“Safe Return Doubtful” — Shackleton’s Call for Submissions

Image: John Hyatt

This is the original advert with which Ernest Shackleton recruited men for his ill-fated Antarctic expedition. Besides being considered one of the finest examples of copywriting in the 20th century* the ad attracted a first rate crew who’s safe return from an icebound shipwreck became legend. 
Those were the days before liability laws and wrongful death suits. Shackleton wasn’t posting a disclaimer or release of liability but rather an invitation to the few who would sign on for the right reasons. 
It wouldn’t take much to rewrite this as a call to the writing trade: 


for absurdly competitive work with little compensation or recognition, constant rejection and disapointment, bitterness and failed relationships likely, indifference of peers certain, immense personal satisfaction and a remote chance of immortality if done right.    

So who’s in?
*The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958: Who Wrote Them and What They Did by Julian Lewis Watkins (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1949) p. 1.


T.K is journalism speak  for ‘to come.’* 

Next time you’re stuck just insert this handy abbreviation and move on. In nonfiction it can stand in for facts and stats you can look up later, thus avoiding the ‘black hole’ of internet research. For fiction writers, TK relieves the burden of having to find the mot juste

He had this TK tendency of laboring over a single word he would end up deleting later anyway. 

As with the entire first draft , TK is just for you. 

*‘K’ is for ‘come’ because ‘TK’ doesn’t appear anywhere in the English language (besides the Atkins Diet) so it won’t cause confusion and is easily searchable.

Writing with Dysentery

What’s the one aspect of your craft you know you could do no matter what? Forget about your muse and your flow and consider the nitty gritty. What’s something you know you could get done even if you were soiling your trousers with a fever of 103°? 

Figure this out when youre in good shape (you won’t be able to when you’re not,) put it on a 3×5, and get some work out of your sick days and your lost weekends.