Write Something, Even If It’s Just a Suicide Note

Gore Vidal? Lucinda Ebersole? Rand B. Lee? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Aspiring authors are typically told to set aside enough time to make writing into a daily habit. The provocative author Gore Vidal apparently employed an extreme version of this injunction:

Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note.

Did Vidal coin this astringently comical remark?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match known to QI appeared in “The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations” in 1986: 1

Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. Anon.

The creator was unidentified and no citation was provided. An identical entry appeared in the 1987 successor volume “Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations” from the same editor Robert I. Fitzhenry. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order including evidence that Gore Vidal did use the expression.




The 1999 revised edition of “The Writer’s Chapbook” from “The Paris Review” contains a section titled “On Performance” listing miscellaneous quotations. The saying under investigation was included, but it was anonymous: 3

Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. -Anon.

In 2005 a collection of interviews titled “Conversations with Gore Vidal” edited by Richard Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole was released. The introduction by the editors mentioned that Ebersole heard the remark from Gore: 4

Lucinda would like to thank Richard who, like Job, persevered through floods, pestilence, vermin, and exceptional chaos to bring this book to fruition. And to Gore Vidal, who reminds her every day, “write something, even if it’s just a suicide note.”

An undated webpage on Goodreads displayed a set of questions for the author Rand B. Lee together with his answers. The response to “What’s your advice for aspiring writers?” included the following variant: 5

Write something every day, even if it’s just a suicide note.

In conclusion, the earliest instance of the quotation in the 1980s was anonymous. Gore Vidal used the saying by 2005. Current evidence suggests that he employed a pre-existing remark.

Image Notes: Picture of notepad, pen and crumpled sheets of paper from congerdesign at Pixabay. Portrait of Gore Vidal by Van Vechten circa 1948. Images have been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to the anonymous person whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1986, The Fitzhenry & Whiteside Book of Quotations, Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Writers and Writing, Quote Page 388, Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, Toronto. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1987, Barnes & Noble Book of Quotations: Revised and Enlarged, Edited by Robert I. Fitzhenry, Section: Writers and Writing, Quote Page 388, Barnes & Noble Books, Division of Harper & Row, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 1999 [Revised edition], The Writer’s Chapbook, Edited from The Paris Review Interviews, Introduction by George Plimpton, Chapter: On Performance (Miscellaneous quotations), Quote Page 110, Modern Library, New York. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2005, Conversations with Gore Vidal, Edited by Richard Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole, Introduction by Richard Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole, Start Page xi, Quote Page xvii, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi. (Google Books Preview)
  5. Website: Goodreads, Article title: Ask the Author: Rand B. Lee, Question: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?, Timestamp: Undated, Website description: Goodreads is a large community for readers that provides book recommendations; the site is owned by Amazon. (Accessed goodreads.com on February 21, 2017) link