Monday, September 7, 2009

Write What You Want to Read

Here's one of my favorite quotes about writing. It's from J.D. Salinger's SEYMOUR, AN INTRODUCTION. Seymour is writing to his younger brother, Buddy, who is a budding (sorry) writer.

When was writing ever your profession? It's never been anything but your religion. Never. I'm a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won't be asked. You won't be asked if you were working on a wonderful. moving piece of writing when you died. You won't be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won't be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won't even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished. I'm so sure you'll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you'd remember before ever you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won't even underline that. It's too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You're a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night. I'm feeling very much overexcited now, and a little dramatic, but I think I'd give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart... Love, S.


Anonymous said...

Wow. It's easy to get caught up in the writer's excitement. But what if you don't know what you want to read? What do you write then?

Brian Yansky said...

I like to read lots of different kinds of books and stories, too. And sometimes I'm in the mood for one kind of work or another even if they aren't my favorite kinds of writing. But the books I'm most drawn to have some characteristics. You might just consider that. What do the books you love have in common? I think I wrote realistic fiction longer than I should have. I'm really drawn to fantastical fiction, but I just didn't think I could write it.

Mary Specht said...

Only one part of my Facebook profile has remained untouched since freshman year of college: "Favorite Quotes," where the bit about the two questions and the stars is practically engraved.

Writing what you'd want to read is really the Golden Rule dipped in Salinger, right? It's made me less self-indulgent.

Brian Yansky said...

I'm with you, Mary. It's a great quote because it has practical advice and poetry.

Jen said...

That's a beautiful quote. Thank you very much for sharing, I'd never encountered it before. I might have to put it up behind my computer and keep coming back to it!

Marisa Birns said...

I also love to read lots of different books and stories. So I, too, wondered what I would write.

However, your suggestion that one find the commonality/characteristics of loved books is a very good one.

I am caught up in all the excitement now!

Thanks for the post.

Cynthia Schuerr said...

I love this, Brian!
It makes so much sense, doesn't it? For me, it does. I can sit for hours to try and come up with a story to write. However, when I think of it in the way of, what I would like to read, it becomes clear. It must be something engaging. I must be able to feel the heart of the author. Therefore, anything that comes from your heart, no matter whether fiction, non-fiction,or whatever genre, is a good path to take.

B Mari Landgrebe said...

Love this quote! This is how I became a writer - I wanted to write, but I never let myself take it seriously until a story idea came and wouldn't leave me alone. It was then I knew I was ready, because I wanted to read the story that came to me.

Thank you for the reminder that it's not what you do for others, it's what you do from your heart. If it's from your heart, then it's also for others, and you.


Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Thanks so much for sharing - I needed that! :) e