Edmund Wilson, recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal for Literature, was one of the most prominent social and literary critics of the 20th century.
He realized, like most uber-productive people, that, while there were many behaviors needed to guarantee high output, there was one single behavior guaranteed to prevent all output:
Trying to please everyone.
He had a low tolerance for distraction and shunned undue public acclaim. To almost all inquiries, he would respond with the following list, putting a check mark next to what had been requested…
Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him without compensation to:
contribute to books or periodicals
do editorial work
judge literary contests
make after-dinner speeches
Under any circumstances to:
contribute to or take part in symposiums
take part in chain-poems or other collective compositions
contribute manuscripts for sales
donate copies of his books to libraries
autograph books for strangers
supply personal information about himself
supply photographs of himself
allow his name to be used on letter-heads
receive unknown persons who have no apparent business with him.
But Edmund was no hermit. He was sociable. His writing, honed at Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The New Republic, also played a large role in introducing F. Scott Fitzgerald (a friend who referred to Edmund as his “intellectual conscience”), Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner to the mainstream public.
Though he was thought stubborn and prone to odd whims, a perception no doubt encouraged by his auto-response, he had his good friends and got more done in years than most will get done in a lifetime.
Is it time for you to craft your own Wilson letter? How much more could you get done if you eliminated even one type of request?
Question of the day (QOD): What is the best wording you’ve ever received or written in a decline letter?
Posted on: October 7, 2009.
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