Thomas Wolfe? Red Smith? Paul Gallico? Friedrich Nietzsche? Ernest Hemingway? Gene Fowler? Jeff MacNelly? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Whenever I have trouble writing I am reminded of a brilliant saying that uses a horrifyingly expressive metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition:
Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.
Here is another version of the saying that I found while Googling:
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.
I have seen statements like this credited to the prominent sports columnist Red Smith and to the literary figures Thomas Wolfe and Ernest Hemingway. Could you explore this quotation?
Quote Investigator: There is significant evidence that Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith used a version of this quote by 1949. In April of that year the influential and widely syndicated newspaper columnist Walter Winchell wrote. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
This is the earliest known attribution to Smith and it was located by top-notch researcher Bill Mullins. But a few years earlier another novelist and highly-paid sportswriter used the same metaphor to describe the often arduous task of putting words down on paper. In the 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: 2
It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.
Today Gallico is perhaps best known for the novel The Poseidon Adventure which was made into a blockbuster disaster movie in 1972. The popular work was remade for television and for theatrical release in the 2000s. He also wrote the 1941 story Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees that was made into the successful film The Pride of the Yankees.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1949 April 06, Naugatuck Daily News, Walter Winchell In New York, Page 4, Column 5, Naugatuck, Connecticut. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1946, Confessions of a Story Writer by Paul Gallico, Page 576, A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified on paper; Thanks to Stephen Goranson for checking this cite on paper) link ↩