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Reading Mentality as a Writer

May 15, 2013

Have you read about King Solomon?

One story that’s attributed to him is attributed to many others, but the jist of the tale remains the same. The King asks a sage to bring to him something that will make him happy when he’s down, but also sober him up when he’s ecstatic. Something to perk him up when life is being rough, but also bring him down when he’s intoxicated with excitement. The sage comes back with the phrase ‘this, too, shall pass’, a phrase that can be said at any time to restore the emotions, regardless of whether it was a good or bad thing.

Writers have a similar problem. Okay, artists in general have a similar problem; I won’t for a moment pretend that painters, musicians and digital artists don’t have this mentality. For the sake of simplicity, however, we’re going to explore this from a writer’s standpoint.

When writers read other’s work, they’re prone to fall into one of two nasty mindsets. These are:

1. “I could write a story much better than this.”

2. “There’s no way I could write something as good as this.”

I noticed this was a problem for me when I was reading a novella. I thought I knew where the author was going with the story, and I said to myself “If he does that, I’d be amazed. I only just clocked onto the idea. I’d never be able to write a story with such a good twist”. The rest of the story was marred by a subconscious desire to not see the twist in the story, as if my entire prospects of being a writer would be ruined if he pulled it off.

The author didn’t. I was relieved.

I realised this was incredibly stupid, so I talked to my good friend A. Shelton about it. Something she employs while reading is that — when she has one of the above two thoughts — she adds the words “…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work” to the end.

Wow! Awesome stuff.

So when you’re reading a piece you think is lesser than your ability, think “I could write a story much better than this…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work”. This reminds you that while, yes, it’s entirely possible for you to produce a ‘better’ piece of work, the point is that it’d be your piece of work. You can’t go to the author’s publisher and say “That book you just published? Yeah, I wrote an improved copy. You’re welcome” and have the old author’s work overwritten by your own. It’d be a separate story, done by you, in your own voice and style. With stories you feel you could do better with, don’t just regard them as rubbish; take from them what YOU’D do in the same situation and use it to improve your own writing. This is a lot more respectful to the original author’s work than if you just threw it away.

If you feel the story is above your ability, think “There’s no way I could write something as good as this…but if I tried, it’d be my own piece of work”. Inverse from the above point, this one tells you that, while the work is indeed fantastic, you would be able to bring to the story things the original author would never thought of if you attempted it. That’s not sugar-coating, a pat on the head and a ‘there, there’. That’s the truth. You’d be able to come up with ideas, concepts and plot twists that the original author would never see coming. Its part of the idea that we’re all different individuals with a variety of tastes and preferences. The original author had the bittered son of the king assassinate his father for the crown, but you might have made him flee the kingdom and set up a mercenary force to siege the city. And then, wow, the stories would just be their own beasts from then on.

In short, always remember that your voice, no matter what, is just as valid as everybody else’s. It’s a wonderful thing to realise, as long as you also realise that everbody else’s voice is just as valid as your own. From the works which lacked something, learn what you would have done, and make your own art. From the works which blew you away, learn what the catalyst was, and then make your own art. Because no matter what, it’d be your own, and that’s something that no author could ever achieve. Writing a you story.

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