Who Do You Write For?

I don’t know if the name of writer Og Mandino is widely known today.

But in the late 1970s, early 1980s, you couldn’t help tripping over his little mass-market paperbacks at stores. They all shared the same design motif, evident in this cover of his first book:

Several years ago I was looking him up for a reason I don’t now remember. One of the things I came across was a story about how one of his books was written and how his wife prevented his writing excesses.

From time to time I’ve brought up that story to other people — writer people — but it was driving me slowly mad that I couldn’t find the source on the Net.

Today I found it. And I kept missing it because it was in audio — and I’d been looking for text all that time.

Here’s the story from his wife Bette, transcribed by me for future linking:

Bette: Now I’ll admit, Scroll Two [the book revolves around Ten Scrolls of wisdom] was an issue […] And I would type his books before they went off to the printers. I would put them in what he called “pretty form.” I read as I type. And I’m typing and I get up to Scroll Two and I’m trying to type Scroll Two — and I can’t. I cannot get it to flow. It’s horrible. I took it downstairs and I handed it to him and I said, “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about — and I bet there are a lot of people out there that don’t. Rewite it.” And he was just devastated. […]

Interviewer: Scroll Two is a victim of his prodigious vocabulary.

Bette: Yeah. […] He had a great, extensive, wonderful vocabulary. And he would use these twenty-four letter words. […] I enjoy reading but I don’t have great comprehensive reading skills. And if I have to read a book and have a dictionary at my elbow to figure out what the author’s talking about, you know I’m only going to get through two chapters and then it’s going — whoop! — over the shoulder and out the door. And I thought other people felt the same way that I did. So I said to him, “You have to put these books in language that I can understand. Because I’m sure there are a lot of people out there like me.” — and if they need help, they need it now. They don’t want to have to take a class in vocabulary or read the dictionary or get out the encyclopedia and look up this, that, and something else, or go to the library for a reference book. They want — and need — some instant gratification.

Interviewer: We’re talking about a very little-known fact: That you were the editor for us, the common folk, so that we could read this and understand the first reading. Not just this book.

Bette: After this book, he wrote to me. He wrote at my level. And I always felt kind of like the Village Idiot because I had so much trouble understanding these things that I read but I’m not ashamed of it because I think this weakness in me produced a strength in his writing. And it definitely gave him a strength because he accepted it; did not belittle me for it, but accepted it for a fact of life. This is a person who had been reading since he was four years old, his mother taught him to read before he went to school, he was in first grade — he memorized and repeated the Declaration of Independence for the class. […] There’s always been this great mind in this man and because of his love for reading he had this very extensive vocabulary.

Some people mistake simplicity for stupidity.

Simple is the hardest thing to do and takes the most brain power to achieve.



Filed under Reference, Writer, Writing

2 responses to “Who Do You Write For?

  1. RickK

    ALL of Mandino’s books were great inspirational books and easy to read. “The Christ Commission” blew me away.

  2. Rich Finck

    No trurer words were spoken in your last sentence. Years ago “Readers Digest” had an article on the ability of the US population to understand what they read. It stated, for the masses to comprehend, it should be written at the eigth grade level. I have also read that the IRS reduced the grade level to which some of their instructions were written. Don’t make things more complicated than absolutely necessary. Use KISS principle liberally.

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