Sunday, September 9, 2012

On Writing

"There was a time--it seems further away than childhood--when I took up my pen with eagerness; if my hand trembled it was with hope. But a hope that fooled me, for never a page of my writing deserved to live. I can say that now without bitterness. It was youthful error, and only the force of circumstance prolonged it. The world has done me no injustice; thank Heaven I have grown wise enough not to rail at it for this! And why should any man who writes, even if he writes things immortal, nurse anger at the world's neglect? Who asked him to publish? Who promised him a hearing? Who has broken faith with him? If my shoemaker turn me out an excellent pair of boots, and I, in some mood of cantankerous unreason, throw them back upon his hands, the man has just cause of complaint. But your poem, your novel, who bargained with you for it? If it is honest journeywork, yet lacks purchasers, at most you may call yourself a hapless tradesman. If it come from on high, with what decency do you fret and fume because it is not paid for in heavy cash? For the work of man's mind there is one test, and one alone, the judgment of generations yet unborn. If you have written a great book, the world to come will know of it. But you don't care for posthumous glory. You want to enjoy fame in a comfortable armchair. Ah, that is quite another thing. Have the courage of your desire. Admit yourself a merchant, and protest to gods and men that the merchandise you offer is of better quality than much which sells for a high price. You may be right, and indeed it is hard upon you that Fashion does not turn to your stall."

The above words are from The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft by George Gissing, first published in 1903, and now in the public domain at Open Library and Project Gutenberg.

Well, here it is just short of 110 years later and not much has changed in writing. Like Henry said, "(I) don't want posthumous glory. (I) want to enjoy fame in a comfortable armchair." Then again, I can wait for the "posthumous glory" if it is to come and not have much choice in the matter. And if it doesn't come, I will never know about it. Maybe my heirs and assigns will reap the benefit if "they" choose to honor me with some  "posthumous glory."

That isn't what drew my attention to this excerpt, though. It was the "trembling hand that picked up the pen" and began putting words on paper. In my case it wasn't "youthful error" but senile excuse that I should begin to write in the hopes that someday someone will actually like what is written, and if "heavy cash" should come with it, all the better. All my books are "honest journeywork", even if a couple in the beginning could have been better journeyed, it has led me to keep learning and perfecting my journeying. "Thank Heaven I have grown wise enough not to rail at it." Railing and ranting and crying and carrying on will not help me one iota in this, so I try to keep it private and minimal and not be discouraged, but be encouraged with my little successes.

Okay, I will "admit (my)self a merchant," and present my books in high "Fashion", even if they "(do) not turn to (my) stall." Since this is the age of self-merchandising, we must all do our best to push our works on the markets that are available. However, I'm not a very good salesman and tend to sit on my laurels in this matter.

By the way, I have a few friends who are "Linked-in Associates" and will accept more friends. They tell me this is a good way to sell books. Ahem, yeah, yeah. 


  1. admit we are merchants. WEll said, although it's pretty hard for me. I need to be more honest with myself about what I write, how well I write, and what I'm selling, or not.

    1. A little honesty can't hurt, but I don't think we are trying to put one over on the buyers or selling them a bill of goods.

  2. Heck I'm not even looking for "a comfortable armchair." Just trying to put food on the table.