Listen to episode 276 of the Inspirational Living podcast: Writers on Writing | Authors and Literature. Edited and adapted from “Campfires & Guideposts” by Henry van Dyke.
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Today’s reading was edited and adapted from Campfires & Guideposts by Henry Van Dyke, published in 1921.
IT is a curious fact that there is no good guide book to authorship. There are, of course, lots of self-portraits of authors at work. And there are many essays upon the craft of writing in general.
The best of these portraits and advice are excellent reading, full of entertainment and instruction for the alert and candid mind, and touched with a special, sympathetic interest for those young persons who have sternly resolved, or fondly dreamed, that they will follow a literary career.
A volume of carefully selected material of this kind might be made attractive and rewarding to readers who wish to be authors. But the one thing which such a book ought not to be mistaken for, is a manual for the profession of writing literature.
Why not? Well, the answer is an open secret — an instructive paradox. Because there is no certain pathway to authorship. It is a voyage, if you like. But there are no guideposts in the sea. It is a flight, if you like. But there are no tracks in the air. It is certainly not a journey along a railway line, or a highway, or even a well-marked trail.
In this it differs from other vocations like the Bar, Engineering, Medicine, or Accounting. For each of these there is a pretty clearly defined path of preparatory study, with fixed gateways of examination along its course. When the last gate is passed and the young doctor is licensed to practice, the young lawyer admitted to the bar, the accountant certified to crunch numbers, the path broadens into a road, which leads from one professional duty to another with the regularity of a time-table — and, it must be added, with something of the monotony of a clock.