Writing is a skill we learn not too long after we begin to speak, and just like those crooked and spindly characters of our first attempts, the way in which we express ourselves is as unique as the circumstances that led to our existence. Our speech and verbal expressions hold meaning and the words we write are no exception. But where do we draw the line? Where does originality become eccentricity, and at what point is artistic license simply an act of prideful preening?
Enroll in any high school English class and you’ll inevitably read “The Greats.” Akin to songs that just about everyone knows the words to, these classics are pillars in the great hall of Literature. If titles like “The Great Gatsby,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Scarlet Letter,” and “Moby Dick” aren’t swirling in your head right about now—along with the desperate urge to yawn and/or cringe—then you’ve probably chosen a career that doesn’t require an English major. Or your brain has since blocked out such painful memories.
Relax; breathe. I haven’t brought up such titles to torture you, but rather to discuss the dichotomy between “The Greats” of yester-century and the memorable writers of today. Where does the modern author fit themselves in this diverse landscape of writing talent? What regard should one have for one’s own writing?
Basically: how do you measure up as a writer?
Nearly all “The Greats,” the early authors who penned so long ago, have achieved notoriety long after their deaths. Their novels discuss topics relevant to their times and show, in some fashion or another, the way one “ought” to write.
English teachers and other writers alike will use them as muses or mentors in their own works, even plumbing these literary resources to distinguish “real” authors from the rest. Praise and adulation comprise the pedestals upon which “The Greats” repose. Successful authors must make comparative sacrifices to these immortal souls.
After all, if you don’t know your Shakespeare, how can you write the next masterpiece of a lifetime?
This is exactly the mentality that faces authors today; a reverence for authors past and no sense of respect for the writers of the future. There has too long been a certain divinity afforded such early works of Literature, but no more! Just because I am no Shakespeare does not mean I have nothing of import to write. Put positively: my contributions are just as crucial to the world!
Consider the world of writing today. Broadly speaking, you have authors who make their name spinning tales as if their lives depend on it, filling the airport and Barnes & Noble bookshelves with murder mysteries and the like, chock full of drama, action, intrigue, and of course some sexiness thrown in as well.
Among literary scholars—the “fashion police” of the writing world—such writings are dismissed with haughty flicks of ink. Authors might as well be selling out to the first person to offer them a trifle sum of money, contributing little to the Literary World, as it were. Jane Austin wrote about the roles of men and women in society in her novels, and all you can come up with is some sensational smut? I can hear the scoffing already.
Okay, you say, so I’m not the next Stephen King. Does that mean I have nothing to add? My writings should then stay in my notebooks, gathering dust until my death, whereupon my genius ideas will be born into the world and treasured by the next generation of bibliophiles?
Therein lies the catch.
As writers, we’re told that our stories and novels must be the best they can be before being sent off to a publisher or magazine. Like the first day of school, our tiny little manuscripts must dress to impress, with the smell of newness hovering about their phrases. These stories, too, must wait until the ripening of their consciousness before they can begin interacting with the rest of the world.
But like the child who has never felt the desire to share, we must also be cautious in our boasting. Is it self-confidence that leads us to flaunt our works, or do we rather come off as arrogant in our need to do our work justice?
As authors, we are taught to hone our craft, writing each day to improve the flow of words from brain to fingers. We see the crowds that flock to film adaptations of beloved novels and the hype on social media as the next chapter of a series hits the shelves. Our creative worlds may be our own, but once we decide to share them, it is an incredible feeling to know that these worlds have impacted the lives of those around us. And maybe, just maybe, might also have inspired a budding writer as well.
Then there are those of us who write to express our pent-up feelings, to deal with the events in our lives through the quickest, purest route. Whether it’s a personal story of loss or tragedy, or a far-off world where relatable events occur, these tales carry with them a piece of the writer, a snippet of the soul which has penned the work. These writers speak through the ink, not to impress or flaunt, but rather to connect with emotions and changes that affect us all.
Each person has a story to tell, but the written word is not always the best medium. Find a way to express yourself in the truest form, and stick to that medium. But if your medium is writing, treasure your works as if they are your literary offspring. Give your writing the attention it deserves and while it is acceptable to celebrate your victories, allow your defeats to keep you humble. You are not a writing god.
In the end, the road to literary success is paved with “I’ll write that book someday,” a healthy optimism, and carpal tunnel. It is the journey that will mean more to you than the destination, even when you reach it. So, whether you push your pompous prose into the faces of everyone you meet or you timidly offer your hewn works with humble blushing, know this: write to your passion(s).
Because, dare I say it, the world could always use another writer.
Rebecca Henderson holds a Master’s in German and a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing. Best expressing herself through the written word, she enjoys the smell of burning rubber and can recite the ABC’s of the automotive world upon command. Rebecca hopes to shift your world perspective through her words, because looking out the same window every day hardly makes for an interesting life.