Monday, May 1, 2017
It is said that to succeed in the arts one should strive to be oneself. That may be good advice for people with classical talents, people who draw something or play something or write something at age 17 and everyone is like, whoa, that looks professional, let me give you a scholarship and a fabulous and satisfying career in the arts. For people with unusual talents, like me, just for instance, who write or paint or play something at age 17, or really at anywhere from age 17 through 52, for instance again, and they're pretty sure its kind of good and everyone is like, I like that, it's so... unique, and then they lose interest quickly and give a scholarship or thumbs up or lavish publishing contract to someone with a classical talent, for people like that, there's rarely any need to strive to be oneself. For people like that being oneself will eat away at all our best attempts at slavish imitation.
For instance, I am pretty sure I have all along here been trying to write exactly like P. G. Wodehouse. Why? I don't know. I didn't even know I was doing it until I started reading his golf stories at which point I thought "Oh, so that's what I've been trying to do all along!" Now if I were a classical talent and I were trying to write like P. G. Wodehouse, you and my 200,000 other regular readers would be like "I can see the resemblence. I think of you as Wodehousian. But I read you for yourself and I think you would only be a greater writer if you strove more to be yourself! Nevertheless I adore your work and would like to offer you a lavish publishing contract." However as me, with my unusual talent, writing like P. G. Wodehouse comes out like this. And what you and my 16 other readers are thinking is, well, I don't know what you're thinking, but it's probably not "Oh my god, I totally see it, this is totally like P. G. Wodehouse! I bet you could imitate anyone's writing style at will." But, leaving you out of it because you've clearly got enough on your plate today as it is, what say we put this before a big time editor and imagine what they would say. They would read this and say "I don't know what ever gave you the faintest idea this is anything like P. G. Wodehouse. But it does have its own, odd, amusing..." At which point their phone would ring, or someone would ask them an unrelated question, and their attention would turn elsewhere, and they would forget they ever read anything by me.
So in this long, bitter screed about not being a classical talent, and not having publishers pounding at my door, and not having thousands of readers, and not being able to copy P. G. Wodehouse worth beans, what am I really saying?
It's sunnier than you think. I am saying that I can look upon all the rules of writing and every shread of writerly or artistic advice ever written and laugh. What is it to me? It doesn't matter in the least what I do here, it all comes out right in the end.