‘No aspiring writer sets out to be a minor writer’


Mark Twain photographed in 1908

From Literary Hub:

I’m not who I was supposed to be. No aspiring writer sets out to be a minor writer. I didn’t dream of growing up and writing books that sell modestly, are received quietly, and reviewed indifferently. I was indoctrinated by hours spent curled on the sofa and in bed at night reading great writers and feeling, somehow, in their presence. Whoever it is who first gets his or her hooks into you, Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, J.D Salinger, or, in my case, Jack London and then Joseph Heller, it feels as if he or she understands you, from thousands of miles away and even centuries ago. To become such a writer, a so-called major or important writer, that becomes the dream.

Yet not all of us make it. For me, there was no map to becoming a major writer. (There might be one now, more on that below.) I read the lives of writers and how they came to their majesty and they were impossible to track. Jack London worked at a cannery. Joseph Heller wrote advertising copy. Harper Lee took airline reservations.

I was an awful high school student, earning Bs in English, a disappointing college student, even managing to fail a writing class. Perhaps I should have quit there. Still, you can’t shake the dream. And anyway, Charles Dickens, the definition of an important writer, never finished high school. In the late 80s, the aspiring writers I knew took internships at magazines. Instead, I moved to Japan where I taught English and then lucked into a job as a newspaper reporter in Tokyo at the English language edition of a prominent Japanese newspaper. I wrote prodigiously: film reviews, book reviews, interviews with visiting dignitaries. All of this, I imagined at the time, would one day be of interest to the biographers who would inevitably search out my earliest work and find in it flashes of the brilliance to come. I lasted less than a year at the paper. “Write without pay until someone offers pay,” Mark Twain advised, “If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” Inside of 12 months I was publishing in important American magazines.

“What If I am Just A Minor Writer?”, Karl Taro Greenfield, Literary Hub