Locking Yourself Away to Focus On
Making Money as Quickly as Possible
A trove of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns recently surfaced, and they contained a host of surprises, as this article in The American Scholar notes. The piece is full of delicious details about the ups and downs of his financial life. But veteran writers may especially appreciate this passage about how even such a prominent writer and relative money-making machine as Fitzgerald occasionally had to focus on factory-like productivity of material that, to him at least, was more about commercial than artistic success.
By November, Fitzgerald was out of cash—including Scribner’s $3,939 advance for Gatsby. The wolf was at the door. For the next five weeks he went to a large bare room over the garage and worked 12 hours a day “to rise from abject poverty back into the middle class.” Between November 1923 and April 1924 he produced 11 short stories, earning $17,000. Some of the early stories have lasted—“May Day,” “The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”—but Fitzgerald viewed them as a waste of the time he wanted to spend on the novels. They were, however, an economic necessity. He wrote to Edmund Wilson, “I really worked hard as hell last winter—but it was all trash and it nearly broke my heart as well as my iron constitution.” He wrote that he was “far from satisfied with the whole affair.” A young man “can work at excessive speed with no ill effect but youth is unfortunately not a permanent condition of life.”
We'd love to hear your reactions about this passage or about the larger point, the eternal tension between making a living and making your art. You can also review earlier mentions of Gatsby's creator here.