Is writing literary fiction a selfish pursuit?

Yes. I write literary fiction because I try to write the type of story I want to read. I need the words I use and the sentences they create to have resonance. I want the ideas to stay with the reader. Literary fiction haunts beautifully.

So, yes. Writing literary fiction is a selfish pursuit and I’m just thrilled when anyone else is interested and wants to tag along for the ride.

There is a saying that I shall paraphrase now, because I cannot find the actual quote or trace back where I read it – commercial fiction is writing for others and literary fiction is writing in spite of others.

And I completely agree.

If it is selfish, then the act of reading could be deemed selfish as well.

However, reading lights up internal horizons and adds depth to the reader’s experience. It can lead to debate on how the world could be a better place by inspiring discussion.

Fairly recently a psychological study found that participants who were given literary fiction to read, as opposed to commercial fiction, scored better on tests designed to measure Theory of Mind[1]. This suggests that the skills used in reading literary fiction could actually improve empathy – which is what novelists have been hoping all along. From the selfishness of pursuing an idea or set of ideas important to the writer, these same ideas can become important to the reader, and – from there – literary fiction could change (at least a small sphere of) the world.




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