How many times has someone given you the sagest of advice, I mean, really taken time out of their lives to help you and guide you and to give you their hard-earned honest opinion and wisdom…only for you to nod, agree and thank them…and then instantly ignore them?
To any friends that may be reading this, of course that doesn’t apply to you! I don’t mean you at all, thank you so much for everything you have ever done for me…ahem…no, no, I mean other people.
Everyone has the most well meaning of intentions don’t they but sometimes you have to free yourself from it. I want to share a moment of clarity I had when reading two specific pieces of work, Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea and Franz Kafka’s, The Castle.
At the danger of really annoying you to the point of infuriation I’ll repeat what I have said pretty much in all of my blog posts, I am a total novice! I do not claim any expertise or authority in the world of writing so I am well aware that I will have people telling me who the hell I think I am when I say what I am about to say. So here goes for what it’s worth. I didn’t think much of The Old Man and the Sea. There I have said it. On the other hand, I was really inspired by The Castle.
Let me explain. I have had a lot of people encourage me to read Hemingway over the years, both as a masterful writer in general, and specifically as a master of the short story. If you do a little bit of research it won’t take long for you to see that the story I have just said I don’t think much of is widely considered to be among the best short stories ever written (Pulitzer anyone…) Now before you explode, I would like to say that yes of course I think Hemingway is a magnificent writer! It is the specific suggestion of people thinking that I must read this one particular book over any of his others that I think is interesting, the assumption I will get more out of that than something else because either they have, or they have been told they should.
I have also met a lot of people who think Kafka is confusing, pointless and full of meaningless meanderings. I’m not agreeing or disagreeing. What I am saying is that I found reading The Castle to be an immensely moving experience. I would not however say that everyone I know must read it on the assumption they will get the same feeling I did from it no matter how much I would like them to. I think that is the difference between knowing something is recommended and having something pushed on you for its own sake rather than being relevant to you. I wonder how many people think first, yes, this will match very well your interests and goals, or I loved it so you have to love it as well?
I said a long time ago in one of my blog posts that I do not review books. I simply don’t feel qualified. It is not my place to, and I don’t enjoy it. So I am not about to go into why I feel about these stories the way I do. For the record the books I have mentioned are both great, I am not saying otherwise, that isn’t the point. What I am going to draw your attention to is my earlier sentence about having a moment of clarity. It is the result I am interested in here, not the reasoning.
When talking about writing I think it is good to be selfish. I am happy that I have the strength to be selfish now and I will continue to be selfish in the future. The reason is I have had enough of being told what to read and what to ignore based on other people’s opinions when it is not related to my education. For instance, reviews are very important when it comes to buying books in general, if I walk into a bookstore or log into Amazon, yes, I want to see good reviews for the products I am looking at. I read those reviews and it does influence what I will buy. What I don’t like doing is expanding my reading list or my set of influencers based solely on what other people think is good for me. The basic rule is you should read a lot of everything. I am not going to ignore someone because you think they are no good when it is not about being good or bad, it is about being different. If there is something to learn then I am going to read it, even if it is a big pile of rubbish! That is because there is something to be gained about learning more from good and bad technique and style by reading it than there is ignoring it. So I feel very happy about saying what I like and what I don’t like because at a root level, I like everything! I respect and admire everyone who has gone about the business of finishing a piece of work but that is not the same as going along with the consensus and saying something is better than I think it is in its relation to its impact on me and trying to then emulate it. That I think is such an important qualifier, if something moves and inspires you then you should admit that and allow it to motivate you, regardless of what it is, and that is why I feel happy admitting I am selfish. I am going to absorb everything and use it to my advantage! There is nothing wrong with that because I also continue to be open to ideas. If someone suggests something then I will take it at face value, it is worth reading (or watching, listening, eating, etc.) because everything is. Not because they have any special knowledge on what makes me tick deep inside and they somehow understand that this piece of work will change my life. In turn, that makes me feel more confident about turning the education of reading into tangible lessons for my writing.
I am going to write about what I want to write about. I am not going to write about certain subjects because people think I should. I am not going to write like anyone else because they think I should. I am not going to write for a certain audience because that is where the money is, or where they current swell of opinion is, etc. If I want to explore a certain style and technique or attempt a crazy form then why the hell not! I am not trying to be like anyone else.
There are only so many hours you can spend on things that aren’t working for you; time is precious. Don’t feel like you have to read every book in a series just to say you have finished the series, only do it because you enjoy it or are getting something from it. Move on to the next. If someone recommends a book to you and you get through the first few chapters and you think it stinks, don’t feel obligated to finish it because the author is famous, or the book itself is famous, just put it down and get onto the next, perhaps one day you can go back to it, but for now, be selfish, do what is right by you because you need to make the most of the day and get on to the next project, and more importantly you need to feel the confidence to try something new, something out there is more relevant to you and will help you more, go find it.
Going back to the beginning, the reason why I feel that I have benefitted from being more selfish is that as a consequence of being selfish I find that I take people’s views less to heart. That allows me to try and fail more. To experiment more. To fail and fail and fail again but really enjoy the process! Life isn’t always like school, college or university; there aren’t set texts you have to read and write an essay on. Yes something’s are just too good to miss and also, something’s are too important to miss. There are times when you just have to knuckle down and get through those set texts, but not as often as I had once thought, and by not following the expected path, you can create your own path.
Again, not the best written piece, slightly rushed and I don’t think I have got the core point across but it has been a very important process for me. I’m only talking about one specific arena of pushing your own style and form and self-experimentation. I’m not talking about becoming a selfish person in your entire life, still share your sweets and please your lovers…
You are allowed to like whatever the hell you like. For me, I feel freer to write what I want to write now more than ever because I never want to be the person who writes for anyone other than myself.
It feels very liberating to be selfish.
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