Oscar Wilde’s Newfound Advice for Writers: Keep the Day Job

Ever dreamed of making a living -- a real living -- off the written word? Don't quit your day job, to sum up poet and playwright Oscar Wilde's advice in a newly discovered letter addressed to an aspiring wordsmith.

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Ever dreamed of making a living — a real living — off the written word? In the words of immortal poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, don’t quit your day job.

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“The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer,” wrote Wilde in a recently discovered 13-page letter to an aspiring young writer.

The letter, according toThe Telegraph, was found along with the first draft of his sonnet “The New Remorse” — written for his lover Lord Alfred Douglas — in a box stashed at the back of a wardrobe in Oxfordshire, U.K. It’s not clear when Wilde penned the undated letter, but the first draft of the sonnet was written just after Wilde and Douglas met in 1891 — around the time Wilde was becoming well-respected in London as a playwright.

“Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you,” Wilde continued in the letter, soon be auctioned alongside the first draft of the sonnet. The letter itself could fetch up to £12,000 (about US$18,000).

“The letter is hitherto unknown and is entirely fascinating,” said Mike Heseltine, an auctioneer with Bloomsbury of London:

“It is hard to say whether Wilde knew the aspiring writer but he went on for 13 pages and was quite honest and direct in his words of advice. The gist of it is telling the recipient, a Mr. Morgan, to write by all means but to make sure he has some other job to rely on for money.”

Artists over the centuries have had plenty to say on the prospects of earning a living wage for your art: as the humorist Robert Benchley wrote, “The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.” You might argue the inscription on Dante’s gate to hell, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” works, too.

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