Thursday, March 14, 2013

Do writers retire?

A number of readers here have assured me they don't. Impossible. Philip Roth disagrees. I think it's a loaded question, meaning different things to different people.

The meaning that makes sense to me, which indeed can change, is a writer's relationship to readers and to the marketplace. In this sense I "retired" several years ago when I decided to ignore marketing. Why? Because I had depended on marketing for too many years, earning my living as a writer, and I was tired and frustrated. The work was too stressful and took too much of my shrinking reservoir of energy. I wanted to write more for myself and less for others. New technology made this possible without also abandoning readers, at least not serious ones. I took the plunge.

My writing income crashed, of course, but so did my bar bill (another story) and teaching provided a less stressful regular income than writing. To write apart from the marketplace was liberating.

Is this retirement? Yes and no.

The new change goes another step. I am changing my relationship to readers in a small but significant way. I'm still working on the details.

There are many reasons to write and many kinds of writers. In grad school writing programs in the sixties, we would have called most of the student writers I see today "hacks" for their enthusiasm for such commercial forms as genre fiction and screenwriting. Today this attitude is called elitist. How times change.

I often remember a class I took at UCLA, 19th C Popular Fiction. The most popular writers of their day! Never heard of any of them. Repeat, never heard of any of them in a time now considered a Golden Age of American writing.

So another way to write is to write for a future audience, to try and say something true about your own experience that doesn't depend on trends, fads, popularity and marketing budgets.

For some, writing becomes existential, a way of being in the world. "Being" doesn't retire, it ends. But these writers can change their relationships to market and to readers, which can look a little like retirement from a traditional perspective.

I changed my relationship to the market some time ago. Now I am changing my relationship to readers.

And many won't notice a difference.

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