1922: Writer Nina Wilcox Putnam

From a 1922 issue of The American Magazine:

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“Why I Have Got So Far So Good”

All kidding to one side, the reason I got things at first was because I had to, or the grocer would have marked our family off his list. Later I got them because I wanted them so bad that a lady such as myself can’t say it and keep polite. And finally — but you’ll have to read to the end of this piece to find that out, because I ain’t got the nerve to put it here at the top

by Nina Wilcox Putnam

Over to the West Side Ladies’ Wednesday Club on West Main Street, New York City, the other afternoon, which I had went to it on account of being and with the further knowledge at I would not only be encouraged to talk about myself when I got there, but that the Pres. would slip me a unobtrusive envelope for same at the blow-off — well, over to this club I got asked a question which comes to every author at least once in their life.

“How do you,” says a dame which had been trying to catch the Pres. eye as soon as she had caught it. “How do you get your inspiration to write?”

Well, that is a very delicate subject but I will try to explain it, in case some people reading this magazine would also like to know. And a good sample of how my inspiration comes is what happened when the editor of The American Magazine says to me now I want you should write me a piece about how good you are and why and ect., and I says to him it can’t be done because I am not.

And then when we had said this I went along on home, all upset because I couldn’t oblige him. And then I read my mail. It had accumulated since morning, and the letters was all from either PI. Remit or from my even older friends, Ineedtha Money or L. Overdue.

And just as I had torn them in halves and put them into the waste basket with that big feeling of relief which all of us experience at such times, why in comes the trained nurse which I have got for my kid, and whatever else she was trained in, believe you me nobody had to train her to ask for things, it is a natural talent with her.

Well, anyways in she come, and quotes to me them well-known lines of Shakespeare I think it is, “Baby needs new shoes.” And right away I felt a strong inspiration to write that piece, which the Editor had actually asked me for it and so There seemed a pretty good chance I would sell it.  And that is a very fair sample of how I get my inspiration to write.

Well, I know it will still seem peculiar that I, for any other author, particularly a female one, should hesitate to write about theirself, and of course it was not shyness made me reluctant. I was that way principally because one of my best bombs is now a dud. A few years ago it used to be a real brag that I commenced at 11 yrs. old to write for pay. But that was in the dark ages when people was supposed to be allowed up to the age of thirty in which to make good, before Daisy Ashford and Pamela Bianca and other child-wonders sprung up and set a new age limit for geniuses to start off at. A person has to make good now before they are six mos. old or nobody takes notice of them. That I started at 11 years used to be about the only interesting thing I had to say and now these kids have crabbed it for me.

Just the same this 11 yr. old story is where I will have to commence, because that was the start of my A. I. first class career. At the age of double one, then, I committed a story. It was published in the New York “Sunday Herald” in the section which the kids bother you to cut things out of while you are trying to read the front page about the Kookoo Clucks Can or an ad about this sale for Monday A. M., only all sizes up to 55 B. M. (bust measure) and other adult news.

Well this story of mine was published there, like I have said, and my family set around and bragged about it and expected me to at once repeat, with the natural result that I did not do so for as the poet says, many moons.

When next we see our heroine I am sixteen, and have just pried thirty-five iron men off the most suspicious editor I ever knew, Robt. Rudd Whiting, who was always suspecting new people of being able to write and discovering geniuses like myself. From then to now I have been writing considerable and have sold a lot of Editors, but never been sold by one yet.

Believe you me, considering the fact that they are mostly men, which it would hardly be right to hold that up against them, Editors in my experience has been an unusually fine race, and it is my contracts with them has made me what I am today, I’m sure I’m satisfied. And when a fellow or sister writer commences hollering about how Editors in America don’t know anything about what is style or English, well anyways not enough to publish it when they see it, why all I can say is that I could show them living proof to the contrary, only modesty and good manners forbids me pointing, even at myself. I am also sure that the checks these hollerers have received from said Editors is more apt to read the Editor’s regret, than pay to the order of, if you get what I mean.

Well, I have had it pretty soft I will admit, because all the work I done to get where I am, is never over eight hours a day penal servitude, locked up in my study and fighting against only such minor odds and intrusions as please may I have a dollar and a quarter for the laundry, or now dear you have been writing long enough I have brought you a nice cup of tea, just when I am going strong on a important third chapter. But my work is of course not really work since it is done in the home, as my relations often remind me. At least they did until I got George, that’s my pres. husband, and he never lets me be interrupted unless he wants to interrupt me himself for a clean collar or something.

Also besides working these short hours, four of which is generally what us authors calls straight creative work, I have it soft in another way. I got a pretty good market for my stuff and always had, and this of course has got me so’s I can draw checks as neat and quick as anybody in the family and they love to see me do it.

All kidding to one side it is the straight dope when I say that from being merely the daughter of honest and only moderately poor parents I have now a house of my own, the very one in our town which I most admired as a child: and the quit-claim deed come out of my own easy money. I also got a car or two — and a few pieces of the sort of second-hand stuff which successful people generally commence cluttering up their house with as a sign of outward and visible success. I mean the junk one moves in when one moves the golden oak out.

And all I done to earn all this was to dash off a little fiction with no manufacturing overhead cost except the price of a few pencils and a few pads of paper. A kind of miracle, ain’t it? I’ll say so! To me it has never stopped being a miracle that my first story won five berries in gold and that my first novel got accepted 48 hrs. off the griddle by Doubleday Page & Co. I guess they still think that was a miracle the same as I do. Well anyways, the writing game has been shot with luck for me, all along from the very start.

Now I don’t want you should think that for me life has been all beer and skittles. Or that it is now. Well anyways it ain’t all beer, that’s a cinch, for my M. D. don’t happen to be one of these search-warrant doctors. And as for skittles, if skittles is, as I suppose, English for pretzels, why what with the beer situation the way it is, it stands to reason that the pretzel manufacturers will presently lay down their crochet-needles and quit in despair.

Well now, about all this high Art that I have produced. Well, I attribute it directly to my lack of education. I never went to school, and so I had little or no chance to get prejudiced against classic literature. The result was that I come pretty near to reading all of it of my own free will, commencing with the Duchess and ending with the St. James Bible, further than which I have gone no further. And all this classic reading is of course what accounts for the way I write. Everything I know about writing I learned off of these books.

And yet I did not get all of my education from them. I should not say so! Having escaped school is no sign a person can also escape Life and if I was a mere business millionaire writing this autobiography, I would add neither did I escape the college of Hard Knocks. For it was in that classic university, from which so many of our leading autobiographists have graduated, that I learned what has made me, in all seriousness, a humorist.

Well, anyways, when I had reached the, as I then believed, mature age of sixteen, things were not so good with us. It was about that date that I become acquainted with my old friend PI. Remit. My father got himself lost in South America on a expedition, and while he was struggling among the orchid forests and clinging tortilla brambles along the banks of the Chiliconcarne River, or some such place, I went and grabbed me off a job with a 1st class millinery shop on 5th Avenue, N. Y. C. In this way I owe the 2 biggest things in my life to my dad: the desire and the habit of writing and of going to work, for I used to vainly keep on writing to him, and his getting lost got me to work.

Well, this day that I got the job at the milliner’s was the first real, honest-to-Gawd work I had ever done in my whole entire life. And it is a red-letter-tag-day to me because of two things. One, because up to then I hadn’t even a hunch about what a lot of fun it is to make your own dough, even if somebody else bakes and eats it for you. Two, that this day marked the beginning of a business career for me by which I mean not only the millinery business, but the business of writing, and anybody who writes and yet says it is not a business, why I will bet you they talk more words than they ever put on paper and are members of this Intelligencia Club you hear so much about lately or some other tough gang.

Now there may not seem much of any connection going to work in a milliner’s shop and becoming a writer. For the sake of them that has to read the MSS. which gets returned I sincerely hope milliners as a whole will not take what I say in that sense. But in my case the connection was this: Millinery give me the habit of work — a habit I have not as yet recovered from.

When I got me this millinery job, which was trimming, I had put on a dress of my mother’s because of not owning a long one of my own, and a long one was proof of maturity in those days, which it ain’t now but mostly the contrary. Well, I had on Ma’s dress, a hat I had made myself at $1.85, war tax included, and in my near-alligator purse was two dollars and fifteen cents in real money, which capital rep. our all, “our” consisting of Ma and me and my kid sister.

I had cooked the last breakfast the corner grocer would trust us with at six that morning, sent my sister off to school, left a cold lunch for Ma on account she was sick in bed, and I had got to work by eight prompt. Just ten and one-half years later to the day and hour, I was leaving New York, N. Y., for Los Angeles, Calif., having signed a contract with the Triangle Fillum Corporation at $50,000 a year as production manager for the fillum versions of my own stories.

And what still strikes me as most curious about all this is that it actually happened and that it happened to <i>me!</i>

Of course the vacuum between these two high-lights can’t be covered by any time-lapse sub-title very well, because I didn’t show any hats to any lady friend of any movie-King when he was along and saw me in the store, or anything like that. I should not say so! Because to begin with that stuff is all the bunk, and it is my observation that girls rise in the world that way only in cheap fiction, for although you might not think it, the picture-producers are looking for talent in the pictures the same as in any other business. It is only little old friend dull, hard-working ability gets a person by in the movies. Anyways, I did not jump from picture hats to picture plays. Nobody does. Not if they last, they don’t.

I left the millinery business, after having climbed from ten to twenty-five a week, in order to get married, the same as any other girl, only samer if anything. I was to know the sorrows of trousseau-making, the scathing comments on wedding presents received, the awful suspense about would Uncle William send money or some horrid present, the wrist-breaking effort of addressing envelopes and all the other W. K. pleasures of getting married. Well, I thought, I am going to get a good rest after, anyways, with nothing more to trouble me than what will we have for dinner for the rest of my life.

And I thought right. Six weeks after the ceremony, what will we have for dinner commenced to worry me something terrible. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up in the morning and the thing I asked friend husband immediately after breakfast. What will we have for dinner, and a whole army of other domestic details, which it’s Gawd’s truth I had longed for then while working in a shop and had thought I would never be able to get enough of them in my own home, began to get my cork. I couldn’t stand them prettilly, and it’s a wonder anybody was able to stand me while I was standing them, I must of been so restless and disagreeable.

The trouble was I had been economically independent, and it’s a bad habit to get into young if you ever want to get over it, because a person can’t. Economic independence is incurable. But my husband, who happened to be not alone my husband but a well-known publisher, had read one or two stories that I, while but a milliner, had published on the side as you might call it, and he had sense enough to say go ahead kid and see what you can do, writing.

Also, he had even more sense when it come to publishing what I at once commenced writing, because he refused to. Point blank. And a mighty healthy thing it was for me, I’ll say, because it forced me to make good with strangers, with the net profs. that by the following Xmas I was buying him neckties and cigars that he was entirely helpless against because they had come out of my own money.

Then I arrove at the period which any mere woman that has the desire to be not alone a woman, but also professional, is at some time up against. In other words a time when I was all the while tore between the inherited idea that I had ought to be washing windows and the positive knowledge that I was earning dollars. Not as yet dollars enough to pay for regular hired help to wash the windows, but only enough to wash the clothes.

As for friend husband doing any hiring, you know how it is with the publishing business. As a junior member of the firm, he couldn’t afford it either, the first few years. And so I had for inspiration then the need of a hired girl, and it was the noble inspiration of this period that give me my next hoist in life by making it necessary for me to double my output.

Now I got a theory on life, and the theory is that anything a person really wants, they will get it. Failure is nothing in the world but not wanting hard enough to try hard enough, and not trying hard enough to try intelligently enough. Which is a hot line if you can get it.

All my life I have wanted things like — well, like hell is what I would say if I was a man. I have known just what it was I wanted, and believe you me, that is 1/2 the battle. And having got a good clear idea of what it was I wanted so bad, I have always gone right after it. I do not say by fair or foul means, because foul means is just as unsatisfactory as what I have already said about morals and movie-magnates. A pretty good way to find out if you really want a thing is to look at it calmly and honestly from every side. I got a conviction that if it seems a decent thing to want after a close inspection like that, you will almost at once recognize a way to attain it, provided you want it enough to go to all that trouble, and ect. as per see above.

Well, anyways, I have always wanted things. First, a living for a dependent family. I wanted that without any thinking it over, too. Our grocer, he seen to that. But I didn’t know how I was to get it until he really wanted it. Then I quickly realized that I had a Gawd-loaned talent for making hats of the female sex. Later, I wanted some occupation and commenced to write. Then I wanted a hired girl and wrote harder. Next I went kookoo over a folding davenpurport-bed for our parlor, and wrote harder. Then I had to have a fur coat or bust, and fiction flowed freely. Since then I have mostly run to Liberty bonds, first water diamonds, automobiles and country houses, and in order to get them, why I have naturally been obliged to add motion-pictures to my repertoire. The more I wrote the more I could have.

