Today is the birthday of three of my favorite writers: Writer and illustrator Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) , writer John Irving, and 20th century writer and cultural anthropologist Tom Wolfe.
In the fall of 1936, Geisel was coming home from Europe, stuck below deck during a long rainy stretch. He started making up words to fit the rhythm of the ship’s engine, and the poem he composed in his head became his first children’s book: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). His manuscript was rejected more than 20 times; editors disliked the fantasy, the exuberant language, and the lack of clear morals. One day, after receiving yet another rejection, he finally decided to give up and burn his manuscript. He was thinking about this as he walked down Madison Avenue in New York, when he bumped into an old classmate from Dartmouth, who had recently become a children’s book editor for Vanguard Press. After hearing his story, the classmate took Geisel back to his office and introduced him to some executives, and it wasn’t long before he had a book deal. He said later: “If I had been walking down the other side of Madison Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business today.”
John Irving keeps a practiced routine when he writes. He sits at an L-shaped desk surrounded by notepads and notebooks and writes his books by hand before typing them. “I have lots of notebooks around, because one great advantage of writing by hand — in addition to how much it slows you down — is that it makes me write at the speed that I feel I should be composing, rather than faster than I can think, which is what happens to me on any keyboard.”
Irving’s most recent book is Avenue of Mysteries (2015).
He said, “If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”
And while Wolfe had a Ph.D. he decided to be a newspaper reporter. Then, in the early 1960s, there was a newspaper strike in New York City, and the paper he worked for was affected. He was out of a job for a while, and he decided to pitch an idea to Esquire magazine for a story about the hot-rod car culture around Southern California.
The editor agreed, and Wolfe went out to L.A., hung around car shows, drag races, and demolition derbies, and ran up a $750 bill at a Beverly Hills hotel. He’d taken lots and lots of notes, but he couldn’t figure out what the story should be or how to write it up — not even by the night before his magazine deadline. The editor told him to type up his notes, send them, and he’d go ahead and put together the story. Wolfe sat at his typewriter and banged out a letter to his editor with his ideas and observations. His editor liked it so much that he just removed the salutation (“Dear Byron”) at the top and published Wolfe’s notes as a feature article. The story was a huge hit and became the title piece in Wolfe’s first published book, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965).
Read a lot more about these writers here: at The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor