A picture of my hands typing. (Photo by Self)
It is amusing how some writers do not make news even by dying while some create global headlines when they announce they will no longer write. The case in point is Philip Roth who has announced that he is done writing.
The announcement to retire by Roth, considered one of the most celebrated careers in American literature, has found a wide media coverage. When a writer becomes an event it is time to retire. Take for instance, V S Naipaul, who now makes news by not making any news and who has also most likely retired. There comes a time in a writer’s life to spend distinction rather than accumulate it.
That said, just as the best way to start writing is to start writing, the best way to stop writing is to stop writing. Why make an event out of it? It is not necessary to publicly circle a date in one’s creative calendar and declare “No more after this. I am done.” (The quotes are mine and not Roth’s).
In so much as writing is already a profession of conceit, like any creative pursuit, I think it is enough that people have read you for decades. There is no purpose served by telling them that they will no longer read fresh material from you. People will find out in natural course that a writer no longer writes.
One explanation for a very public announcement of retirement could be that Roth also sees himself in the same light that his admirers do—someone larger than life who is required to announce even his fading away. He probably feels responsible towards those who have followed him for decades with such passion. Perhaps it is a gesture made out of courtesy and not hubris.
I do not want to make this post about Roth because the intention is not to single one writer out. My contention is that writers do think they are special. Also, those who interact with them generally reinforce that view. I do not feel special because I am not a writer by any definition. Having written five books does not make me a writer. What I do is just use words to earn a monthly living.There is no great glory to it, nor, for that matter, any mystique.
The other evening I was invited to a dinner where I was erroneously introduced as a writer. About half a dozen other guests quickly gathered around me as if I were a volcano on the verge of a historic eruption after being inert for centuries. As it happens with volcanoes my audience did not think I needed any external stimulation to do what I do—spew wisdoms, maxims, aphorisms and insights. I suspect I did not let them down because at least two of them invited me for dinner at their homes at yet-to-be-announced dates.
“My wife and I enjoyed talking to you so much that we must have you over,” one of them said with touching generosity. And I am not even Philip Roth or V S Naipaul with 30-plus books to his name each. I can only imagine how much real writers are fussed over. Perhaps I should also announce my retirement.