Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Writer Envy

Writer Envy (ˈrītər ˈenvē): Jealousy of the work of another author to the point at which one becomes dissatisfied with one's own work.

Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this excerpt (Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses):

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.

Now take a gander on this one (Ian McEwan's Atonement):

She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so. Whereas her big sister's room was a stew of unclosed books, unfolded clothes, unmade bed, unemptied ashtrays, Briony's was a shrine to her controlling demon: the model farm spread across a deep window ledge consisted of the usual animals, but all facing one way--towards their owner--as if about to break into song, and even the farmyard hens were neatly corralled.

How about this one (Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief)?

"Annabeth, I'm sorry about the toilets.”


"It wasn't my fault.”

She looked at me skeptically, and I realized it was my fault. I'd made water shoot out of the bathroom fixtures. I didn't understand how. But the toilets had responded to me. I had become one with the plumbing.

Yeah, well. I will never be Ian McEwan. Nor will I be Cormac McCarthy. Nor will I be Rick Riordan.

You know what, though? They will never be me. They will never be able to draw on my life's experiences. They will never really know the perspective of a skinny average-height half-Asian girl born in the mid-to-early nineties. Not like I do.

Too bad, so sad.

Plenty of authors will never have my sense of irony. I, in contrast, will never have plenty of authors' sense of tastefulness. Plenty of them, in turn, will never be interested in writing from a sixteen-year-old's perspective. As a sixteen-year-old, I'd say I'm pretty interested in writing from a sixteen-year-old's perspective, but I can't say whether I will ever be interested in writing from, say, the point of view of a forty-year-old Libyan man. They may feel differently.

I don't think I'll ever write anything as subtly brilliant as McCarthy's Pretty Horses. But I have to remind myself that McCarthy will never publish words that read like mine do. I have my own voice, and dammit, I'm going to exploit it. I'm going to squeeze out my unique humor and my unique rage and my unique misery. And I hope you do the same, without bashfulness, without regret, because I'm fascinated by this world's voices. Yours; hers; his; everyone's. I'm endlessly intrigued by the way everyone turns out to be different - in thoughts, actions, and words.

The heart of Writer Envy is insecurity. I've got one question: Why? I mean, God, when I'm reading Rick Riordan, I don't want to read Rick Riordan trying to sound like freakin' Ian McEwan. If Riordan had only ever pined after the voice of published authors, would he ever have gotten published? I think not! And then the world would lack the voice of Percy Jackson, and that would be a sad, sad world indeed.

So okay, Writer Envy sucks. Sure, I'd like to be Jo Rowling. Yeah, I wish I'd come up with the idea for Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. Yup, I wouldn't mind having written Pride and Prejudice. But that doesn't stop me from doing my own thing, yo. Stuff none of them will ever do.

(Also, Jane Austen would never have ended a sentence using 'yo.')

Live up the diversity we've got in writing right now - the rules are virtually no more. Whole novels are being published in verse. Authors are starting sentences with conjunctions. Commas are being omitted left and right for voice purposes. I mean, damn, it's simple - find how you want to say stuff and say it that way. You never know - maybe the way you say things will give someone else Writer Envy. Now there's a nice, comforting, affirming thought... but you'll never find out until you get yourself out there. So hurry up.

All the best,

P.S. This post was going to have fun illustrative images, but Blogger changed their picture uploading thing and now everything sucks and is impossible to work with. Gah!


Mindy McGinnis said...

I like to call it a "Talent Crush." That way I don't feel like I'm downgrading myself :)

tamarapaulin said...

Those are some strong quotes indeed!

Anne Lamotte's writing advice book "Bird by Bird" makes it sound like getting over (or accepting?) writer envy is half the battle.

At yoga class, I have loose-hamstring/flexibility envy.

At the hair salon, I have straight-hair envy.

I've decided I'm going to accept the hair ... and work every day on getting better at the other two things.

Riley Redgate said...

BBC - XD I like that term! Must make a mental switch.

Tamara - I'll trade for your hair any day! :P Mine has all the life and character of a dead fish. >_<

A.M.Supinger said...

I get writer envy some days...and those are the days when I make myself write. It is similar to how I feel about myself in a new outfit if a supermodel wore something similar. Of course I compare...but I don't have to starve myself, I'm happy with my body, and I like the dang outfit. I'm gonna wear it no matter what. Bring it on, apocalypse - at least I'll look cute!
When I write, same goes. Bring. It. On.