What bliss it is to be your first reader. It would be straight bliss if I didn’t think you valued my opinion more than your own. It really doesn’t seem right to me that you should rely so heavily on my opinion of your stories. That is, you. You can argue me down another time, but I’m convinced I’ve done something very wrong that this situation should be. I’m not exactly wallowing in guilt at the moment, but guilt is guilt. It doesn’t go away. It can’t be nullified. It can’t even be fully understood, I’m certain—its roots run too deep into private and long-standing karma. About the only thing that saves my neck when I get to feeling this way is that guilt is an imperfect form of knowledge. Just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it can’t be used. The hard thing to do is to put it to practical use before it gets around to paralyzing you. So I’m going to write down what I think about this story as fast as I can. If I hurry, I have a powerful feeling my guilt will serve the best and truest purposes here. I do think that. I think if I rush with this, I may be able to tell you what I’ve probably wanted to tell you for years.
You must know yourself that this story is full of big jumps. Leaps. When you first went to bed, I thought for a while that I ought to wake up everybody in the house and throw a party for our marvellous jumping brother. What am I, that I didn’t wake everybody up? I wish I knew. A worrier, at the very best. I worry about big jumps that I can measure off with my eyes. I think I dream of your daring to jump right out of my sight. Excuse this. I’m writing very fast now. I think this new story is the one you’ve been waiting for. And me, too, in a way. You know it’s mostly pride that’s keeping me up. I think that’s my main worry. For your own sake, don’t make me proud of you. I think that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. If only you’d never keep me up again out of pride. Give me a story that just makes me unreasonably vigilant. Keep me up till five only because all your stars are out, and for no other reason. Excuse the underlining, but that’s the first thing I’ve ever said about one of your stories that makes my head go up and down. Please don’t let me say anything else. I think tonight that anything you say to a writer after you beg him to let his stars come out is just literary advice.
Do you know what I’m smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were even a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night. I’m feeling very much over-excited now, and a little dramatic, but I think I’d give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart.
- J.D. Salinger, “Seymour: an Introduction”