The Successful Writer

Giles Ryan

© Copyright 2024 by Giles Ryan

Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash
Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

I donít write for money, nor to please other people, and Iíve done both successfully for many years.

To be sure, I usually write with other people in mind, and usually my sons and grandsons are the audience I hope for, but I donít write for them, and I donít write to please them, and theyíll be the first to confirm this. I often send my sons new things Iíve written, and sometimes they express a liking for these scribbles, but at other times theyíll say they havenít gotten around to reading it yet, and I try not to ask a second time. As for my grandsons, theyíre still too young to ignore someone so much older, but in time theyíll come to it. 

No, I write to please myself, and why not? ó no one else will do it. Itís safe to say that Iím my only certain audience; moreover Iím confident no one would read my stuff a second time, whereas I always do. Iíve never had an editor, so my errors need more time to become obvious to the one who so enjoyed writing them in the early version.

This subject comes up because in recent years I often have emails or other messages suggesting I visit some web site where I will find all sorts of advice about how to be a successful writer. Naturally, Iím suspicious because Iíve come to understand that after a certain age ó around sixty or so ó Americaís corporate entrepreneurs assume that I must be an idiot, and only need a little encouragement to share my bank account number with the wide world. I never fall for this, but in the spirit of dialogue I say to myself, I wonder what they mean by a successful writer?

Certainly, they mean financially successful because they are the sort of people whose values find expression in currency. For me, this is reason enough to ignore them, although candor compels me to note that no publisher today is likely to take a second look at anything written by me, an older white cisgender male, but Iím sure the money motive works for many and itís easy to understand why. No less an authority than Samuel Johnson said, ďNo one but a blockhead would ever write for anything but money.Ē But this remark, I suspect, would have fallen under his own Dictionaryís definition of banter or raillery. To be sure, he expressed himself feelingly on the writerís need for encouragement or favor, and famously scorned Lord Chesterfield for his failure to offer it when Johnson truly needed it. But even without patronage, Iím certain that Johnson took pleasure in his own writing. How could anyone write so astonishingly well and not enjoy it?

Expressing an alternative view, one of the most commercially successful authors of recent decades, John Le Carrť said, ďI write so that Iíll have something to read in my old age.Ē This is a notion that appeals to me and comes closer to my own truth. And yet I like to believe my old age is a long way off, and vanity would never let me wait, so I began reading my own writing in my forties, not long after I first set things down. Of course, sometimes I look back on earlier efforts and find an embarrassment of errors, but I use the opportunity to correct these failings ó the unseen typo, the injudicious choice of word, the now questionable insight ó and I console myself that these flaws will not be there the next time I look. 

Still, itís surprising how often I see something that pleases me or even makes me laugh, all the more so if itís something unread for many years, and whenever this happens ó and it will never happen often enough óI tell myself I just might be a successful writer.

Contact Giles

(Unless you
type the author's name

in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Giles story list and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher