When I read something mind-blowing, I get stuck between joy and jealousy. The former emotion comes from the reader in me, desperate to get caught up in a well-told story; the latter comes from the writer in me, desperate to create something truly special. The reader wants to revel in brilliance and uniqueness, since both are near impossible to find (if you know me in the physical world, you’ll know I have a fierce aversion to casual use of the word unique); the writer doesn’t like being shown how far I am from creating something excellent.
I admit this now, because when the two halves collide I want the positives to win out. With famous or historically significant authors, it’s easier. I recent read Slaughterhouse-Five. Every few pages, I had to stop to appreciate how the story was told. I was thinking, “There’s no scenario in this world (or on Tralfamadore, for that matter, or anywhere beyond) that would allow me to write like this. I’ll never construct a story like Vonnegut does – in a way that seems new.” But on the other hand, it was like watching a piano prodigy perform a piece they composed. It was great, but it was unfathomable. How could I be jealous? Sure, I’ll never be Vonnegut, but who will? No one. No one will come close.
With other writers of my… expertise? Amateur status?… it’s much harder to squash the irritation and let pure admiration through. A girl at work shared some of her writing with me last week (side note: This was a big deal. I’m relatively new in a huge office where no one really knows me. Am I making friends?). What she shared was so good. This is how good it was: It reminded me of Salman Rushdie.
At first I was a little pissed. The writer in me whined, “But I’m the writer! Who does this girl think she is?” Then the reader, who is much less of a toddler, pointed out that the writing was awesome, and I should be friggin’ jazzed to read it. Under the happy rationality of the reader’s influence, I was able to praise the girl’s work as it deserved, and for that I’ll be proud (or at least not ashamed). I should note that the girl wasn’t looking to be petted; she was just excited to share her words with someone who also enjoys writing. That helped beat down the less flattering emotions.
Why do I tell you all this, reader? Is there a lesson to be learned? Maybe. Maybe it’s good to address my writerly insecurities – to show them in the light and see their real size. Then again, perhaps it’s just a self-indulgent airing of petty inner demons.
‘Til next time.