Writer’s Desk: Don’t Listen to What They Say

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Ben Hecht (Culver Pictures)

Ben Hecht, one of history’s great newspapermen and playwrights (The Front Page) before he became that drollest and most cynical of Hollywood scripters (Scarface), never read like somebody who cared a whit about what somebody thought of his writing.

To wit, Hecht’s advice to writers:

Criticism can never instruct or benefit you. Its chief effect is that of a telegram with dubious news. Praise leaves no glow behind, for it is a writer’s habit to remember nothing good of himself. I have usually forgotten those who have admired my work, and seldom anyone who disliked it. Obviously, this is because praise is never enough and censure always too much.

So, in short, ignore it all and get back to work. Unless the praise/critique comes from your editor, in which case sometimes you may have to listen.

Writer’s Desk: Don’t Be Fussy

Dr._Strangelove_posterTerry Southern, who was born this day in 1924, was a writer familiar with the movies. He adapted other people’s work—freely satirizing Peter George’s thriller novel Red Alert into Dr. Strangelove—and had his own work put on screen—Buck Henry adapted Southern’s sexual fantasia Candy for film in 1968.

So, when Southern has advice about writers whose work is so (un?)lucky to be optioned by Hollywood, it’s best to listen:

If a writer is sensitive about his work being treated like Moe, Larry and Curly working over the Sistine Chapel with a crowbar, then he would do well to avoid screenwriting altogether…The wise thing, of course, is to become a filmmaker.

Note that The Three Stooges in the Sistine Chapel would have been a keeper.