There’s just something so … irritating about seeing people get praised for doing things just because it makes them happy.
That opening sentence bodes really well for the rest of this post, huh?
I’m talking about this thing specifically: a Goodreads review of Taran Matharu’s The Novice. So hey, wanna know exactly how fucking petty I am this evening/morning? What I find so irritating about this review is this line right here:
Taran Matharu’s approach is very straightforward and uncomplicated; it doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificing his vision to adhere to a fixed set of conventions, nor does it feel like he’s out to subvert any norms. At the heart of it, I just see an author telling a story about characters that he obviously cares a lot about.
Why does this get to me so much? Why is it that in order to stop it from getting to me I’d have to invest a considerable amount of mental and emotional energy into deconstructing this sentence and analysing it in such a way that diminishes the praise being given? Why am I such a fucking dick?
It is fantastic that Taran Matharu, or any writer for that matter, has written something that gets this kind of response out of their readers. For all I know he was setting out to subvert norms, or trying to stay safely within the confines of established conventions, or hated these characters and this story and saw the whole thing as a paycheck. But the idea that he didn’t, that this product was just as genuine as the review suggests, is what gets me, because I’ve been spending such a lot of energy trying to train myself to have ideas that do conform to established conventions, that do attempt to subvert norms, and that will still also be ideas that I am passionate about. And now I see this review and it’s like everything I’ve been working so hard to achieve means nothing, because apparently you can just be really artless and still have people like you.
Though to be fair, I already knew that. I mean as many problems as I had with Wake, what resonated with me about it was the fact that it seemed like Amanda Hocking was really enjoying herself writing it, and that made up for a lot in my experience of reading it. It also made me jealous. I may have a jealousy problem.
I am jealous because all of this training I’ve been doing of turning my imagination into a factory of calculated designs now feels just as phony and pointless as I thought it would be before I started doing it. I’m seeing somebody else thriving on their own idealism (or at least being praised for doing so), and I resent them for it because I’ve spent so long working so hard on giving up my own. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of my calculated creations. But they’re the ideas that I also just can’t quite bring myself to work on, and I think it’s because I like them as calculated ideas, not as ideas that I “just like”, to the point where I feel like I have to work with them.
So, not for the first time, I’ve been spending the past few hours trying to think of what story I’d be working on if I was just aiming to enjoy myself, allow myself to indulge in my particular tastes, no matter how unrefined or uncritical. And I had a couple of ideas.
One of them actually had nothing to do with a story in particular, but the way that I write. Tallulah is a very … well, it’s still in the process of being written and re-written, but at its best it uses a very poetic, vivid kind of prose that I enjoy, because it lets me grapple with the deepest, most unspeakable yet intimate emotional experiences people can have, experiences that I often don’t understand first-hand but really want to understand. Writing that way allows me to try; it’s “method writing”, basically.
It’s also incredibly limiting.
I mean if you’re always trying to get to the heart of the matter, expose the authentic truth of X emotional experience by throwing words at it until something – hopefully – sticks, then you’re setting yourself up for exhaustion. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy it, but it’s not all I can do.
I can also do really irreverent, purposefully unattractive prose for comedic effect, and actually I really like doing that. And I can even write simply, or what I would now call “unsophisticated” or “bland” or “boring”, but dear god could I use some of that now, because after getting so used to supercharging my every idea with as many words as I can dredge up out of my mental lexicon, some simplicity, some “blandness” might just start to bring me back on-balance.
The thing is that I can actually now remember why I started writing so wordily: it was a combination of wanting to get better at articulating difficult and complex emotions in a really authentic way, which I think was inspired by watching Before Sunrise when I was 17 and feeling like all of my story ideas, dialogue and characters were extremely childish, and discovering Neil Gaiman when I was 21 through American Gods, who I tried to copy until I realised that I hated writing like a worse version of Neil Gaiman (which, thankfully, I realised rather quickly). Well, honestly, I think I’ve gotten really good at being wordy. So good, in fact, that even my supervisor for my honours research essay is telling me that I need to tone it the fuck down (in rather more pleasant terms) because my writing can be so dense; I’ve gotten so good at being verbose that it’s making me bad at writing essays in arts. That is a red flag if ever I saw one.
And since she’s also told me that I need to focus on being more succinct in my academic writing, why not try and apply that to my creative writing as well? I still want to be able to articulate the inner truth of the human soul or whatever, but if I could do it with as few words as possible that would be great. And just generally use as few words as possible, for everything. I think, now that I’ve got at least a decent grip on examining complicated feelings, my next task is to train myself to do it on a budget.
And to revisit a “blander” form of writing in general, because there are a lot of cool ideas that I have that just won’t get written if I try and explain them as vividly as I imagine them in my mind. A picture is worth a thousand words and all that; I haven’t been keeping up with my drawing like I wanted to, and until I’m confident enough to illustrate my own books or even write comics, I’m very eager to learn how to pack a thousand words’ worth of information into, like, thirty-five-ish.
And that way, I might feel more confident about writing the things that I want to write because it feels good to write them, instead of worrying that I can’t write them well enough to do them justice.
I guess envy isn’t the end of the world after all.