Concept vs. Reality

Bloggified by Jake on Thursday, August 21, 2008

Way of the Gun has several notable and memorable scenes, most of which can be found on YouTube. The movie is most famous for the opening where Sarah Silverman cusses a blue streak and gets punched in the face. There's also Geoffrey Lewis's prolonged death scene, the barbed wire torture, and the shootout where Ryan Phillippe jumps into a fountain full of broken beer bottles.

But the scene that has always stuck with me was the meeting between Benicio Del Toro and James Caan, two world-weary criminals who know they will eventually come to a point where one will have to kill the other, but can remain polite until that time comes.

These days, they want to be criminals more than they want to commit crimes.
In their conversation, they lament how the criminal lifestyle has be subverted by wannabes who don't take it seriously.

The reason this has always stuck with me is because of how often I see it everywhere else in the world. Concepts are always so much more appealing than realities. How quickly would Fender go out of business if the only kids who bought electric guitars were the ones with the genuine drive, ability, and dedication to be successful with them? Why is it that Americans own more exercise equipment than any other society in history and yet we're also fatter than any other society in history? What reason is there to fund PBS with taxpayer dollars? We all like the idea of being physically fit guitar-gods who watch "McLaughlin Group" and "Nova," but the truth is we're much more inclined to stuff our faces with Doritos while watching "Sanford and Son" on TV Land and failing to properly armpit fart the theme song.

I bring this up because I'm coming to a point where I have to question whether I'm more interested in writing or in being a writer.

Since I was seven years old, I've wanted to be a writer. Writing was a passion, but I've always understood passion alone isn't enough. There are millions of people with at least an inkling they'd like to be a writer. In cold reading situations, "You've considered writing a novel but haven't found the time," is a standard statement. In other words, nearly everyone in the world has considered writing a novel at some point, but everyone thinks this idea is unique enough that a phony psychic telling them such a thing is considered an intimate enough detail to earn confidence.

Because everyone wants to write and everyone understands the difficulty of writing and everyone is instilled with a respect for literature, few aspiring writers are told just how bad they really are. For starters, it's considered rude. Years ago, I wrote a scathing review for a comic book by an aspiring creator. The story was about a woman who was part moth and she was taken prisoner by these lizard aliens who wanted to rip off her wings to make some kind of lizard aphrodisiac. It was one of the worst things I've ever read in my life.

My review came under fire for being too cruel. At least this guy had put his stuff out there, some argued. He deserved credit for trying. I countered that his comic was so bad that any hopes he might have for ever working in the industry were likely buried by publishing Mothspy and handing it out to big name comic talent like Darwyn Cooke (who I was standing with when the guy handed us the books).

Part of my review placed the blame on his friends and family for not telling him how awful the comic was. Instead, people are much more inclined to "say something nice or nothing at all" and encourage a writer to keep plugging away as though all writing has merit.

And as I say, I'm smart enough to recognize that people have told me what a good writer I am throughout my entire life. But that's exactly what they would tell me even if I sucked. A recent post on Cracked (hey, kids, don't click on that without asking mom and dad first) talked about terrible fanfiction. One point that jumped out at me was that many of the stories were novel-length tales that centered completely around gay fantasies between two science fiction characters.

What I'm saying is "I Think My Teacher is a Superhero" is about 30,000 words long. Someone who wanted to share with the world his vision of Anakin Skywalker falling in love with Commander Riker and their vacation together on Risa is likely to make it twice as long.

Those writers have people telling them to keep up the good work. Knowing that, how much stock can I really put in my friends, family, and agent who tell me I'm great and on the cusp of something big? Hearing other professional writers compliment my work loses its luster when they later make it clear they can do nothing to help you find a writing job.

So here I am, waiting for my novel to sell. I've taken a part-time job at a grocery store down the road to try to pay some bills and I know that I could probably work my way up the corporate ladder fairly quickly if that was my goal. It's not, but at this point, I'm not really sure what is.

Do I love writing? Or am I just in love with the idea of being a writer?

3 sarcastic replies:

Joe B said...

My girlfriend always tells me immediately when something looks wrong with my artwork. She is also fairly stingy with praise. At first I would get a little peeved, but now I'm really thankful for the honest criticism.

Joe B said...

BTW, I finally started thumbnailing the Halloween story and I still plan on finishing it!

Jessa Slade said...

"I don't like to write. I like having written." Other writers love to throw that quote out because it's so true. I hate writing. I'm half crippled the whole time I'm doing it. What's in my mind compared to what's on the page... Somebody shoot me now.

But if you keep doing it, despite the pain and rejection, I think that means you are a writer. Tragically. Sorry.

Love the new Teacher page. FWIW I'll blogroll your site.

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