It’s difficult to be a creative person in this day and age, I think. I constantly hear the old phrase, “nothing is original,” and as a struggling creative writer who is always on the lookout for inspiration, it can be quite tough to draw quality ideas. So then when it comes time to sit at my computer, ready and willing to unzip the confines of my imagination, I often find myself instead stuck – scared shitless of contrived drivel, and instead deviate to a relentless Google search on how to organically progress in an unfinished story that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
And then I begin to doubt myself.
I begin to doubt my ability as a creative writer, and even though my work is mostly praised by those who take the time to read, and I’ve always loved the craft, and have known since I was four years old that the life of a professional author is what God had in store for me from day one, I can’t help but become inundated with a lack of confidence.
Is my talent actually worth it?
Am I actually talented at all?
I’m not the only one who goes through these states of self doubt. Everybody does, not just exclusive to the life of an artist. The world of Western Civilization thrives off of the negative auras of people, and leaves levels of unwarranted self-centredness of my generation twofold: I am too fat. I am not a good enough spouse. I am the worst parent. I’m not good enough to live. I can’t do anything right. I am nothing but a giant disappointment to my family.
And, as an aside, it’s such a terrible shame that amazing resources like counselling and therapy are so stigmatized, and are not available for free. But in the case of the artist, what is it that continues to bury the hatchet into any form of creative accomplishment? Personally speaking, I have a lot of great ideas for novels, but so many of my works go incomplete. Is it because I feel a lack of creativity, or is it because I feel that an invisible audience that isn’t actually there will pick apart my work and call me a talentless hack?
Obviously there is a faulty sense of narcissism there – that I worry and care so much about bullshit opinions about something I haven’t even shared with anybody yet.
Yes, we live in an unfortunate age of relentless, over-analytical nitpicking by a vast majority that has forgotten how to enjoy something for the sheer pleasure of simple, mindless, entertainment. Everything these days must have a theme. Everything must have some deep, philosophical, message. Every ending must have a happy, red, bow around it, with all loose ends addressed.
That is not how life works. And I understand most people look to the entertainment industry for an escape from life. But as a creative writer, I want to take risks. I want to churn the butter of emotion, possibly make a reader yell angrily and throw the book across the room when a favourite character dies without rhyme or reason.
Because that’s how I know I’ve made an impact somehow. Positive or negative, I’ve made an impact that will last with a true audience, for more than a few minutes.
I want to write with a tone of realism, even underneath the cloak of fantastical elements. Life is one big plot hole. When we die, life leaves many loose ends not dealt with, and many questions unanswered.
But the invisible audience – my inner critic – it scoffs, and it objects, and it picks apart, down to the last trivial detail.
Whatever happened to the sheer literary high of immersing oneself in the shoes of the characters we read about? Kids don’t care or worry so much about bullshit subtext. As an eight-year-old, I never read R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps for the sole purpose of picking out themes and references to his favourite 1950s monster movies. From my standpoint, Goosebumps, just like Animorphs, Encyclopedia Brown, The Babysitters Club, etc., were stories written for the pure sake of entertaining a captivated audience. Sure, yes, the inclusion of deeper subtext can make a story that more satisfying in the end (especially upon multiple readings), but I wonder if there is too much emphasis on such a thing these days.
Does the fact that I wish to toss away pretentious ideas such as subtext and interpretation for the sake of the elicitation of a raw, page-turning, emotion from a reader make me a hack?
Or … am I just over-thinking the whole thing?
Many – countless – books are printed each year. Many – countless – books reach the best seller’s list, and many – countless – books are total pieces of white dog shit.
Twilight, Fifty Shades … how are books like these so publishable? What is it that real talentless hacks have that a wide variety of readers want?
Even deeply-revered authors, considered literary masters of their time, such as C.S. Lewis and John Tolkien, (in my opinion) are not really very great at the craft either – but, like Stephanie Meyers and E.L. James, have somehow captured the emotions and imaginations of countless readers.
All right, all right – comparing schlocky, ill-researched bondage erotica and shiny control-freak vampire boyfriends to the religious, high-fantasy sagas of Narnia and Middle-earth is a bit extreme. But the point I’m trying to get across can be summarized in something Stephen King once wrote: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
Stephen King is one of my greatest influences as an aspiring author – but I would be lying blind if I said he himself was God’s gift to talent agencies. Obviously this is attributed to many debilitating factors in his personal life (drug abuse, alcoholism, and getting hit by a car), and although I don’t agree with all of his opinions, I still deeply respect the man as a hard-working, dedicated, writer. As awful as some of his works are, how can you not respect a guy who is so diligent to the craft, that he is able to easily pump out approximately two full-length manuscripts on an almost annual basis?
Whenever I feel like a total shit about myself, and want to set my word processer on fire, I can always rely on a quote related to writing by Stephen King to drag me up through the muck.
David Eddings is another inspiration of mine, and he is constantly ridiculed by dedicated fantasy readers as a hack. It’s true. After the failure of his first novel, High Hunt, and a string of unpublished works, Eddings walked into a book store and was flabbergasted at the fact that Lord of the Rings was in its twenty-eighth reprint. From that point on, Eddings based his future career in the profit sword and sorcery, as he figured that was what sold most at the time.
Regardless of the nature of which Eddings became a well-read fantasy author, the two things he has taught me about the creative venture of pen-to-paper was the importance of dialogue and character development.
But at 1,533 words and counting, what is the point I am trying to make? That due diligence surpasses the importance of talent and meticulous detail? No matter how much I write on the topic of talent, lack of talent, and people who inspire me … the question of whether or not my own talent – as a writer – is still worth anything sticks like peanut butter to the roof of my mouth.
To shut out my invisible audience – my inner critic – and just write whatever comes to mind with literary abandon is easier said than done. Does that make this my downfall? That I think too hard and act far less?
From the ages of four to thirteen, I wrote and illustrated countless short stories and comic books. From the ages of fourteen to eighteen, I wrote a total of five full-length novels. To nobody’s surprise, most, if not all, of the stories I wrote as an adolescent and teenager were total garbage.
But they still matter. They still hold an important place in my growth as a self-published novelist, and I will never, ever, regret their place in my life. For each and every conception, I didn’t care how good or bad the stories were. I found myself deeply involved with the characters and the plots, drawing inspiration from video games and backyard adventures. I enjoyed my craft. And that was what mattered.
As my thirties loom darkly overhead, I feel with each year that passes, inspiration dwindles, and imagination fleets. I am too hung up on structure, on grammar, on finding each which way to avoid the dreaded “ing” and “ly” suffixes … hammered into my head over, and over again by pretentious professors, begrudged editors, and “writers” with nothing to show for it, during my experiences in countless English classes, literary courses, and community writer’s circles.
There is no room for creativity to bloom when one holds himself back by nonsensical rules and regulations of the trade. Rules, as the cliché always goes, are meant to be broken, but I feel they must be broken with intelligent intent.
The first draft is a first draft for a reason. And although I am self aware of the fact that I’m far stronger writer when it comes to revisions … to bash my head wide open over the stress of structuring initial description will be the death of me, and the death of my talent.
It does not matter if I write 1,000 words a day, or 500 words a week. It does not matter what my inner critic says, or what pretentious internet critics say. If I am as dedicated to the life of a progressive writer as I wish to be, that is all that matters, and with that in mind, all I can do is continue to reassure myself and keep the lighter fluid away from the laptop.