“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” – J.D. Salinger, 1974
After publishing The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger certainly lived up to this quote. No hypocrisy there. Now that he has died, questions have popped up about the unpublished writing he has done since his renowned work of fiction first took the literary world by storm.
The quote made me think about why I write. I do it because I enjoy it, but I’m not as pure as Salinger. I enjoy knowing that someone, somewhere, has read my words, and even more so when I hear that they enjoyed them. This goes as far back as the first time I received an “A” on a paper graded by a teacher. Nothing thrilled me more than seeing that letter atop my work.
Perhaps Salinger truly felt no need for such validation. Maybe he had only one great book in him and, as soon as his subsequent publications revealed that, he withdrew and wrote solely for himself. One great work of art is certainly one more than most of us ever produce.
Occasionally I craft a sentence that makes me smile when I read it back. Not because it’s funny, but because it’s well-written. Even less frequently, I relish an entire paragraph. I idolize authors who fill page upon page with such work while telling a compelling story filled with interesting characters.
Salinger kept writing all his life, but socked it away for all the world not to see. Apparently the intrinsic reward was enough for him. For me, putting the words out here, and knowing there are at least a few who will read the next entry, provides needed motivation.
Perhaps many writers would do as Salinger did had they written one book that paid the bills for the rest of their lives. This obviously doesn’t include the likes of Stephen King and Michael Crichton and Nicholas Sparks, who certainly could have stopped writing years ago and still lived quite comfortably. Then there’s Anne Rice, whose religious writing seemingly is trying to make up for a former life of capitalizing on readers’ most lustful desires.
There definitely are writers who have only one book in them. Usually these are the ones that gain critical but not commercial acclaim, and win awards but not spots on the bestseller shelves. They also often are the most thought-provoking and moving works out there.
There are writers who do what the bestsellers do, or what the critically-acclaimed do, but give it away for free. Whether weaving a fascinating tale or making us care about the key players (or both), they put their work out there for anyone to read, and often open it up to comments. Some offer their work for sale in on-demand printed editions, but rarely do they make a living from it.
My favorite example is Cheeseburger Brown (a pseudonym), who cranks out quality prose that keeps readers coming back and forms the basis of a vibrant online community. His day job has slowed him down lately, but core fans have kept interest alive.
J.D. Salinger’s stance on privacy certainly would have prevented him from using such online tools had they been available in his day. As one who writes “just for myself and my own pleasure,” he would have eschewed such self-publication.
In many more ways than one, I’m no J.D. Salinger.