But listen at this one peculiar thing about it. I have never once took on a job that wasn’t quite sweet that it didn’t promptly go sour on me as soon as I started it. I never wanted something that in my heart I knew was not right for me to want, that I didn’t fail to get it. That’s straight.

Here is another thing, besides. I never commenced going over really big until it was up to me to make good every time I delivered. And this was not until my husband died and left me with a small son, which I may say in passing, that I consider he is the best thing which I have ever published.

Well, there I was, a widow with a child and no visible means of support except when I looked into the mirror. Of course before then I had been earning good money, but only when I wanted something, or felt like it. Now I had to want to feel like it 365 days a year, and I’ll tell the world that it was some jolt!

For a while I didn’t know how would I face it. And then I come to find out how and I will pass the how of it along at risk of being laughed off the platform. That is how strong I feel convinced of the value of my dope, and it is a simple formula and any adult can use it whether they are in writing for a living, or in any less regular business such as plumbing or real estate or something. I don’t believe there is anybody but comes up against situations that looks even more impossible to them than I as a widow with a child to support, looked to myself. And my receipt is a cure-all for business difficulties, believe you me it is, and it is the only cure-all in the world.

Now I have headed this piece “Why I have got so far so good,” and I am now getting around to the why part of it. It is a awful hard thing to start talking about because it is one of the two subjects which has long been tabooed by polite and impolite society both, and the other subject is politics.

Now, don’t back off! Because you are supposed to read this part of my story on account of it being run into the advertising pages for that purpose. It’s your duty to stick by me, and, anyways, if you don’t like what I have to say a paragraph further on, why keep up your courage and remember you can at any instant switch to the marginal ad with half a movement of the eye!

Religion. That’s it, and I must admit I ain’t one bit ashamed of it. Not that I belong to any church, although I don’t really object to churches. Just the same, religion is what has brought me to where I am. And the religion I have in mind is allowing yourself to freely use the great Intelligence which any dumbell has got to admit is the big force moving the world.

This great, original discovery of mine come to me one day when I was wandering around in the park like I was a lost soul or looking for my pocketbook or something, and in a way I was both. It come to me all of a sudden, although I had give the idea lip-service for a long time without the true meaning ever actually perculating to me. You know, it was much the way a person will write in a copy book when a child “A Stitch in Time saves nine” over and over and the Truth of it never penetrates until many years later when you wilfully overlook that tiny hole in the heel of your stocking and go out with it that way, and on the street other people commence looking and finally you look, and it has become as big as a orange and is giving your heel the air.

Well, I learned my religion almost as sudden and to just exactly as practical a end. I was walking in the park, like I said, worrying over my bank account, when all of a sudden I got this idea.

“What would I do, and how would I feel, if I had a bank account that, no matter how much I drew out of it, there was automatically deposited twict as much as I had drew?”

Answer it yourself. And what I mean to say is that it just then come over me that I had a spiritual something in me which would grow the more I drew on it, and would shrink away if I didn’t draw on it — for strength, courage and intelligence. Them three words covers most any ground pretty thorough. And I commenced to draw at once, with good results.

Now that’s a pretty intimate thing to tell, and I am not going to drool on about it any further, except to say that from then on, every piece of work that I have ever put over has been the result of a draft on my account with the Bank of Infinity. This is no free ad for any cult, either, because I don’t belong to any of them. But it is good horse sense to say that anyone can deliberately harness and use this Force right in their daily life, and doing so, without any cheap hokum or sentimental self-deceit, is the only receipt I got for how to make a success.

It is what done the trick for me. I at once commenced to sell for big money. I got happiness out of my responsibilities. I even got me a new husband, a A. I. edition that pulls a lot of my most spontaneous lines, and quick as he says them I run in the other room and write them down before I forget them. He’s a big help to me. And so is the cook and the trained nurse and my secretary and my garden and all the other miracles that has come into my life. And honest-to-goodness, it is my belief that my belief has brought them all to me.

But of course I haven’t laid off working any, though!

* * *

Additional:

Wikipedia: Nina Wilcox Putnam
The Amazing, Astounding, Amusing and Surprisingly Unknown Origin of The United States of America 1040 INCOME TAX FORM!

Original page images (final two are partial pages):

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