Alfred L. Sewell, editor of The Little Corporal, gives advice to would-be writers in “To All Who Are Interested.” Some is dated (“Write in a plain, distinct hand, which can be easily read.”), but the rest is still good advice for those writing for children or for adults.


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“To All Who Are Interested” (from The Little Corporal, May 1867; pp. 75-76)

Some months ago, we proposed to give one thousand dollars in prizes to writers, with the request that all who desired to contend for them should address the editor, and receive a statement of the kinds of articles desired, and how the money would be distributed.

After a careful examination of letters received, and of the whole subject, we have determined that the only way in which we can venture to distribute this thousand dollars in a manner to warrant satisfaction, is to add that much to the sum we had calculated to pay for contributions during the year, and let it be shared by every writer whose articles appear in the pages of THE LITTLE CORPORAL; each article according to our estimate of its merit. This, then, is the way in which the thousand dollars will be distributed; and as many wish particularly to know what kind of articles we desire, we will try to tell as plainly as we can.

First—As many ask for subjects, let us say, select whatever subject you can handle best. Write on no subject that you cannot handle well. Besides this, THE LITTLE CORPORAL has a motto on his title page, not for ornament, but as a notice to all who write for his pages, that every article must correspond in some way to

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p. 76

that motto. So long as you remember this, you cannot choose any subject amiss. Write story, verse, riddle, fact, or sentiment, anything that will contribute to the “Fight against wrong, and for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.”

Second—Write in a plain, distinct hand, which can be easily read. We found, lately, in a newspaper, a sentence credited to Niebuhr, which read thus: “A bad handwriting ought never to be forgiven—it is shameful indolence; indeed, sending a badly written letter to a fellow creature is as impudent an act as I know of.” Now that is a sentence to be remembered, and we are glad it is recorded. But if a badly written letter is shameful, how much more inexcusable is a badly written manuscript, sent to try an editor’s eyes, who has to read so many! Not only is it bad for the editor, but it is worse for the writer, for many a manuscript, the matter of which may be excellent, is tossed into the waste basket, simply because it is so wretchedly written that it could not possibly pay to decipher it.

Third—The subject chosen, and a plain penmanship decided on, let us say something about manner. In the first place mean something and say it. Don’t bury your thought under a mountain of words, (no matter how fine and high sounding they may be.) You only spoil it and lose it. Better out with it, in the fewest and simplest words you are capable of. Clothe it in beautiful words if you can, but let them be few and short and simple, for they are the most beautiful always.

The best article means, in THE CORPORAL’s mind, that one which unites the greatest simplicity and naturalness and adaptation to the minds of intelligent children, with the greatest amount of life, vigor, independence, beauty of expression, purity and elevation of sentiment. The best is that which, whether its aim be to refine, instruct, or amuse—whether it be to inspire lofty patriotism or to instil a hatred of wrong, or if it be merely to narrate some pleasant incident, shall have some certain aim, and go about the accomplishment of its purpose as though, for the time being, that was the sole object of the writer’s life; always remembering THE CORPORAL’s motto, and giving nothing inconsistent with it. The world is full of passing pictures. Let us seize upon the most beautiful, the grandest, the funniest, too, of these, and give them to the children in such a way as that by reading them they will become wiser, better, more perfectly developed boys and girls, more earnest, enterprising, healthy men and women.

We can afford to dispense with the New York Ledger and dime novel styles. This is a living age, and the children must be fed with pure and healthy food. They need true poetry to refine and elevate; and let us remember that all the poetry published is not set to rhyme and meter. Lessons in virtue, gentleness, truth, genuine childhood, manhood, and womanhood, and right living, may be taught in pleasant stories that will do much towards forming healthy character. The ingenuity may be cultivated by Private Queer, while we strive to banish all unhealthy literature from the earth by furnishing in all departments food so palatable that, while it is a thousand times better it will be really more attractive. Thus will we confer on the children of our land a positive good.

Let us say, for the encouragement of young writers, that they must not fear to write because of inexperience in writing for the press. Of course experienced writers are most liable to please, but as far as THE CORPORAL’s knowledge extend, some new beginners have succeeded better than nine-tenths of those whose names have been in the magazines for years. If you have something to write, and can write it well, send it to THE CORPORAL, for he accepts an article, not because it is accompanied by a distinguished name but because the article is deemed of worth. Remember one thing, however: don’t send anything for publication until you have given it all the care in preparation and all the searching criticism and revision necessary to make it the very best you can do. When a writer says “I have written this article hastily, and will try to do better another time,” we always give it to the waste basket at once.

Whether you are an old writer or a new beginner, we want the best gold there is in your heart, and will be satisfied with nothing less; and then we want to pay you as high a price as the article would bring anywhere. We would sooner publish, at the same price, a good poem from an unknown author, than a poor one from Longfellow or Tennyson, (for even they have both written stupid ones.) It has been THE CORPORAL’s duty to reject poems from illustrious pens, (whose names would astonish you if they were not locked-up, confidential, office secrets,) and we have seen many others published in some of the first periodicals of the day, with almost regal names beneath them, which would have been rejected unhesitatingly from THE CORPORAL’s table, because they were not best efforts, but merely stuff, unworthy of the pens which wrote them.

One important thing we wish remembered. It is all contained in one word: CONDENSE! We hinted at this in our thirdly, but it is worth a few words more. A valued friend wrote us lately thus:

“I feel so proud of The Little Corporal, that I want everybody to see it. Your lady writers are unsurpassed, and, I might almost say, unapproachable.

“Now let me say, also, The Corporal is large enough. The other magazines are all too large, and the stories are too long. The Corporal is like a jar of canned peaches; you can know how good they are as soon as you give them a glance. You have less room than some of the magazines, which really give less meat, and still you have room for advertisements, and don’t fret over it either. You understand how to condense. That ’s why I like it.”

Tha man appreciates, without being told of it, what THE CORPORAL has all along aimed at. CONDENSE—everybody, condense! Don’t mar the beauty of your article, but leave out all useless lumber. Few people realize how much they can shrink anything in bulk, and retain all the sweetness. We would rather pay five, or ten, or twenty dollars a column, for what is worth that much, than the same per page for what is worth only that. And this brings us to our lastly:

Some ask, “How much do you pay?” THE LITTLE CORPORAL will be likely to pay as much as any of the first-class magazines, and probably more, if your name is not very widely known; for, as before hinted, we pay the worth of the article, regardless of the name.

Now let all who have a desire to write, consider what we have said, and then send the best things they can master to THE LITTLE CORPORAL, for good matter is always in demand.

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
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