Today’s prompt gives me the choice of becoming either an obscure novelist with work admired and studied by a select few for decades, or a popular paperback author whose books give pleasure to millions.
It’s an easy choice. More than that, it’s an obvious choice. I have to take that second option. I would rather be read by the world. In the first case, decades aren’t even an issue. You would have to offer centuries just to tempt me. Even then it wouldn’t be enough. And to be studied? Why on Earth would I want my work studied? I don’t write textbooks. I write novels. I want people to read them, explore them, become them. I do not want people to study them.
Well, it’s clear I have no place among the intelligentsia. Neither did Walt Whitman. From A Song for Occupations :
Offspring of ignorant and poor, boys apprenticed to trades,
Young fellows working on farms and old fellows working on farms,
Sailor-men, merchant-men, coasters, immigrants,
All these I see, but nigher and farther the same I see,
None shall escape me and none shall wish to escape me.
That’s the only thing that makes sense to me. Would a meaningful piece of work be any less meaningful because it became a best seller? I want anyone who would appreciate my work to read it.
I’ll admit that a great many popular works are garbage. I’ve read some horrible things that are international sensations turned into major motion pictures. Oh god. It’s true that I don’t want to write that kind of material. The question wasn’t what kind of book I want to write though, only who will read it. So I’ll take that. After all, the question also did not limit the lifespan of my work if it is read by millions. It might fade away before my life is done. Then again, it could last for generations. Many popular works do. If the question were changed, and my writing could only last briefly if it were popular, then my decision would be different, because under that circumstance, I would refuse to make a decision.
The question does not have that limitation because it isn’t intended to be impossible. The real question is what my values are as an author. You may as well ask why I write. Because I enjoy it? No. To become famous? No. Who would really want to be famous? To make money? No. Don’t misunderstand that answer. I’d love to become rich by writing, but that’s not the reason for the writing.
Maybe I write to give voice to my ideas and dreams. Maybe I want to tell the world what I feel and what I think. No. Not even that. Never that. I want my stories to give life and perspective to the ideas and dreams of anyone who reads them. A story is a messenger. It becomes a part of you and finds those things that want to know. That can’t be studied. It does not belong to ‘a select few’. That’s the human condition. Let the world take my stories and love them. Let people make the stories their own.