Saturday, May 28, 2016

Be Yourself, Not Like Someone Else.

Most writers I know are self-conscious and pretty darned critical of themselves and their work. This is a good thing in some ways, but should be kept to a minimum. I also know some writers who are totally ego-mad and who do not look upon their work with a critical eye at all. This is also a bad thing, except in the rare occasions in which they actually deserve the praise they lavish on themselves. But this latter is an extreme rarity.

For years I would worry that I was not only not creating fiction as well as I could, but that my work didn't measure up to what I read from my favorite authors. This is probably the worst thing that a writer can do to himself. The chances are that your favorite writers are pretty damned good and display tremendous skills and stunning insight. (There are exceptions. You may have no taste and your favorite writers are awful, in which case you're safe and sound.)

The thing is--to make a baseball analogy--some authors are like Hank Aaron and can crush the ball out of the park on a regular basis. There are those rare dudes who can slap a homer all of the damned time. These folk are rare. For me, such folk are Hemingway, Bradbury, McCarthy, Gifford, Bukowski. Don't try to match what they do, because likely you're going to either end up producing thin, watery copies of their styles; or you are going to fail miserably and create something that doesn't deserve publication.

The past couple of months I have been reading a lot of science fiction from the 1950s, much of it written by some truly talented authors; men with well-deserved reputations for excellence. However, I was surprised when most of these stories were not the sparkling gems that I had read from their pens over the years. Slowly, as I read the volumes, I realized that in general they wrote stuff that was entertaining, but mediocre. They were professionals in every way, so the stories were almost never what I would call "bad". But mostly they were only barely over the line into territory that I would call "fun", but hardly brilliant. And definitely not home runs. A couple of triples were in there. Some doubles. A whole lot of singles. And a few walks.

So here's what I took out of all of this.

Don't try to slam a homer out of the park every time you sit down at the old screen. Sure, it happens. And it happens a lot if you're the equivalent of the best among us. But if you're not, then just sit there and work on the project and get it out to the markets where it will hopefully see print. Be happy with sliding into third, or getting a stand-up double, or a close reach to first base on a bobbled catch in the outfield is even okay.

Work at it. Be a journeyman. Hone your skills. Eventually, you'll hit some homers. You might even become a star.

No comments: