“For many of us who love the act of writingeven when we are writing against a deadline with an editor waiting for the copythere is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with ones thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other reader,” writes the New Republic ‘s Jed Perl in Alone With Words .
He goes on to reflect on why a writer might withhold his writing from his readers, and to defend the practice which, as he notes, “can look downright bizarre in the age of the blog and the tweet.” Today, “the ideaextremely simple, even simplisticappears to be that if it was written it needs to be read.”
Those of you who write may find his short reflection of interest. As someone who both writes and edits, I would add to his reflection that even someone who’s called to write the religious believer, for example, who feels his gift as a Divine calling ought to write first to please himself. This is what Flannery O’Connor did, and how C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien came to write their fantasy classics.
But I don’t mean boy I don’t mean writing self-indulgently, but writing something you would enjoy were it written by someone else, because you love the craft of writing and the truth you’re trying to convey. The prose itself and the insights it offers should please you primarily because they are good in themselves, not because they’re yours. That is what the craftsman does. He serves the work, as O’Connor and Dorothy Sayers both put it.
Then it doesn’t matter so much if your work gets published or if published, read. Though unexpectedly, perhaps, writing in this way will make your writing more appealing to others.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?