It was called “Balls”. Roth admired the title. Said he couldn’t believe he hadn’t used it himself. Then he advised his fan to “quit while you’re ahead”. He explained that writing was torture, that you had to throw most of it away because it wasn’t any good and the young man really should stop now before he did lasting damage to himself.When this story made the rounds some said that a successful old man like Roth had no right to be putting off anyone young and up and coming.
I don’t agree. Roth said what he thought. That most novelists, like most musicians, are never going to achieve anything like the acclaim they feel they’re entitled to and they really might be better off doing something they can succeed in.
And the more important point is that if the fire to write novels really burns inside you, rather than just the desire to become a successful novelist, then nothing Philip Roth says is going to make any difference.
As Laurence Olivier used to say, if you want to be an actor, you are an actor. If you’re not an actor you didn’t want it badly enough.