Today would’ve been Leo Tolstoy’s 186th birthday. Anyone who had dabbled in writing craft probably knows his line about the uniqueness of unhappy families (which I referenced in my prior post) but his cynical side also extended to his own profession as a writer. In his memoir “A Confession“, Tolstoy offers dark commentary on writers’ motives:
“Our real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as possible. To gain that end we could do nothing except write books and papers….But in order to do such useless work and to feel assured that we were very important people we required a theory justifying our activity. And so among us this theory was devised:
‘….Culture is measured by the circulation of books and newspapers. And we are paid money and are respected because we write books and newspapers, and therefore we are the most useful and the best of men.’”
In an odd way, Tolstoy’s description makes me grateful to be an after-hours author. Scribbling fiction between the margins of my full-time career poses challenges of time and progress, but I have the luxury of honesty. I don’t have to justify my writing, entrust it with the entirety of my self-worth, or exaggerate its value for the sake of professional survival. Writing is my passion, and my stories keep me (and ideally my audience) entertained. Whether or not my books contribute to capital-C Culture is much less important to me than whether readers enjoy them.
Happy birthday, Leo, and thank you for making part-time writers like me feel more hopeful about their work!