We Don’t Write For The Money

Gerry Boyle here, and maybe some of us do. Write for the money, I mean. But even writers who have more money than God keep typing away. Why? Because like the rest orf us, they feel like they have something important to say.

I bring this up because last night I was in a pub. I was waiting for my dinner date and she was a few minutes late. I was a few minutes early. So I was sipping a pint and watching the people and then I turned to my left. Behind me was a bookshelf filled with random books, one of those little touches that’s supposed to make a pub feel like a living room. Being a book person I perused the titles and reached one down. It was a worn hardcover of All Sail Set: A Romance of the Flying Cloud, by Armstrong Sperry. The book was published in 1935. A faded stamp on the frontispiece said it was from the Richmond, Maine Public Library. It looked very well read.

The book is a young adult novel about the famous clipper ship Flying Cloud. It’s about the adventures of a boy named Enoch Thacher, who goes to sea on the ship. I skimmed it at the table and it looked pretty good, if you like books about the heyday of sailing ships (I do). It also has these great pen-and-ink illustrations. This was a time when publishers cared about every detail in their books.

So anyway, I get home and I look up the book online. It won the Newbery Medal in 1936. David Godine did a reprint in 1984. For a time you could order the illustrations as postcards. Armstrong Sperry had a very successful career, in advertising and as an illustrator for pulp and other novels (he did a Tarzan cover). He also wrote quite a few books for kids. His books about natives of South Sea islands were popular  in the 1930s, winning national awards, but today would be seen as patronizing, one article said. Sperry, who lived in Hanover, New Hampshire, died in the 1970s.

Sperry was of his time, as they say. His books have faded into obscurity and barroom bookshelves.

This is the kind of thing that can make a writer feel a little queasy. After all, people buy our books. They read them and sometimes say good things about them. They even come to see us talk about ourselves.

So the notion that we can go from working author to oblivion in a few short years (unless we’re one of that select group of luminaries whose work survives for centuries) is sobering.

But it shouldn’t be. We write, not for fame and fortune, but because it makes us very unhappy not to. We write because we feel a need to create stories, and maybe because those stories have something to say about our time and place. We write because we’re called to this just like a musician has to play music, an artist has to paint.

So we hope our works  outlive us but there’s no guarantee. If decades from now, somebody in a pub finds one of my books on a shelf and finds it intriguing, that’s a bonus.  All I ask is that after they read it, they bring it back to pub and put it back on the shelf for the next guy whose date is late.

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4 Responses to We Don’t Write For The Money

  1. John Clark says:

    Great post. I have a lingering fondness for many writers I no longer read because they were an important part of my journey through life, much like the kindly stranger giving a weary traveler directions to a wayside attraction.

    Like

  2. MCWriTers says:

    This reminds me of a realization I had a couple years back. I had fallen into kind of an angry slump–not about writing, but about recognition and about making enough money to feel respectable and feeling jealous of the other kids who always got to be starters while I was warming the bench. I realized that that kind of thinking was spoiling the joy of what we do, so I let go of it. Now I get to bask in the pleasure of what I…what we…do.

    Sure, my ambition is still to write one line that become part of common knowledge and that people will quote for years to come. Sadly…my fave: he felt like a Faberge hand grenade, fragile and explosive…has not taken off as I hoped. But I’m not done.

    I think I wouldn’t mind at all if my books were kicking around on barroom shelves or the bookcases in inns and cottages in years to come. Hopefully, there will still be people around who read things “with spines.”

    Great post, as always.

    Kate

    Like

  3. Barbara Ross says:

    Wait–they pay you money for this?

    Like

  4. It’s just like you don’t give a present because you expect a thank-you — you do it for the joy of giving.

    Like

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