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Write Not for Money Nor Fame

As we navigate those debris-laden floodwaters, in an effort to reach the shores of publishing our words, consider the wisdom of Samuel Beckett. Nobel Prize-winning playwright, novelist, poet, director, and translator extraordinaire, Beckett once told French-American novelist Raymond Federman, “Raymond, whatever you write, never compromise, and if you plan to write for money or fame, do something else,” as quoted from Martin Chipperfield’s editorial (34th Parallel Magazine, issue 3).

“Do something else.” We could state that it was easy for the famed Beckett to give his advice after all he had achieved, the kind of fame to which writers aspire, but Beckett began with risk. His minimalism, deliberate omissions were risky at best and likely a disaster from the publishing prospects’ perspective. Instead of altering dangerous course, however, he left Godot permanently offstage, broke rules about movement on the stage, abandoned his characters Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) in limbo, situated them alone on the stage at various points without dialogue, gesture, or movement. Waiting for Godot should not have worked, but it did. And did so remarkably well.

I am reminded of the first time I read William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and my initial confusion over narrative voice, time sequencing, and even characters with the same name. That novel should not have worked, but it did. And did so extraordinarily.

I still recall talking with my creative writing professor William Rosenfeld in college all these years ago, telling him of my plans to be a writer. “Yes, well, very good. Now, think about what you want to do for your day job.” For the handful of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King writers out there, there are millions over the years with talent and craft unable to make even a few dollars from their creative writings.

Let us not pretend we want to be starving artists, just artists. We find ways not to starve. Great writing is about many attributes, but it always seems to carry some degree of risk. Without that bravery, we might never put pen to paper or touch a keyboard again.

Write but write not for money or fame. Should fame and money come your way, take off your writer’s hat and be grateful. Be humble.

Photograph of my daughter Nicole's beach art project with her 7 and 5-year-old sons.


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