Fears of Writers

By Bhalachandra Sahaj

writer fear

Yesterday, a good friend of mine has asked me a tricky question. Trying to answer it, I realized that it’s a much deeper question than it seemed first. The question was simple: “What will you do if you become popular?”

Indeed, currently I cannot call myself popular. My books aren’t sold in major bookstores, and my name is known to a much smaller circle of people than, say, a guy who writes bestsellers. I have a devoted and, so to say, cozy audience, and I like the way things currently are.

However, my friend’s question disturbed me. Of course, being popular is cool: your books are sold everywhere, you can finally start living solely on writing, people ask you for autographs, and perhaps Hollywood even makes another bad movie based on your decent book. But, on the other hand, I realized that I have one fear, or doubt: will I be able to keep writing what I want if I become popular?

The first book that makes a writer popular is almost always perfect in the eyes of readers and fans–otherwise, it wouldn’t become popular. However, writing further can be troublesome. A writer has to seek a balance between what he or she wants to write about, and what their readers would possibly like or dislike.

Remember the ado when J.K. Rowling announced her thoughts about “killing” Harry Potter? She, as the author, must have had her own reasons to make such a decision–eliminating one of the main characters. And, perhaps, the finale of Potter’s story would be much more dramatic and touching, than a cheerful ending.

When an author becomes popular, to what extent do his or her books still belong to them? Consider the crowds of editors, assistants, and agents that stick to an author as soon as he or she becomes popular: as if without them, a writer can’t write a single book. But somehow people DO write great books without these parasites hanging on them, feeding on their creativity. I want to write A, but my agent says, “No, readers won’t like it, write B.” Thank you, mister, but I can ask my readers about their opinions myself. Thank God, we live in the era of the Internet, and anyone can write me a letter with a critique and proposals.

This is what worries me about popularity: the fact that my thoughts and skills will not belong to me anymore. Writers who write for themselves, become great (or just good); those who write for popularity, become butterfly ephemera. Can you remember “the most promising and talented young author” of, say, 2011? I can’t.

The question my friend asked me, as well as my following thoughts on it, made me want to research the question of writers’ fears deeper. I think I’ll write some more posts about it in the nearest future.

And do you have any doubts or fears about being a writer?


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