• Would You Rather? The Writer’s Edition

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Inspiration     Comments 21 comments

    torrent-87_960_720Last week we had a wonderful, and wonderfully morbid, discussion about what book you would read on your deathbed.The answers were deliciously wide-ranging, from childhood favorites to various Shakespeare offerings, from books that don’t exist to books the respondent wrote him/herself. Our thanks to all of you who participated.

    (By the way, it’s never too late to join the deathbed discussion, or any other — our comments stay open 24/7/364, knocking off the equivalent of one day per year when our server shits the bed.)

    But wait, don’t climb out of your imaginary deathbed just yet!

    Two of you chose The Great Gatsby, and it got me thinking about how at the time of his death, Fitzgerald considered himself a hack and a failure, never imagining that one day Gatsby would be a staple in classrooms around the world and considered by millions(?) the Great American Novel.

    Your turn #1: Fitzgerald, hack or genius? Is there a hack whose work you can’t resist, sort of a literary guilty pleasure? Do you wish we’d stop writing about death? Let us know below, and don’t forget to tick “Notify” to see responses to your comments.


    Who in the F*ck is Richard Eberhart?

    This topic, art and posterity, has been on my mind ever since my pal Drew Nellins Smith published a great piece at Electric Literature, “You’ll Fete Me When I’m Gone.” (Faithful readers will remember Drew from our interview at Electric Lit and from this post about accountability.)

    Drew is resigned to (what he considers) the inevitability that his debut novel, Arcade, and likely all of his future output, will never draw much critical or popular acclaim and that he’ll die in good old-fashioned writerly obscurity. Such cheeriness is the main reason we’re friends.

    In his essay, Drew comforts himself with the idea that, one day far into the future, his work will find a wide audience and become prominent like Fitzgerald’s. He cites examples such as Melville, Lovecraft, the now ubiquitous John Williams, and crime novelist Jim Thompson, who from his deathbed said to his wife, “I’ll become famous after I’m dead about ten years,” and was correct.

    Cold comfort, that, but whatever helps.

    Drew also cites an opposite example, a poet named Richard Eberhart who was well-known in his time, won a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, and whose name I’d never even heard of until now. I’m guessing many of you can say the same.


    Would You Rather?

    So I asked Drew — and I now put to you the same question — Would you rather die in obscurity but one day have your work as widely read and admired as Fitzgerald’s, or would you rather, like Eberhart, be loved in your lifetime but then be almost totally forgotten?

    I’m willing to bet that most of us would rather taste the fruits of our labor than be dead when those fruits ripen. But maybe not! I’m very curious to hear your responses.

    For the record, Drew dodged the question, though I’m hoping he may change his mind and join this discussion.

    Your turn #2: The question above, of course! Would you rather die in obscurity but one day have your work become famous, or be famous in your day and then forever forgotten?

    Bonus: Our three favorite answers will win the respondent a free copy of Drew’s book. So make it good!


    Churn, Churn, Churn

    Of course, having your work recognized in this era is arguably more difficult than it’s ever been before. More books are published annually than ever before, and a staggering majority are lost in the flow as soon as they’re released. “Churn, churn, churn goes the culture,” Drew wrote in an earlier draft of the essay.

    I’ve never published a book, but I imagine I’d be devastated if years of my hard work disappeared as soon as I dropped it into this raging torrent of output.

    Or would I? Perhaps it would bring me enough satisfaction just to have added my piece to that flow. And anyway, isn’t process more important than product? (Wrong?)

    For me, for now, I’d rather be Richard Eberhart. He’s obscure now — Drew even misspelled his name and no EL editor caught it — but he died (I hope!) believing that his work meant a great deal to his contemporaries. If my writing is meaningless to future generations, so be it. Their loss. Or, at least, nobody’s loss. Certainly not mine.

    Your turn #3: Is process more important than product, or is product more important than process? Why?


    A Writer’s Real Job

    Drew ends his piece on an upbeat note… sort of. “The real job of the writer, photographer, painter, or filmmaker is simply to create work that arises from one’s singular perspective, then to launch that work into the flow of culture,” he writes. “Freeing one’s self from present day appraisals means that there is no failure, only the potential for delayed gratification — understanding that the delay will likely extend to some time after your death.”

    In other words, get your work out there, and try not to care how it will be received by your contemporaries. (Now that is a philosophy we can get behind!)

    Or, to let Drew have the final word, “The only real failure in art is to fail to produce it.”



    David LinkedFULLWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Tom Whittier

    Posterity for me. Why? Because I have three kids, and I’d like them, and their own kids, to believe that what their father/grandfather created was meaningful, rather than some sort of passing fancy during my own lifetime. I’d prefer both, naturally, but if I have to choose one or the other, give me Mr. Fitzgerald over Mr. Eberhart so that I can influence subsequent generations.

    I’m glad my answer to last week’s question prompted this week’s. I’ll try not to let it go to my head!


    I choose to be validated in my lifetime. Who cares if you’re famous after you die? You’ll never know it! Ask J.K.Rowling if she’d rather have stayed on welfare so kids in the year 2150 could enjoy her stories. We write to connect on some level. It’s like asking if you’d rather bring up your kids yourself or give them to some rich stranger for a life of leisure, or to give birth to a son so your great-grandson could become President. Your writing is like your kids. I, for one, would like to know how my kids turned out,… Read more »


    I believe we live on in some form, I have to. Or else
    what’s the point of this? So I also think that somewhere
    up there or out there, or whatever, Fitgerald is smiling. And
    will be for as long as his work is prominent. Give me that. I
    don’t want to be have passed on and then watch as everybody
    forgets me and the writing I poured my soul into.


    Fame and love and money now, please. I understand the thing about kids, that guy said above, and being worried about finances could be part of that. But if I make money from my writing and use it wisely, I can leave plenty in their hands. And they would know I worked hard for it, even if society forgets me when I’m gone. I want to know my writing touched people in my own era, of my own generation. What does it matter to Fitzgerald that he’s famous now? I wonder if that would have even comforted him on his… Read more »


    Declare someone a hack? Never. I thought you just mentioned the quote “the only real failure in art is to fail to produce it” and then y’all dis the poor slob who tries? I’m rubber, and you’re glue…


    Hey Glue, until I have a few critically-acclaimed books of my own, I guess I just don’t feel qualified to throw stones. Plus, they hurt.

    By the way, Richard Eberhart was my pen name. I didn’t really die — I went underground after all the hubbub with the awards and all. Glad to know the coast is clear. Come on over for a microbrew and you can use my National Book Award. Keeps those condensation rings off the furniture.

    Barbara Mealer

    I guess I’m of the mind that I really don’t care either way. If I achieve fame while I’m alive, great. Better yet, if I’m remembered after I’m gone for what works I have completed and published, but I don’t write for fame. I write because I enjoy making characters come to life in stories I have had running around in my brain for years. I would like to make enough to keep publishing what I write. If that happens, then I know I will have reached a few people who made the effort to read what I wrote and… Read more »

    Betty G.

    Dan Brown and JDRobb are my hacks. I can’t ever resist those two.

    Barbara Mealer

    The question is: How long will they be remembered? Like you, I love JD Robb and Dan Brown.


    I did a high school paper on Richard Eberhart! Maybe
    when I’m a famous poet, his work will be rediscovered
    through this paper. It’s all cyclical. Maybe by the time
    we’re on our death beds, Fitzgerald will be re-forgotten.

    But me, I’ll take the fruits now. Though I’m not convinced
    I can’t have both. -Amber M-

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x