Can You Hear Me Now? Damn!

Once you start down the dark and twisted path to becoming a professional writer, you are well and truly screwed as a reader.

Gone are the days when a story was just fun on its own.  Now your eyes are forever critical, trying to work out the literary magic trick you just experienced.  You still get to smile and nod at the occasional story, but instead of saying “wow,” you’re more likely to whisper “you tricky, talented bastard.”  Then you feel that bloom in your chest that’s equal parts appreciation and envy.  You’d like to get a chance to meet the author so you could both shake her hand and push her down the stairs.  Both are meant as compliments.

Because you are a covetous and ambitious egotist to whom recognition is the equivalent of crack, you deal with those feelings of envy by stealing the craft of your heroes.  You imitate technique and tone and structure, trying to pass it off as your own.  You will fail . . . at first.  But you have to keep going.  At this stage, the amount of frustration you feel will have a direct correlation to the level of self-awareness you possess.  It is helpful at this point to have one or more friends who will punch you in the ego from time to time.  Just keep it fun.  No permanent scarring.

You should always be reading, and make sure you wander into areas that don’t necessarily interest you.  Even if you don’t care for what an author is saying or doing between the pages of a book, finish the story.  You can learn just as much (and maybe more) from the author you despise as the one you admire.  (Translation: don’t be a damned literary snob.  Everybody can teach you something, even if it’s how not to go about telling a story.)

Eventually you’ll settle into a style that works for you, a voice you feel comfortable putting on the page.  You’ll still dissect every story you read.  (And see for that matter.  You’re forever screwed with films and TV as well.)  Characterization and plot and pacing will all still be visible to you, but you’ll also be looking for clues about the author.  Because writers are a lonely lot.

Like anyone else suffering from a disease, writers need support groups.  Some of those groups are even nationally recognized.  Writers are observers.  (If you’re feeling particularly freaky-deaky, you can substitute the word voyeurs.)  We are on the outside, looking in.  It’s a lonely way to be, made worse by the knowledge that we’re not the only ones out there with the need to watch and report back.

So we put ourselves out there in our short stories and our books and our scripts, sending out messages about who we are and what we know and what we’ve seen.  We read the works of others hoping to see a reply or at the very least an echo of our own thoughts.  We are each of us alone on this cold, dark sea, but if we broadcast long enough and loud enough, we will eventually find each other.

That’s why I read.  That’s why I write.  To find my kin.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.


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