Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835 to 1910 known by pen name Mark Twain American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer From photograph taken in his old age (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

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Mark Twain Letter up for Auction Reveals Key to Great Writing

The American author believed that it took life experience and tragedy to make a masterpiece.

A letter of advice Mark Twain sent to an aspiring writer will soon go up for auction, and it’s not exactly optimistic about the ability of young novelists, according to a story in Atlas Obscura. In his correspondence with the 21-year-old Bruce Weston Munro, of Canada, Twain expresses the belief that people generally don’t have the necessary life experience to produce great writing until middle age.

Twain wrote the five-page letter in  1881, a period between the publications of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He Told Munro, “I do not see how any but a colossal genius can write a readable prose book before he is 30 years old.” Twain continued, “Experience of life (not of books) is the only capital usable in such a book as you have attempted.”

As for those young colossal geniuses, Twain mentions the Bronte sisters and credits the incredible tragedy of their youth to their early successes in novel-writing.

The letter will be auctioned off by Bonham’s. The most a Twain letter has ever fetched is $59,700, paid in 2002.

Read the full story at Atlas Obscura