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Lowney Handy & James Jones Writing Colony

After his return from the fighting in the Pacific islands during the Second World War, novelist James Jones met a married woman named Lowney Handy. Long story short, she became his writing teacher and lover. Before you raise your eyebrows, know that Lowney's husband, Harry, approved of the romantic liaison. With the blockbuster success of his novel, From Here to Eternity ("The Boldest book of Our Time!") James Jones and Lowney Handy founded the infamous Handy Colony for struggling writers in Marshall, Illinois.

Handy had a rather unique opinion about writers:

"There is no more than a hair's breadth between the artist and the criminal. The artist graduates out of the criminal class and looks into his heart and writes, or else he watches those around him with a cold clinical eye and writes about himself as he sees them."

Over its 20 years in operation, The Handy Colony attracted some 70-odd drifters, rebels and struggling writers. Handy forbade alcohol and rich food, and prescribed enemas for writer's block. Once a month she'd haul her troop of students across the Indiana border to a Terre Haute, brothel.

One particular technique Lowney taught was copying. Copying simply meant beginning each and every day by copying ten or twenty pages, verbatim, out of one author or another‘s book. Who the author was didn’t matter because at the end of the day the pages were unceremoniously tossed into the wastebasket.

Obviously this writing technique wasn’t plagiarism. Instead, the exercise was intended to burn the principles of grammar, syntax and metaphor into a beginning writer’s subconscious mind. Copying also breeds discipline. You write every day, ten or twenty pages. Period. No matter what. The lesson learned is obvious. Copy or don’t copy, but write every, single day and do so without fail. After writing a million or so words you might get to be pretty good at it.

A Final Word. . .

A 1970s vintage Writer’s Digest cartoon shows a baby playing on the living room carpet. The rug rat's mom and dad are seated behind him on the couch with a man between them. There are some very important papers spread out across the coffee table. The man in the suit tells the couple:

“And this clause here in the insurance policy, it protects you in your old age should your child decide to become a writer . . .”
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