A rumination on Salinger’s comment about writing for pleasure

by DRM

Here’s the quote again. It’s been lingering in my mind.

I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.
J.D. Salinger

This epitaph is scattered prominently across the web since J.D. Salinger’s death. It’s the simplest way to explain Salinger’s long silence: his own words.

I wonder whether I had read the quote before and dismissed it. I’ve wondered at the choice of the word “Pleasure,” and what Salinger meant to connote.

Was writing an act of discovery? Sometimes learning means experiencing discomfort. Was Salinger really writing just for himself, and if he was did he have the mental discipline to stay after the kind of writing that led him to new places? Or did he mean pleasure precisely, in that the activity of writing gave him comfort, solace and security, the confidence of his internal voice.

Even if we could read the things that he had written during the long quiet we wouldn’t be able to know. The true measure would be in the lot of the man, whether he felt as he wrote a quickening, a sudden sense that he was moving into a new place, and that from that place he could see himself, his world and the relationship between things with greater confidence and understanding.

That can be pleasure. It can be difficult, and the stretches between illumination can be laborious and frustrating.

Lillian Ross wrote about Salinger in The New Yorker.

A single straight fact is that Salinger was one of a kind. His writing was his and his alone, and his way of life was only what he chose to follow. He never gave an inch to anything that came to him with what he called a “smell.” The older and crankier he got, the more convinced he was that in the end all writers get pretty much what’s coming to them: the destructive praise and flattery, the killing attention and appreciation. The trouble with all of us, he believed, is that when we were young we never knew anybody who could or would tell us any of the penalties of making it in the world on the usual terms: “I don’t mean just the pretty obvious penalties, I mean the ones that are just about unnoticeable and that do really lasting damage, the kind the world doesn’t even think of as damage.” He talked about how easily writers could become vain, complaining that they got puffed up by the same “authorities” who approved putting monosodium glutamate in baby food.

How do you keep from getting puffed up?

This blog is what it says it is: a place for things that don’t have a place elsewhere. My writing related to my professional life is published on a blog with a pretty broad audience. The writing I do on stories and longer projects is filed away on hard drives and in file cabinets. What makes its way on the blog are images that attract me, or things that have made me think, or bits and pieces of writing that I wanted to get down.

It’s all out there on the web. But I don’t try to promote it, or me, or who I am and what I do and what I want.

A few weeks ago, I found a funny item about Google recommended search terms and put together a brief post commenting on it. I left a link on the original poster’s blog.

For a couple of days, drm got traffic.

drmtraffic.png

Traffic that’s way outside the norm of one or two readers a day who’ve found their way here because of a random search or a link.

The spark in traffic shifted the way I was thinking. What do I need to do to keep building an audience, I wondered?

But that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I don’t want the path that gets you to puffed up and far away from simple truths. I like the discovery and learning that comes with writing well. In this case, “well” is defined by honesty.