Harry Whittington on Words and Writing

For The Mystery Writer’s Handbook edited by Herbert Brean (Harper and Brothers, 1956), Harry Whittington – the “King of the Paperbacks” himself – submitted a short piece entitled “Why I Write.” It was during his peak time of productivity (no less than eight novels of his were published that same year, according to David Laurence Wilson’s extensive bibliography in the new Stark House trio of To Find Cora / Like Mink, Like Murder / Body and Passion). “I love good stories whether they were written by Maxim Gorky or Max Brand,” Whittington writes – and indeed, the rest of his advice is as down-to-earth and unpretentious as that statement. Here are a few of the many things he has to offer: 

“I have the desire to write. I’ve never looked at writing as an easy job, or an escape. It was what I wanted to do. Sixteen years I worked eight hours a day at another job. I always found time to write. When I was reporting to work at 5 in the morning, sometimes I was writing until 1 A.M.” 

"By full time, I mean I now spend the eight hours i once spent on another job, plus my hobby hours, on writing. You can get an awful lot of writing done if you actually sit in front of your typewriter a full day, every day." 

“If you’re putting off writing until you have more time, or better conditions, you might as well make up your mind you’ll talk about writing forever and never write. I wrote with my daughter practicing her ‘tap dancing’ where I could ‘watch’ her, my son shooting his cap pistol or running his cars around my chair, and my wife remembering a hundred things she’d forgotten to tell me.” 

“Writing isn’t an easy business (even when you love it as I do). The more you’re conditioned to take disappointments, distractions and bad breaks, the more likely you are to get where you want to go.” 

“Get a meaty plot, give it movement, color and above all action – make it matter deep inside you."


  1. Good advice. particularly the part about how you can get a lot done when you actually spend time writing. Sounds like he really did love it.

  2. I'm enjoying your posts in this series. Keep them coming.

  3. more fodder for your book on Gold Medal and it's writers.


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