In this post, Writers Write shares bits of writing advice from Mickey Spillane.
About Mickey Spillane
Mickey Spillane (9 March 1918 to 17 July 2006) was an American detective fiction writer.
Spillane, born Frank Morrison, became known for his detective fiction, comic books, and pulp fiction writing. His most famous character Mike Hammer was created for I, Jury in 1947.
As an actor, he portrayed his own detective Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and The Girl Hunters (1963).
- Never Say Anything Bad
‘I never say anything bad about a writer. Some are better than others, that’s all. And some make more money.’ – Strand Magazine Interview
Spillane and Hemingway had years of disagreement: Spillane famously reported that he’s outsold the great American writer, to this writers’ dismay. Spillane would still insist that he doesn’t go out of his way to speak ill of other writers.
Writers have to share the same tables and publications. Today’s writers become tomorrow’s editors. In this business, don’t burn bridges f you want to keep writing.
- All You Need is a Typewriter
‘All they need is a typewriter. If I’m going to go someplace for a while, I always take a typewriter with me.’ – Strand Magazine Interview
Always take a typewriter or notebook when you travel.
Most other things around a writing desk are there for show. Everything from the fancy keyboard to the jar of sweets some writers keep to the left… That’s not your writing material, and it’s never ‘necessary’ for good writing.
A writer alone with their pen or typewriter is where magic really happens.
Forget about flashy conveniences, or creature comforts. First, let’s make sure you can write things down.
- Writing Pays Bills
‘Now I’m not an author, I’m a writer, that’s all I am. Authors want their names down in history; I want to keep the smoke coming out of the chimney.’ – Crimetime Interview
Spillane distinguished between highbrow ‘authors’, and regular ‘writers’. He considered himself to be a writer.
He didn’t try to focus on being special or literary: he said what he needed to say, sold it to his clients, and moved on to the next idea. Ideas aren’t babies or children, they’re commercial products.
If you want to ‘keep the smoke coming out of the chimney’, as he says, remember that writing boils down to what you can sell.
- Answer Fast
‘…and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘What a horrible commentary on the reading habits on Americans to think that you have seven of the top ten bestsellers of all time,’ and I looked at him at I said, ‘You’re lucky I don’t write three more books.’’ – Crimetime Interview
Writers, including Spillane, always have to be fast with responses and retorts. Can you think on your feet, no matter what someone has just said to you? It’s an important skill, and it matters when you are face-to-face with critics.
Radio interviews and quick conversations with editors both require fast answers.
Writers can practice this skill, by going into the deep-end. Speak to more people, do things outside your comfort zone: interact. Learn more about people, and yourself.
- Don’t Hold Grudges
‘Hemingway hated me. I outsell him and he was steamed. One day he wrote a story for Bluebook berating me. So I’m going on a big TV show in Chicago and I don’t get it, that’s sour grapes…’ – Crimetime Interview
Spillane wasn’t being sarcastic by saying: ‘Hemingway who?’
He wanted to avoid conflict by making light of the situation. Spillane could have given an inflammatory response, and made it worse. He might even have sold more books by doing so, but he was smarter.
Don’t hold grudges in this business.
- Be Continually Writing
‘I was continually writing. It was a business. I don’t know the titles of the magazines I wrote for.’ – Alter Ego Interview (Volume 3, Issue 11)
When asked about his younger days as a staff writer, Spillane admitted that he wrote enough to forget where it sold. That’s when writing takes off: it’s reassuring in one way, but it can also be a scary and busy period in a writers’ life.
You’re getting paid, you’re getting sold, but expect the pressure to be immense. You will be tired and frustrated, and your personal life could suffer for it.
What should writers learn from this?
Be continuously writing: breathe, live, and eat around your writing. If you keep doing this, it pays off – eventually.
The Last Word
This post explored bits of writing advice from Mickey Spillane. We hope that you take a moment to explore some of our other great posts on Writers Write.
Source for image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mickey_Spillane_Columbo_1974.JPG
By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.
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