Education of a Wandering Man - by Louis L'Amour

A great book begins with an idea; a great life, with a determination.

One thing has always been true: That book or that person who can give me an idea or a new slant on an old idea is my friend.

If I were asked what education should give, I would say it should offer breadth of view, ease of understanding, tolerance for others, and a background from which the mind can explore in any direction. Education should provide the tools for a widening and deepening of life, for increased appreciation of all one sees or experiences. It should equip a person to live life well, to understand what is happening about him, for to live life well one must live with awareness.

Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more.

Over the years the terms applied to wanderers have been confused until all meaning has been lost. To begin with, a bum was a local man who did not want to work. A tramp was a wanderer of the same kind, but a hobo was a wandering worker and essential to the nation's economy.

It is often said that one has but one life to live, but that is nonsense. For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.

They are out there by the thousands, wonderful stories. Many have never gotten into the histories, although occasionally told by local newspapers or in privately printed booklets. Stories of wagon-train massacres, buried treasures, gun battles, cattle roundups, border bandit raids--no matter where you go, east, west, north, and south, there are stories. People are forever asking me where I get my ideas, but one has only to listen, to look, and to live with awareness. As I have said in several of my stories, all men look, but so few can see. It is all there, waiting for any passerby.

Much is not dared because it seems hard; much seems hard only because it is not dared. -- PRINCE WENZEL ANTON VON KAUNITZ, Austrian statesman

Loneliness is of many kinds, and the mere presence and companionship of people does not suffice. The people I had been meeting were friendly, pleasant, and the salt of the earth, but they did not speak my language. I enjoyed them, but something in me reached out for more.

One is not, by decision, just a writer. One becomes a writer by writing, by shaping thoughts into the proper or improper words, depending on the subject, and by doing it constantly.

We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different.

I studied purely for the love of learning, wanting to know and understand. For a writer, of course, everything is grist for the mill, and a writer cannot know too much. Sooner or later everything he does know will find its uses. A writer's brain is like a magician's hat. If you're going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in first. I have studied a thousand things I never expected to use in a story, yet every once in a while these things will find a place.

I think the greatest gift anyone can give to another is the desire to know, to understand. Life is not for simply watching spectator sports, or for taking part in them; it is not for simply living from one working day to the next. Life is for delving, discovering, learning.

I believe adventure is nothing but a romantic name for trouble. What people speak of as adventure is something nobody in his right mind would seek out, and it becomes romantic only when one is safely at home.

Only one who has learned much can fully appreciate his ignorance. He knows so well the limits of his knowledge and how much lies waiting to be learned.

One thing I have discovered about research: Let people know what you are looking for. Often the best information will come from the least likely sources.

Someone has said that culture is what remains with you after you have forgotten all you have read, and I believe there is much truth in that.

I often say that a writer owes a debt of authenticity to his readers. Because of his profession he may go to the fountains of knowledge and drink as deeply as he wishes. This is not given to all people who are concerned with making a living and providing services, and writers are the go-betweens. Readers wish to believe the printed word, God help them, and I believe when we deal with history or anything factual, it should be with care. We may be the only source they have for such information. Once the real-life situation is established, we can take off in any direction we wish. If a story is to be fantasy--and I love it--that should be obvious from word one.

It is not enough to have learned, for living is sharing and I must offer what I have for whatever it is worth.

It is never easy to be hungry, never easy to be alone, never easy to believe in oneself when nobody else does. The rough times were made smoother by the realization that it was all grist for the mill, and that someday I would be writing, with knowledge, of what I was experiencing then. I had that advantage over many others who traveled the same road.

Those who have never ventured away from the security of their cities, their diplomatic corps, or their business relationships must understand that there is a half-world out there, a place that lies beyond the pale of the law or fringing it: a world of people who move about, cross borders, lose themselves in crowds; a half-world that knows where illegal papers can be obtained, visas, licenses, whatever is necessary. One comes to it easily if one mingles with that sort of people, those who live on the fringe. There are ways to pass borders, to avoid checkpoints, and to exist away from the eyes of officials. I am sure it is not as easy as it once was, but I am equally sure it goes on still.

Our world is made up of a myriad of microcosms, of tiny worlds, each with its own habitués, every one known to the others. A neighborhood bar or café can be a comforting place to go, to talk with friends or acquaintances, people unknown just a few blocks away. Often, driving down a street, I notice such places and am tempted to drop in, listen, and enter briefly another small world people have created for themselves.

A writer is bound by no earthly ties; what he is and what he sees he creates in his mind, or his subconscious creates it for him. Thanks to the lands I have seen and the books I have read, I know what it was like. The world of which I write is my world always. It is a claim I have staked and continue to stake, and each writer has his own way of telling a story.

This is an age of communication. At one time or another, nearly everyone will have to stand up and sell his bill of goods, whatever it may be. All young men and women owe it to themselves to be able to write a letter on not more than one page, to set forth an idea or possible plan. That same young person should, in a few brief spoken words, be able to deliver that idea orally. No need for details, for if the idea is expressed well, there will be questions, and the details can come later.

A thing to remember is that the audience wants you to be good. No matter whether they know you or not, they do not want to be bored, so whether you realize it or not, they are pulling for you.

Associate with the noblest people you can find; read the best books; live with the mighty. But learn to be happy alone. Rely upon your own energies, and so not wait for, or depend on other people. -- PROFESSOR THOMAS DAVIDSON

We all are possessed of knowledge we do not realize we have. This is the accumulation over the years of our subconscious recognitions and appreciations. The information lies there awaiting use, not understood, because we make no demands upon it--although every once in a while a bright idea appears or some unexpected solution to a problem becomes evident. We must formulate a process for using the subconscious on demand, a simple matter of conditioning. We must learn to pose our problems, supply materials, and let it happen. A writer, or for that matter any artist, is continually making demands upon the subconscious and producing results. The process is there for anyone; it only demands that we make the effort, and by study arrive at the best methods for doing so.

Often I am sad that our interests have turned away from the short story, for so many beautiful and great stories have been written and are now on the back shelf of the world's literature. The writing of a really fine short story is like the carving of a gem.