Monday, September 21, 2009
You're Perfect. I'm Doomed!
I was listening to a radio interview with James Wood, literary critic for The New Yorker, discussing his book How Fiction Works when the topic of the role of the critic came around and I was struck by one of the quotes (to paraphrase) that the critic should be interested in identifying how the writer failed to meet an 'ideal'.
Now I'm sure all of us (as either readers or writers) have our list of top authors as well as books that we feel epitomize the 'perfect' novel - but the thought of constantly being measured against such an ideal is daunting. I started musing (and agonizing I have to confess) over how the concept of the 'ideal' affects how I write as well as how I read. My experience with book groups and writing groups has led me to suspect that while the concept of seeking perfection in the writing craft can be noble it can also be devastating. How many of us haven't been stymied by the inner critic while writing - the one that says 'this stuff is crap, it'll never be as good as [insert appropriate esteemed author name here]' or who hasn't, as a reader, felt a novel pale in comparison to another to the point where all possible merits of the first book disappear completely?
It's taken me a while to overcome that fear of failure and commit a first draft to the page but there's no way I could complete a manuscript if I thought about the critics - especially not if they have some mythical ideal in mind (which no doubt no author could ever meet all the time!).
So - do you have an 'ideal' author or book that you think sets the standard? Do you ever feel intimidated by that in your writing? Who do you use as your 'ideal' when you think about honing and (dare I say it) perfecting your craft?