The following excerpt comes from an article I found while rummaging (uh, researching) within the wilderness of the Gutenberg Project.
A MONTHLY MAGAZINE TO INTEREST AND HELP ALL LITERARY WORKERS.
VOL. VI. BOSTON, APRIL, 1892. No. 4.
Copyright, 1892, by William H. Hills. All rights reserved.
DO THE BEST WRITERS WRITE?
A few years ago my attention was attracted by an article in one of the leading magazines. It was an article of more than ordinary merit, possessing that rarity, even then, a plot dramatically conceived and executed. The scene was laid in a part of the world the truthful picturing of which showed the writer to be a person who had travelled much and observed keenly; the diction was “English pure and undefiled.” There was but one drawback, that the author’s name was withheld, and I was obliged to lay my offering of approval and admiration at an unknown shrine.
Lately, in conversation with a man who forms one of the great majority of those who gain a moderate competence in business life, his days spent in the wearisome routine of mercantile life, his nights in painful figurings about that delusive “deal” which is to settle satisfactorily all questions of financial perplexity, our talk turned on books, literary celebrities, the chat of the profession of letters. My friend suddenly became communicative and reminiscent—rare expressions in him.
“A few years ago,” he said. “I, too, had the literary craze. I wrote a little—stray articles, stories, poems, the usual repertoire.”
I wondered what kind of material this suave, cynical, reserved man could have produced—in other words, what was his undercurrent. I interrogated. To my surprise and consternation I had found at last the author of my pedestal-placed masterpiece.
“But why,” I said, “did you not keep on; why hide, deface, forget, a talent like yours?”
“Allowing, for the sake of argument,” he answered, “that I possessed talent to the degree you imply, I should still have been forced to my present attitude. I am not alone in this. I am convinced that the best writers (of course, with notable exceptions) are the people who never write, who could bring to the field varied experience, the results of travel, thought, and cultivation, but who are driven away by the knowledge that the wolf will have them if they attempt it. Notwithstanding the fact that there has never been a time when literature has been produced so prolifically, a man can only make a moderate competence, and that after years of weary uncertainty and a constant strain on the waiting nerves, and, even at the end, he gets but a meagre reward: lots of newspaper notoriety and a scanty bank account. I am not complaining; I looked the facts squarely in the face, and chose what I regarded as the only sensible solution. I could not conscientiously use literature as a safety-valve or time-passer, giving to the world the result of tired brain and over-wrought nerves; consequently, I sacrificed inclination to necessity, and have left my muse alone. However,”—and he was once more the worldling,—”I have reserved to myself the right to criticise; and when I see a young man of talent enter the field of letters, I conclude he is like a man about to marry, either a great hero or a great fool.”
Gertrude F. Lynch. New York, N. Y.
Of particular notice — at least for the purposes of this post — are the words “has never been a time when literature has been produced so prolifically” — hence the title I chose.
There are people in the current time who feel the same, that what goes out before the public is not the best, because the best give up due to the numbers. I’m absolutely certain that if a person were that good, had such skill, was so much better, the words would be found. With time.
Why do I think that?
Because there’s more to the equation than skill and intellectual discussion of the craft. The most important criteria for whether the best writers write (or hide like [snark word]) are: the courage to step up and share the words, to sit with passion and pour the words out, to continue learning the skills of the craft, to mentor and assist those new to the path … I could go on and on, but you get the message.
My answer to the question in the article is yes, the best writers do write, they ignore the nay-sayers who love to tell us that there’s too many others out there (implying better), and no one ever makes a living at it. They (writers) forge a path through the jungle, true adventurers who persist with the search for their goal.
The article demonstrates (to me) just how much courage it takes, that it’s a choice a person makes, that there will always be a word similar to prolific to put us off, turn us to the well-trod path, get us out of the way of the real writer, the man of letters, the wordsmith (as opposed to storyteller).
There are many other things of note in this article, but I focussed on one; the one I still see in use today — the elitism of those who don’t produce written work, but think they’re intellectually obligated to criticise (as opposed to critique – which is to offer constructive feedback). Those who make this a practice use a particular word a lot, in a sentence similar to this: The writing is not authentic, too similar to [this or that big name].
It takes years (10,000 hours) of practicing the skills before a writer finds their true writer-style, their authentic voice, but the nay-sayers have one voice, and they say the same thing — don’t bother; if I’m not good enough, and I’m better than you … etc.
I give to them ‘the bird’ – heartily, and continue on my way.
Well, that’s my whinge for the week. Sorry, but you know how it is — I hope.