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Keep creating even if you never reach the best-seller list

By Judson Edwards
Special to the American-Statesman
Judson Edwards is a writer who lives in Cedar Park.

In his book "God Save Texas," Lawrence Wright tells about the publication of his first book in 1979 and the party that launched it:  

"The book got no notice at all, followed by zero sales. It was appropriate that the party took place in an antiquarian bookstore, because mine was a rare book from the moment it came off the press. A friend of  mine aptly described the publication experience as 'the calm before the calm.'"

I had to chuckle — then wince —when I read that because I have now written 12 “rare books.”  During the years, I have produced 12 literary masterpieces that came and went almost completely unnoticed by the masses.   

When I wrote the first book in 1981, I assumed I was on the fast track to literary stardom. I was still young, with many years of writing ahead of me. I was pretty sure I would make a handsome living cranking out best-sellers that would be gobbled up by an adoring readership. 

 Then about a year later, my first royalty check for that book arrived. I had been thinking about what I would do with all of my royalty money when it came. Maybe a trip to Europe? Maybe buy a cottage on some scenic lake somewhere? Maybe even retire from my day job?  

When I opened the envelope, I was stunned. I don’t remember the exact amount of that first royalty check, but I took the whole thing and blew it on a family celebration at Burger King. 

Surely the next check the next year would be better, I consoled myself. But it wasn’t, and I eventually had to come face to face with a painful reality: I might never get rich writing books.   

During the last 30 years, I’ve cranked out 11 other worst-sellers, and I’ve asked myself why. Why keep pouring time and effort into something that will make almost no money and generally be ignored by the world? When I try to answer that question, I come up with four rationalizations for this irrational behavior: 

First, we humans take great delight in creating. The One who created us has created us to create. Since we’re made in God’s image, we love to create things — paintings, Lego figures, fashion designs, songs, blankets, vegetable gardens and, in my case, sentences. There is something extremely satisfying about bringing something new into existence. One of my favorite things to do in all the world is to take my laptop to Starbucks, sip coffee, and try to string words together in a creative way. 

Second, we humans are called to be faithful, not successful. It would be nice if our creative endeavors would get noticed by the world, and we would become rich and famous. But our popularity is not really the point. The point is to take whatever it is we like to do, and can do well, and offer that to the world.  

Third, success needs to be measured in terms of quality, not quantity. This is probably the mantra of all worst-selling authors. We tell ourselves that our book is really, really good; the world just isn’t astute enough to recognize our genius. But there is some truth to the idea that popularity doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality, and that lack of popularity doesn’t necessarily mean that our creative endeavor is no good. 

Fourth, we should be grateful for small victories. During the years, I have not just received a bunch of pitifully small royalty checks; I have also received some letters and e-mails from people who found something I wrote to be helpful and insightful. That communication might not seem like much to some, but it means the world to me.  

So, let’s just keep creating whatever we love to create. Let’s keep crocheting sweaters, crafting poems, baking homemade bread, or composing songs. Fashioning those things might not make us rich financially, but it will make us immensely rich in a lot of other ways.  

Judson Edwards is a writer who lives in Cedar Park. He is currently considering another worst-seller.