Writers Quote Wednesday // Joseph Heller

Hello, hello, and welcome to the middle of the week, dear readers. If you are feeling a little run down or if Friday is feeling a little too far away, I encourage you to check out Writer’s Quote Wednesday, a weekly event hosted by Colleen of Silver Threading and Ronovan of Ronovan Writes. My contribution is from the  American satirical novelist, Joseph Heller.

Joseph Heller
Author Joseph Heller in his publisher’s office in New York City on October 9, 1974. (AP Photo/ Jerry Mosey)

Joseph Heller was born on May 1, 1923, in Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, the son of poor Jewish parents from Russia. Even as a child, he loved to write; as a teenager, he wrote a story about the Russian invasion of Finland and sent it to the New York Daily News, which rejected it.

After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in 1941, Heller spent the next year working as a blacksmith’s apprentice, a messenger boy, and a filing clerk. In 1942, at age 19, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. Two years later he was sent to the Italian Front, where he flew 60 combat missions as a B-25 bombardier.

After the war, Heller studied English at the University of Southern California and NYU on the G.I. Bill. In 1949, he received his M.A. in English from Columbia University. Following his graduation, he spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in St Catherine’s Society in the University of Oxford in England, and, after returning home, he taught composition at Pennsylvania State University for two years. He also taught fiction and dramatic writing at Yale.

He then briefly worked for Time Inc., before taking a job as a copywriter at a small advertising agency, where he worked alongside future novelist Mary Higgins Clark. At home, Heller wrote. He was first published in 1948 when The Atlantic ran one of his short stories. The story nearly won the “Atlantic First”.

He is probably best known for his satirical novel Catch-22. Set during World War II, it mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home. The novel has been frequently cited as one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.

He died of a heart attack at his home in East Hampton, on Long Island, in December 1999, shortly after the completion of his final novel, Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man.

On hearing of Heller’s death, his friend Kurt Vonnegut said, “Oh, God, how terrible. This is a calamity for American literature.”

I think of writing as private enterprise . . . since so much comes from rumination.

// Joseph Heller, The Art of Fiction No. 51

This morning my girlfriend and I had a talk about her sharing a piece I wrote for a contest on her personal Facebook page. I was totally against it. We went back and forth, her wanting to share with the people in her circle that I had been brave to enter the contest, and good enough to win. I said no because a lot of her “friends” are not close friends and worse than that they don’t understand that:

  1. You can be a writer and not be writing an amazing best-selling novel at the moment. You can be a writer and never be writing that best-selling novel.
  2. There is more to becoming a writer than just sitting down and pulling a book out of your head. It takes time and practice. Very few of us are geniuses you know.
  3. Just because someone writes doesn’t mean they are a good writer, and even if they are a good writer that doesn’t mean they know they are, or feel like they are.
  4. Just because they wrote something and won something doesn’t mean they want to talk about it.

I think any creative person has difficulty talking about what they do with people who don’t do the same thing. They have no idea how it works but somehow they know exactly what you should be doing or where you should be by now in your progress toward fame and riches. They think it’s great what you do but they also talk about it like it’s kind of stupid. Oh, and they want to know everything you are working on and whether or not you can help them do the same.

I hate to rant about it. A lot of this is just pure insecurity and fear. It’s hard telling people that you want to be a writer and then a year from then they are looking at you wondering why you haven’t been published yet. They don’t know that you have no idea how to write a book, you have no idea what kind of writer you want to be, you don’t even know how to punctuate your dialogue correctly! They don’t get that you are going on nothing but a vague idea of a story and a feeling that this is what you want to do.

They think you are failing.

And you think you are too.

And all of this gets into your head and you can’t think or move forward anymore. So you stop talking about it. You blog quietly, you enter contests quietly, you write essays and poems in small print on notecards you carry with you that you hurriedly put away if anyone even looks at them like they want to ask a question. You keep it a secret as if you are ashamed. You keep your creativity away from people who will do nothing but question it and make you doubt yourself. You do it so you can be free to create. But you know you can’t be free forever.

I have to stop keeping it such a secret, I know that. But for me, writing isn’t something I want to talk about all the time. I need privacy and I need to not be influenced by what other people think I should be. There has to be a balance. There has to be a way to keep my process intact and tamper proof while also sharing myself and educating others about where I am going creatively.

Maybe one day I will get it right.

But today I am letting my girlfriend, who is proud of me and wants to share my small success with the world, do so. I have to start somewhere.


Featured image via Unsplash.com


10 Replies to “Writers Quote Wednesday // Joseph Heller”

  1. I spent several hours in a car with a guy who had read an article about writers. He expounded on his new-found knowledge and advised me that my chances of writing a best seller were worse than the chances of being struck by lightning. I asked if he’d written a book. No, but he’d written reports.

    Some days it’s really, really….really hard not to laugh out loud, point…laugh out loud until you can’t breath or speak…point…

    I’ve been on the receiving end of, “You should write like (insert name of famous author here).” Sure, I could learn to parrot a writing style. I could also learn to ride a Harley and walk into a biker bar wearing boots, chains and an attitude. That wouldn’t make me a biker, but it might make me dead. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa, I have had many of the same thoughts and feelings. You are a good writer already. You know that deep down. I have had the pleasure of watching your writing evolve over the last couple of years. You will come into your own when you are ready. There is tons of information on learning to write. You can teach yourself, or not… It is your calling, I believe. <3


    1. Thank you Colleen :) I am definitely going to go the self-taught route but I will admit it is very hard to learn in an organized way. You don’t know what you don’t know so you end up cobbling together writing lessons from about a million different sources hoping to fill in the gaps of your knowledge. It’s a tough road, but such a rewarding one :)

      Liked by 1 person

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