I have written more words in the past year than I have in all the years of my life combined, and almost none of them have been published. I often wonder what I will do with these words, these sentences, these paragraphs, these stories. Will I one day publish them in some form or another, or will I just throw them in the trash? Perhaps they are trash. I don’t know, I don’t know.
A couple months back, when I was the Yale Writer’s Conference, I was in the bookstore browsing around. So many great books on the shelves! I had come to the conference with a great deal of confidence, knowing that I was a few weeks away from going out with a really great non-fiction book proposal. For the better part of a year, I’d been working on it. Soon, I thought, a publisher would eagerly snatch it up.
I envisioned my book on the shelf one day — maybe I’d even be back at that store for a reading — but I didn’t harbor any grand illusions about what that experience might feel like. You get to a certain age, a certain point in your life, everything is just another thing. You do it and it’s nice to have done it, but it’s not like when you’re 20-years-old and you feel like your whole life is going to change overnight by the thing being done. I mean, you hope that’s the case, but you can’t go into it thinking that way. You just try to do the best you can and whatever happens, happens.
Anyway, I was in the store and I’m not exactly sure why, but I picked up a copy of a book I’d read many times before, one I’d even cite among my favorites. That book was The Catcher in the Rye.
Now, I hadn’t read the The Catcher in the Rye in a number of years, perhaps a decade. But as I read it over the next few days, I was struck by how juvenile the book actually was. The writing was so simple, the story so plain. It certainly didn’t hit me as it did when I first read it, at age 19 or 20; still, I was deeply moved. You’re either one of those people who see yourself in Holden Caulfield, or you’re not. At age 35, I still did.
As many people know, a few years after the release of The Catcher in the Rye, the author, J.D. Salinger, famously retreated to Cornish, New Hampshire. He remained there until his death in 2010, and during that time published very little. In 1974, he told the New York Times:
“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. 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.”
I am not J.D. Salinger and as a writer I still have lots to prove, both to myself and others. But I think about this quote often, especially as I look at the pages piling up in front of me each day, wondering if and when any of them will ever see the light of day; if I even want them to see the light of day.
Perhaps, as I said in the beginning, the words are trash, and there’s good reason nobody reads them except me. And I don’t really read them either — I just write and move on, enjoying the simple pleasure of the fingers hitting the keys, the words going from the mind to the fingers to the page.
It certainly is peaceful, not publishing, although I cannot say for certain that it has brought me any peace. J.D. Salinger had that luxury. He’d made his money, made his name, didn’t really need to do more.
One should be so lucky.
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