By S.T. Cartledge
Yeah, sorry for the clickbait title, but I’ve got a simple point to make:
There will always be people better than you.
This is especially true if you’re a writer. Yet people are always reading books like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, or something you would classify as hack-lit for the mass market. You think that these people suck because they’re reading trashy paranormal romance or young adult dystopian fiction, and it’s all the same. It’s all basic, formulaic narratives following chosen ones or Mary Sues.
You think you’re good at what you do. Maybe you’re great. Certainly you’re better than Stephanie Meyer and E.L. James. You’re better than this author or that author, and yet they’re the ones getting the spotlight. Your genius is undervalued. The few reviewers that do get around to leaving their comments about your book seem to miss the point. Their three-to-four star reviews are misguided.
There will always be people better than you. Some of them will always be better than you. Some are so far ahead that you can’t possibly hold a candle to them. If you slap a Twilight out of a reader’s hand, don’t replace it with a copy of your own book. Opt instead for one of these, because you will never write anything this good:
Brautigan can tell a great story with beautiful prose, sharp humour, and fascinating characters. This book in particular is terribly beautiful and surreal beyond imagination. You can’t imagine anything close to what Brautigan captures here. And if you can, you definitely can’t put it into words as well as he does. You just can’t.
I’ll admit that this is the only book by Vonnegut I’ve read so far. I can’t speak for his other books, but Slaughterhouse-Five will take you edgy young writers to school and teach you a thing or two. You’ll never be Slaughterhouse-Five good, but you’ll be better off than you were without it. Part fictionalised memoir, part time-travelling/space-travelling science fiction. Plenty of humour and heartbreak. Vonnegut breaks the rules, and when you tell him he can’t do that, he’ll tell you to just watch him do it. He’ll rip you apart and put you back together a little different. You’ll wish you could write like that, but you’ll know deep down it can’t possibly work that way.
This is where the impossible becomes real. You may have read A Clockwork Orange or Fight Club or American Psycho, but you don’t know viscera like this. Sarah Kane writes madness for theatre. Brutal and unyielding. Things which should not be. You can’t not see them there, you can’t look away. Such violence to her ambition, there is nothing else like it.
Matsuo Basho was before your time. By a few hundred years. If you think you know a thing or two about nature, beauty, and simplicity, you should read the haiku of Basho and think again. The ultimate economy with form in poetry is the haiku. It’s easy to learn, but you could spend a lifetime writing poems in the form but never truly ‘get’ what haiku are all about. You can either strive for that pure traditional origins of the form, or you can butcher it. Basho writes haiku which transcend the words on the page. His haiku live on, resonating beauty on a large scale by focusing on the minute details. A frog jumping into a pond, the changing of the seasons. His work is timeless, still images of a legacy far greater than any poet alive today.
This is a wordless graphic novel. I know, I know. It’s not fair to compare a writer of words to a painter of magic. But this book is way better than anything you could write. It’s true. Without words, Shaun Tan crafts a book filled with entire landscapes, with strange and fascinating characters, the narrative of a single man in a strange new place, trying to figure out where he belongs. The narrative runs deep and hits hard. It does more with only images than you could ever do with countless thousands of words.
So you’ll never be as great as these monumental masters with their literary feats. What now?
Read with great fury and passion. Share whatever great finds may come your way. Know that there will always be plenty of people better than you, but don’t let that stop you. Don’t try to be like your idols. Read far and read wide. Consume things far-flung from your comfort zone. Love things, hate things. Reflect on them and try to understand why you felt those things. What happened between book and brain that pulled those emotions and forced a response out of you?
Try to find that magic within yourself, but don’t let the lack of it hold you back.
Everything from the birth of your consciousness moving forward is a discovery. Have a thing of your own to be proud of. Recognise the masters of the many pages which brought you here. Let your writing do the talking. Either you’ll get recognised or you won’t. Don’t let anyone hold you back from trying.
S.T. Cartledge is a weird fiction author/poet from Perth, Western Australia. He is the author of House Hunter, Day of the Milkman, Beautiful Madness, and Kaiju Canyon. He’s a massive fan of Carlton Mellick III and Tsutomu Nihei.