Parting with Pretension: Writing What You Write
I’ve been stuck for months trying to rewrite my first novel. As a skilled organizational artisan, I’ve created the storyboard, character sketches, and timelines. I’ve scheduled writing time, forced myself to write every day and each time I sit down and write, it feels torturous and miserable, every chapter a chop shop of hijacked words.
I’ve spent too much time lately reading books by lauded authors, writers who have been hailed as literary greats – writers who other writers spend their lives imitating. My own writing became more and more strangled, as I leveled world class academic criticism at it. Everything was shit and sitting down to create more of it became a moribund exercise in self-flagellation.
After working through yet another book that had collected dust in the halls of literary greatness, I sat in silence. This anger that kept erupting inside of me was the result of my own inferiority – this need I could not name. I wanted something that I could not have, that I could not want and still continue to write. I didn’t want to be called a hack. I imagined reviews that mentioned my simplistic prose and unsophisticated ramblings. I didn’t want to be unmasked for the pop storyteller that I truly am. I did not want to be naked in my ignorance, in my lack of creative invention, in my sheer earnestness.
I’ve always believed that in order to be better at anything, I needed to look towards those who are the best in their fields. I needed to read material above my intellect, wrangle with prose until I understood what the author was trying to say, slog through story lines that were miserable and depressing. It finally hit me, I don’t enjoy the books that I’ve been reading. I don’t want to write miserable navel-gazing buckets of guts. I don’t want someone to get to the end of my novel and realize that they need a drink, a rope and a chair. I don’t want someone to read my novel and say “What the hell? I just read 600 pages and nothing happened.”
I wanted so desperately to be something I am not and the words, which I poured out onto the pages were these disappointing, rather stupid children. Why would I expect to write that which I found little joy in reading? Why would I want to imitate authors who I found pedantic and arrogant, writing post-modern, avante garde, experimental bullshit that was more irritating than enlightening. I understand subjectivity, but I was in denial that I am the masses. I am a sheep. I am a pedestrian proletariat with a touch of vulgarity and a smidge of mediocrity. I am all the things that people get called when they just don’t get it.
I like to look at paintings of landscapes, not melting vaginas in the desert. I like music that I can sing to and orchestral pieces that are harmonic. I like a damned good story in language that flows. It doesn’t need to sweat me or make me travel through every minutiae of a character’s day. I don’t need to re-read passages ten times trying to figure out who the hell the dialogue is attributed to and why it’s suddenly daylight.
This is a particular cruelty of self-awareness. You know what you don’t know. You know what you can’t do. You know what you aren’t. Perhaps it was my working class upbringing that has made me so ridiculously sensitive about being perceived as anything less than brilliant. Which is odd, as I have never been described as brilliant. Maybe it’s that I decided to make a deliberate run at this writing thing. Maybe it’s because I’m scared to death that this thing I thought I would always be was a delusion and I’m going to fail so big that it will break me.
This is an epiphany of sorts. We all carry preconceived notions, prejudices and beliefs and as a friend of mine has reminded me “Just because we think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.” Truth has become a priority in my life. And like a true navel-gazer, truth must start with being honest with myself. And letting go of the idea of best and perfection and greatness. Those things were likely never within my reach.
I am a writer. I have stories to tell. I hope that someday, someone will read and enjoy them. The end.
Write your story. Screw literary punditry.
P.S. Some of the great writers seem like real wankers.