I recently came across a video by Ira Glass (this video: http://vimeo.com/24715531) and he talks briefly about what it’s like for creative types as beginners. It isn’t long, but as I sat listening to it, I realised that he was entirely correct. That feeling—that you have good taste, that you know what you’re trying to do is brilliant, but that what you’re actually seeing in front of you isn’t, well, your best work—I know that feeling. I’ve been living that feeling for the last several years as I’ve worked and sweated over my novel.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m trying to broaden my reading horizon and discover new talent to help inspire and instruct my own writing. In that search, there have been innumerable times when I’ve set the book I was reading down, and just said, “wow”. I’m sure you’ve had that feeling too, at some point. When you read something that just hits the right spot, touches you where nothing else has before, or finally puts words to that nameless feeling you’ve been carrying around inside you for years, possibly without even knowing it. It’s times like these, when I set that book down and audibly release a profound sigh, that I realise something: My work doesn’t measure up. How can I compete with this guy, who just blew my mind? I’ve never written anything half so meaningful or true. What, in my brief years on this earth, could I possibly have experienced or come to understand that would be worth anyone’s time to read? What could I know or understand that would change someone’s life? How presumptuous of me to even try!
Well, I don’t know. But I’ve decided that’s not going to stop me from trying. I’m sure one of my favourite authors, Hemingway, didn’t set out to try and change the world when he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls. He just had a story, had experienced something himself when he was in Spain during the war, and decided to share it. It turned out that what he set down there was something immortal, because it was true. The people there might not have been real, the words the spoke might have been fabricated. But the experience, the feeling, the ideas were true. There are probably only a handful of people alive today who were there in Spain during that time, fighting in those mountains against the fascists. But everyone who reads that book can relate to the emotions there. And that’s what makes it timeless.
So back to the video by Ira Glass. I don’t have to write something profound. In fact, the less you are conscious of what you’re writing, the less presence you as the author have in it, the more natural and compelling it’ll probably be. I have a few notes I keep to refer to when I’m working on my book, and at the top of the page are a few quotes from some authors I hold dear. One of them is Frank Herbert, and among the several quotes of his there is this one: “Looking back on it, I realize I did the right thing instinctively. You don’t write for success. That takes part of your attention away from the writing. If you’re really doing it, that’s all you’re doing: writing.” It’s simple, to the point, and explains the reasons behind why I usually have trouble when I’m writing. I’m too involved as the author.
So when we begin, we have this period, as Mr. Glass said. This period where we don’t really like what we’re doing. We can see that it has potential, but it misses the mark. As I read and re-read my novel, I’m right there. I’m in that place. There are parts that are good. Damn good, if I’m honest. But there are other parts that are grasping, weak, and fall far short of where I intended them to land. I have to re-write those places. But you know what? That’s good. I’m glad I found them. Because when I wrote them, I thought I was nailing it, that they were really good. With the power of my future vision, I can see now that they weren’t that great. But that means I’ve grown, and that what I’m writing now is better than anything I’ve ever written before. I’m going to get through this time of doubt and misgivings, and come out the other side a better author. Right now, I’d probably just settle for “published author”, but I’ll take what I can get. They’re all stones in the path to success, so I know that eventually everything will turn out alright. As Churchill said, ”never, never, never quit.”