Nov. 11, 1998

The Drum

by John of Amwell Scott


Today's Reading: "The Drum," by John Scott of Amwell (1730-1783).

It's VETERAN'S DAY, commemorating the 1918 armistice that ended World War I. America had joined the war in 1917, and by the end of the war 116,000 U.S. servicemen had lost their lives; German and Russian war dead numbered slightly less than two million each, and the French about a million.

It's KURT VONNEGUT's birthday, born in Indianapolis, 1922. During W.W.II he served in the Air Force and was captured by the Germans. As a prisoner he was forced to clean up cities hit by Allied bombers. He was one of the first to enter Dresden after the famous 1945 fire-bombing, an experience he was later to tell through his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969).

On this day in 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over the burial at Arlington Cemetery of an unidentified American soldier from World War I, who became known as the UNKNOWN SOLDIER.

It's the birthday in Moscow, 1821, of novelist FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY. He was sentenced to death for his political activities, but that was commuted to imprisonment and hard labor in Siberia. During those years the only reading Dostoevsky was allowed was the New Testament. When he got out, he settled in St. Petersburg, founded a literary magazine with his brother, and began writing his major novels: Notes from the Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov.

It's the birthday of ABIGAIL ADAMS, born in 1744 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, the wife of the nation's 2nd president who is noted for writing hundreds of many fine letters. At the height of the Revolutionary War in 1780, she wrote to her son: "It is not in the still calm of life that great characters are formed. Wisdom and penetration are the fruit of experience, not the lessons of retirement. Great necessities call out great virtues."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook

The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »