A play of mine, written in the early sixties, was called “most impressive and original” by Henry Hewes, then a widely known drama critic of the “Saturday Review of Literature.” According to Hewes, the play “quite successfully catches the drag racing, girl-chasing flavor of two hot-rodder’s who emulate and idolize the late James Dean.” (Today I wouldn’t be able to find the play.) To me the review then was less impressive than it is today, a mention in the “Saturday Review of Literature of a production of mine at a regional professional theater while I was still an undergraduate.
The early sixties and my success then, going back to then and mentioning it here may seem absurdly egocentric. Yes, that was so long ago, but it doesn’t seem that long to me. As a playwright, I haven’t received that much attention and some may say I haven’t lived up to my potential, with my best review coming when I was still in college. However, I’m sixty-five years old and am still writing.
I bring up my best review, so obviously boasting. After living a self-effacing existence for half a lifetime and after having changed when I realized that no one would promote my work except me (the fate of most writers), I still normally wouldn’t have mentioned the “Saturday Review of Literature.” piece. The important thing here is not the review but the fact that I’m still writing. And without receiving the degree of recognition that I achieved so early in my career.
There were fellow students who could write better than me, much better, who were brilliant and seemed destined for Broadway (or at least Off-Broadway), the goal of most playwrights I then knew. (One of them, Preston Jones did make it.) What happened to them? (Preston died.) Where are they today? Hopefully, they’re still writing. Then what keeps those of use writing who had a “brilliant” start but since then haven’t quite duplicated the recognition we once received or have received no recognition at all? And why do other brilliant starters stop?
Of course, the answers are as varied as there are individuals. It may be as simple as the motivation is there, or it isn’t. But I doubt that.
At what point does writing become a profession? In some circles, getting published is a prerequisite. (For a playwright, it would be a professional production.) That sort of recognition is nice, but I go back to what if it doesn’t come? Then what separates those people who continue to write from those who don’t? Where can a writer find motivation when his or her ego is left unsatisfied? Why write, or read? Why? For me, it would be the same as asking why I eat.