I’m in one of those moods today where I want to read about the masters and learn from them and see whether what I’m feeling inside is unique to me or just part of the process of writing fiction.
We writers might fantasize about things, but when we write it’s to share our fantasies with readers and to do it in a way that is awesome. So we want those words to be the best they can be. We want those words to entertain and entice and make people fall in love with our minds because our minds are our secret hideaway. It is where we are at our most vulnerable, and, apparently, most entertaining, and we invite readers to come join and share our core selves. So, naturally we want our housekeeping in order when our readers visit so we don’t get embarrassed, or worse, readers feel unmotivated to stay.
Part of the process of getting our shit together is reading how other writers did it before us, which is why I’m linking to the article below. It is a pretty awesome piece about Hemingway and writing and the psychological journey inherent to the process of writing.
From Brain Pickings:
“When Samuelson asks how one can know whether one has any talent, Hemingway replies:
You can’t. Sometimes you can go on writing for years before it shows. If a man’s got it in him, it will come out sometime. The only thing I can advise you is to keep on writing but it’s a damned tough racket. The only reason I make any money at it is I’m a sort of literary pirate. Out of every ten stories I write, only one is any good and I throw the other nine away.
Hemingway tempers this with a word of advice on ambition, self-comparison, and originality:
Never compete with living writers. You don’t know whether they’re good or not. Compete with the dead ones you know are good. Then when you can pass them up you know you’re going good. You should have read all the good stuff so that you know what has been done, because if you have a story like one somebody else has written, yours isn’t any good unless you can write a better one. In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, but the tendency should always be upward instead of down. And don’t ever imitate anybody. All style is, is the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact. If you have a way of your own, you are fortunate, but if you try to write like somebody else, you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.”
A while ago I wrote about Hemingway and Gaiman, how they emulated the masters who inspired them and through practice discovered their own voices. At the end of the day, I think, you will try anything you can to make your words addictive to readers, but at the core of that motivation is a wish to connect with other people on a level free of pretension and ego, where being yourself is enough.