John C. Wright is a commercially successful science fiction novelist. That is an enormously difficult accomplishment. There are many great writers who struggle to get published and then to get published widely enough to earn a living at it.
Wright counsels struggling writers not to despair. Even if they never become widely-read, a writer can transform one person's life. In a moving and beautiful post, Wright explains that your rarely-read book can be one reader's book of gold:
If you only write one book in your whole life, and only sell 600 copies or less, nonetheless, I assure you, I solemnly assure you, that this book will be someone’s absolutely favorite book of all time, and it will come to him on some dark day and give him sunlight, and open his eyes and fill his heart and make him see things in life even you never suspected, and will be his most precious tale, and it will live in his heart like the Book of Gold.
Let me give you three examples to support my point: VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay had perhaps more effect and influence on me in my youth than any other book aside from WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. van Vogt. To be fair, I misinterpreted both books, and took them to be preaching a resolute form of scientific Stoicism, an absolute devotion to sanity and truth which I doubt either author would recognize. I never wrote Mr. van Vogt a fan letter, despite that my whole life was influenced by him (but I did write a novel to honor him). Had it not been for his books, I never would have studied philosophy in High School, never would have gone to Saint John’s in Annapolis, never would have read the Great Books. I never would have met my wife.
As for Mr. Lindsay, he sold less than 600 copies of his book, and died in poverty, ignored and forgotten, of an abscess in a tooth any competent dentist could have pulled. And this is a book luminaries such as Colin Wilson, C.S. Lewis, and Harold Bloom regard as seminal. Mr. Wilson called it the greatest novel of the Twentieth Century.
Wright says that he has already received heartfelt appreciation for his work. He doesn't always understand why:
People have written me to say that this tale inspired dreams and nightmares, inspired new resolve, inspired hope, and at least one woman who was in the midst of her most wretched hour of despair, said she found strength just from the one description of a star appearing through the darkest clouds. What these readers see in my work is far beyond what I have the power to put down on the page: the hand of heaven touched that work, and those readers who express awe are seeing not the author’s hand, but the hand of the Creator who is author of us all, who guided the work without my knowledge.
Are you a writer? Are you trying to create something great, but no one else can see it? Perhaps to some reader unknown to you, your work is that book of gold:
I write for that one reader I will never see, the one who needs just such a tale as I can pen, in just such a time and place, some rainy afternoon or dark hour, when providence will bring my book into his hands. And he will open it, and it will not be a book, but a casement, from which he will glimpse the needed vision his soul requires of a world larger than our own, or a star in a heaven wider and higher than ours, a star aflame with magic more majestic than any star mortal astronomers can name.
I humbly but strongly suggest you write for that unknown reader also, and not for worldly praise, or influence, or pelf, or applause. The world flatters popular authors, and the clamor of the multitude of brazen tongues is vanity. It is dust on the wind. The unknown reader will greet your work with love. It is a crown of adamant, solid and enduring.
You will never meet that one reader, not in this life. In heaven he will come to you and fall on his face and anoint your feet with tears of gratitude, and you will stand astonished and humbled, having never suspected.
I found Wright's post via Brian J. Noggle, a novelist who is too modest about his own abilities.
(Photo: Chris Drumm)