Writer’s Desk: Don’t Be Literary

Georges Simenon , 1965 (Dutch National Archives)

When Georges Simenon was starting out as a newspaper writer and later a factory for churning out pulp fiction in Paris in the 1920s, he had higher ambitions. So he went to ask for advice from Colette, one of the reigning doyennes of French (and world) literature.

Colette, whose early writings had been produced under her husband’s name and had to fight for every scrap of financial and critical success she ultimately won, had some tart words for the young pulpist:

She told him to stop trying to be literary, and Mr. Simenon would later say it was the best piece of writing advice he ever got.

By the time Simenon passed away in 1989, he had produced 220 novels under his own name, plus another couple hundred under pseudonyms, and over a thousand short stories.

His method was monastic when required:

When he worked he hung a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door and often wrote round-the-clock. Once finished, Mr. Simenon put his manuscript away for a few days, then took it out, revised it briefly and sent it to his editor. He never read any of his books once they had been published.

Also, Simenon wasn’t just prolific, he was wildly successful, selling something like half a billion copies worldwide.

Sometimes refusing to worry about how your work is perceived is the best thing you can do.

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