Category Archives: Peter De Vries

Write Drunk, Revise Sober

Ernest Hemingway? Gowan McGland? Dylan Thomas? Peter De Vries? F. Scott Fitzgerald? James Joyce? Stephen Fry? Anonymous?

writing08Dear Quote Investigator: “Alcohol loosens the tongue” is an old saying that some authors treat with reverence. But the resultant lubricated poetry and prose may require a red pencil. The famous writer Ernest Hemingway reportedly made one of the following remarks:

  1. Write drunk, edit sober.
  2. Write drunk, revise sober.

I cannot find a solid citation. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to find this saying in the output of Ernest Hemingway who died in 1961, and it is unlikely that he ever said it or wrote it.

The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben” by the humorist Peter De Vries which included a character named Gowan McGland whose behaviors and eccentricities were partially modeled on the prominent Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

At the beginning of chapter twenty-one McGland was reviewing a previously written draft of a poem. Now that he was sober he excised two lines that he considered dreadful. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

He remembered something he had told a New York journalist in an interview about his “working habits,” a dull subject about which people remained curiously interested in the case of writers and artists. “Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober,” he had said, “and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

QI conjectures that the words of De Vries evolved and were reassigned to the more prominent Hemingway who was certainly known to take a drink.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1964, Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries, Chapter 21, Quote Page 242, Chapter 30, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)

What I Hate About Writing Is the Paperwork

Peter De Vries? Apocryphal?

paperwork07Dear Quote Investigator: There is an amusing quip that is perfect for National Novel Writing Month. Here are two versions:

1) I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.
2) Writing: I like everything about it but the paperwork.

This comment has been attributed to the novelist, poet, and playwright Peter De Vries whose satiric tales were regularly featured in “The New Yorker”. I wanted to share this joke now because the literary world is unstable. People are using word processors and publishing e-books. A future generation may find the remark anachronistic. Would you please tell me where this quotation appeared?

Quote Investigator: Peter De Vries did present an instance of this joke in his 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben”, but the phrasing differed from the two versions specified by the questioner. A character named Mopworth dreamed of auctorial success. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Standing at the window with his hands in his pockets, Mopworth had a vision of the day when he would be interviewed by the press on the publication of his book. He had some mots all ready. “What I hate about writing is the paperwork.” And: “A writer is like the pencil he uses. He must be worn down to be kept sharp.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1964, Reuben, Reuben by Peter De Vries, Chapter 27, Quote Page 314, Published by Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans; thanks to Thomas Fuller)

I Only Write When Inspiration Strikes. Fortunately It Strikes at Nine Every Morning

William Faulkner? Peter De Vries? Herman Wouk? Somerset Maugham? Jane Yolen? Raymond Chandler? Anonymous?

NineAM10Dear Quote Investigator: As a writer I find the following quotation about motivation both amusing and invigorating:

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

I have seen these words attributed to the satiric New Yorker writer Peter De Vries, the Nobelist William Faulkner, and playwright-novelist Somerset Maugham. Who do you think originated this quip?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI was printed in 1966 in a “Washington Post” profile of the bestselling author Herman Wouk who was best known for the novels “The Caine Mutiny”, “The Winds of War”, and “War and Remembrance”. Wouk ascribed the remark to William Faulkner. The phrasing differed from the version provided by the questioner, but the underlying joke was the same. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

For a writer with so many books to his credit, he finds writing an exceedingly difficult process of “gritting one’s teeth and putting down one word after another.” He averages 1500 to 2000 words a day and likes to quote William Faulkner: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.”

This Wouk profile was reprinted in several newspapers including the “Des Moines Register” in Iowa 2 and the “Springfield Union” in Massachusetts. 3 Faulkner died in 1962, four years before the story was published, and QI has not yet located any direct support for the attribution.

In 1971 the poet and novelist Reynolds Price was interviewed in “The Raleigh News and Observer” of North Carolina, and he presented a version of the jest credited to William Faulkner: 4

Someone once asked Mr. Faulkner if he wrote by inspiration or habit and he said he wrote by inspiration, but luckily inspiration arrived at 9 every morning. I know what that means. And there is a kind of magic about keeping the stride once you’ve got it going.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1966 November 13, Washington Post, Writing Is Workaday For Herman Wouk: Inspiration Strikes at Nine Every Morning by Meryle Secrest (Washington Post Staff Writer), Quote Page F3, Column 3, Washington, D.C. (Note: ProQuest database gives the incorrect author name of Meryle Secret)
  2. 1966 November 24, Des Moines Register, The Wouk Formula For Writing Success by Meryle Secrest (Acknowledgement to The Washington Post), Quote Page 16, Des Moines, Iowa. (NewspaperArchive)
  3. 1966 December 11, 1966, Springfield Union, Herman Wouk Tells What Literary Success Means by Meryle Secret, (Acknowledgement Washington Post News Service), Quote Page 18C, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1991, Conversations with Reynolds Price, Edited by Jefferson Humphries, (A Glimpse into the Very Private World of a Novelist, Interview of Reynolds Price by Rod Cockshutt, Reprinted from The Raleigh News and Observer, Date: January 24, 1971, Section: 4, 3) Start Page 30, Quote Page 34 and 35, Univ. Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi, (Verified on paper)

Nostalgia Is Not What It Used To Be

Yogi Berra? Simone Signoret? Peter De Vries? Tommy Handley & Ronald Frankau? Anonymous?

signoret01Dear Quote Investigator: Holidays sometimes make me nostalgic. They also remind me of the following clever quip:

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

These words are often attributed to the famed baseball quotemaster Yogi Berra, but recently I learned of an autobiography by the prominent French actress Simone Signoret titled:

Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be.

Could you explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this expression known to QI was published in a 1959 novel titled “The Tents of Wickedness” by Peter De Vries. This citation is given in the key reference work “The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs” from Yale University Press. De Vries was a popular humorist who worked at “The New Yorker” magazine and published many novels: 1 2

No. Nostalgia, as his Uncle Joshua had said, ain’t what it used to be.
Which made it pretty complete. Nothing was what it used to be — not even nostalgia.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1959, The Tents of Wickedness by Peter De Vries, Quote Page 6, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2012, The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, Compiled by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro Page 179, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)

A Story Should Have a Beginning, a Muddle and an End

Peter De Vries? Philip Larkin? C. E. Lombardi? Larry Gelbart? Avi’s Young Reader? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: When faced with the difficult task of writing effectively some people insist on a guaranteed formula. As a confirmed scribbler I am convinced that there is no formula, but I laughed when I heard this:

A story consists of a beginning, a muddle, and an end.

Can you figure out who first articulated this comical blueprint? It has been credited to the English poet Philip Larkin and the American humorist Peter De Vries.

Quote Investigator: Both of these attributions are backed by good evidence. Peter De Vries used a version of the phrase to describe his novel “Tunnel of Love” in the 1950s, and Philip Larkin called it a “classic formula” for a book in the 1970s.

Yet, the earliest instance located by QI appeared in “The Yale Literary Magazine” in 1909. The author C. E. Lombardi published a short fictional sketch in which two friends exchanged banter while attending a theatrical production in New York [LBME]:

The play made its start pleasantly enough but since it was a musical comedy Meriweather felt it incumbent to produce some slighting remark.

“This sort of thing, at least, hasn’t changed much while I’ve been away from New York,” he said.

“They keep the same form,” said Fairfield; “a beginning, a muddle, and an end.”

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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