On continuing to write at length despite the numbers

Poets know the drill better than anyone except short story writers: the thoughts that creep into the back of your head; when you’ve sent your book to the publisher, but haven’t started on something new, or when your royalty statement comes and you realize you haven’t earned out your meagre advance, or when you never even get an advance at all because the publisher already knows something you do not…. It’s he cold, creeping fingers of doubt that scurry around your occipital bone, like an existential panic attack, but without fear of death. Or at least biological death. If no one is reading you, why do you bother?

But experiencing this polar dip into futility is good for some of us. It’s as freeing as freezing.

When you’re new at writing and pretty sure you’re going change the world with your words, it can be a big high. But when you grow up a bit and realize you might only ever change five people’s worlds (Hell, even 100 people’s worlds), well, that’s a bummer. Except, once you get past feeling sorry for yourself that no one recognizes your genius, how freeing is it to have decided to not care? To not please everyone? How far can you take your art when you’re not worried about it being consumed? So, is no-readers the end of the line for an author, or the start of the race? Time will tell with each who goes this way. But I suppose if we’re still thinking about it, I suppose we’re not quite there yet.

Books are now published in numbers so vast that the writing of one can no longer be presumed to be an act of communication between writer and reader. Yet even books that aren’t read, and stand little chance of ever being read, can have their value.

Extended prose offers the author a chance, one never to be encountered in conversation, no matter how patient one’s listeners, to comb slowly through her own mind at her own pace, sorting out her thoughts, reflexively exploring her sensibilities. Along the way, catharsis too may be in the offing; any troubling feelings discovered by the author, either in advance or in the process of writing, may be discharged, if the writer can only figure out how—without needing to involve readers in the least.

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