy

5)  [James Fenimore] Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115.  It breaks the record.–Mark Twain

4)  As a writer he has mastered everything except language.–Oscar Wilde, on George Meredith

3)  If it were thought that anything I wrote was influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes.–James Dickey

2)  He writes like a Pakistani who has learned English when he was twelve years old in order to become a chartered accountant.–John Osborne, on George Bernard Shaw

and my personal favorite……….

1)  The more I read him, the less I wonder that they poisoned him.–Thomas Babington Macaulay, on Socrates


Bonus!!!  It’s not exactly a pithy zinger, but you can’t beat it for overall condescending vehemence:

Such writing is a sort of mental masturbation–he is always f-gg-g his Imagination.  I don’t mean he is indecent, but viciously soliciting his own ideas into a state, which is neither poetry nor any thing else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium.–Lord Byron, on John Keats

Does anybody else have a favorite literary insult?

8 thoughts on “Writers Are Not Nice People

  1. Two from Dorothy Parker:
    -This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
    -And it is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.

  2. Yikes! I don’t have a one-liner to share, but this does make me think of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where he talks about the horrors of Vogon poetry (the third worst in the universe) in great detail, and then says that “The very worst poetry of all perished along with its creator Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Greenbridge, Essex, England in the destruction of the planet Earth.” In the original BBC radio version they used the real poet’s name of Paul Neil Milne Johnstone, but Adams was forced to retract the name for later recordings and for the book (according to the internet).

  3. It’s not a particular insult, but P. G. Wodehouse made some jabs at A. A. Milne in his fiction and his letters. They’re pretty funny. Also the Inklings famously would hold competitions reading the works of Amanda McKittrick Ros and see who could read the most without laughing.
    I also very much like the one about Aristotle. It reminds me of a comment Mark Twain’s about Jane Austin. He said, “Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.” He loathed her. In another letter he said, “Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” So cruel. Also funny, because apparently he endorsed the afore mentioned Amanda McKittrick Ros who is considered by some critics to have written the worst prose and poetry in the world–ever.

    1. Okay maybe not so funny, I originally read the part about him endorsing her in a book. But I just I went and looked up what Mark Twain actually said about Amanda McKittrick Ros (what a name!) and apparently he called her novel, Irene Iddesleigh, “one of the greatest unintentionally hilarious novels of all time.” So I guess he was actually in the same boat as the Inklings and he admired her writing because it was so bad it was good.

      1. There is something to be said for being so truly dreadful as to be groundbreaking. 🙂 This makes me think of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, too.

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