THERE ARE PLENTY OF fun meditations on the business of putting words on a page. ‘Writing is easy,’ said Douglas Adams. ‘You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds.’ Which was itself a riff on Ernest Hemingway. Oscar Wilde had his famous comma, which he spent all morning taking out, then following a period of careful reflection, spent the afternoon putting back in. Nikolai Gogol used to hit up his mate Alexander Pushkin for ideas before he got rolling. Virginia Woolf, for her part, compared it with sex: ‘First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.’ But for mine, one of the most sensible tips was from Kurt Vonnegut: ‘Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.’
One of humanity’s oldest and most incontrovertible laws is that there’s no pleasing everyone. Should anyone ever need reminding, the comments sections under online stories are doing a sterling job. So I listened to Vonnegut.
For me, that one person was Mark Colvin—journalist, broad- caster, writer, Twitter fiend, outstanding human being and, in a twist of fate I still pinch myself over, dear friend. I never told him he was my target audience, though I suspect he figured it out, judging by the regularity with which I brought words to him for blessing.
Sometimes he issued a…
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