The Summing Up, XLVI

I love the first half of this chapter. It’s a short one, no details about Maugham’s work, but the first half is all about a writer’s material and how it’s within the self—and how a writer can write themselves out, which is a far nicer way of saying shot their load (or wad, which is still on The Stop Button in numerous places and I’m vaguely unhappy with it… though apparently The Washington Post has defended it as it actually does date back to “a paper, fiber, or plastic wad” used with firearms—who knew, right?). Then there’s a bit about how readers don’t have anything to do with the writer’s motivation, just the result. Then some about how the writer has to find their public, whatever size that public turns out to be; the more idiosyncratic the writer, the longer it takes to find the public. The last nice bit is about how unappreciated the profession of writer or artist is in English-speaking countries. Sad it hasn’t changed since 1938 (and has probably even expanded). Then Maugham goes off about how a real “professional writer” can’t have a day job, especially not being a journalist or critic because it’s too close to what the writer should be doing and basically it will break the internal material. The only way for a writer to make it is to be well-enough off to just write. Faulkner was, of course, published at this time. He wrote on his lunch break, didn’t he? But in many ways, Faulkner doesn’t meet Maugham’s definition of a professional writer. It’s always a muddy thing in The Summing Up—when Maugham’s legitimate theorizing on the arts runs into his own experience. He’ll break the latter to maintain the integrity of the latter.

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