We all know that writing is a lonely job. And with no audience to applaud (or maybe boo) our narrative choices, it’s also a job that comes with a lot of self-doubt. Instead of the typical ‘angel’ ‘demon’ most people have on their shoulders, writers have a critic and, if they’re lucky, a miniature version of their literary hero, or heroes, reminding them that success is possible.
Last night I got the opportunity to hear Stephen King speak on the campus of Wichita State University. I’ve always been a fan, but to be honest, it was when Stephen King wrote his book On Writing, that I became more than a fan. He gave me permission to write. Okay. He gave permission for all of us to write, or to do whatever it is we love to do because hey, isn’t that what life is supposed to be about. We’re supposed to do what we love, with or without a guarantee that we’ll ever make it onto the shelves of a bookstore.
I’ve made reading his book a summer ritual and since I have the audio version, I get to hear his voice reading his words about the craft of writing. It’s a must read for any writer!
Okay, I’ll try to stop being a Stephen King cheerleader for a moment and get to my point. Because writing is something we do alone, because writers, published or not, are filled with self-doubt and insecurities, we need idols. Early on, mine was Flannery O’Connor. I loved and still love the way her hand can reach out through the page and literally slap the reader across the face. I have other idols as well. Cormac McCarthy is one. And then of course, there’s Mr. King.
Our writing idols do more than inspire us. They push us to be our best, to find an even better word than the one we just agonized over for thirty minutes. They refuse to let us settle for mediocre, and most importantly, at least for me, they let us see what’s possible.
I love Olympic figuring skating. I can’t skate. I doubt I could even walk with skates on, but watching them glide across the ice, then spin at dizzying speeds after doing some triple, double, cow thing in the air is amazing. Did I ever aspire to do that? No way! I’d break my neck and probably the part of my body I happen to be sitting on right now. But I love watching them because they remind me of what humans are capable of. Do I believe I will ever be able to craft words the likes of O’Connor or McCarthy or King? No. But the great writers show us what humans are capable of. And while I know that there are elephants who can paint pictures, last I heard all writers are humans.
We can be capable of greatness, our own form of greatness. I like my miniature version of Stephen King sitting on my shoulder, telling me that what I just wrote needs to be highlighted and deleted ASAP! IT SUCKS! But I also like the little voice that sometimes say, “Hey, not bad kid. I think you might really have something here.”
Be inspired. Study your idols, and instead of reading a line and saying to yourself, “Holy crap, I’ll never write like that!”, remember that even the greats started somewhere. And as much as we may love the voices of our writing idols, the world doesn’t need another Connor or McCarthy or even, yes it pains me to say this, another King. The writing world needs a choir of voices. Let them inspire yours.