“When I finished The Caine Mutiny, I wrote in my work journal … ‘Unless I’m mistaken, this is a good book. But it’s not yet the war novel I mean to write.’ ” Herman Wouk
What an endearing comment — humble and ambitious at the same time! When Linda, my dear friend and wonderful writer, sent me an online NPR story about Herman Wouk, I was intrigued. What a long, storied career, what a wordsmith! A Pulitzer Prize-winner, over his long life, he penned the wildly successful novel, The Caine Mutiny, and then went on to chronicle World War II in hugely popular novels, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. At 103, he was working on a new book – amazing! A few highlights.
He started small: Herman began honing his craft by spending five years writing jokes and skits for a radio show and penning his first novel in his off hours while serving in the navy.
He was always learning and growing: His books tackled big themes and spanned a wide range of subjects, from the publishing industry and show business to the founding of Israel. As Jonathan Karp of Simon & Shuster notes, “He really did not want to write the same novel twice. The writers he admired were the greats — they were the Victorian novelists, they were writers like [Thomas] Hardy.”
He was beloved by readers, but not by critics: While his books appealed to millions of readers, he wasn’t a darling of the critics, who didn’t find him to be a literary stylist. But he never let that stop him – decade after decade, he kept on writing and winning new readers. As Karp obseves, “I think he aimed high and had large ambitions for reaching a lot of readers — and he entertained millions of them.”
- Starting small can lead to big themes and big projects as long as we keep writing.
- Finding themes that energize us can be the key to sustaining our enthusiasm.
- Entertaining and enlivening writing that’s accessible is a gift to readers.
- Handling rejection and criticism are all part of the territory – just keep going.
Bravo, Herman! At 103, he was still creating. Inspired and uplifted, let’s all write on!
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