It’s been a slowish last few days. I finished the edits of From Ash, finally. I think I’ve been saying that I was ‘nearly done’ for the past two weeks. It’s kind of amazing how little I’m able to accomplish if I really put my mind to it. I now get a bit of a break from the editing world while other people have a look at it—I’m back to playing with Dreamstate on the morrow.
I wrote this post relatively quickly tonight. I’m writing this bit now as more of a forward than anything else. The post below is a bit of a personal look into my own panic when I started reading a book that was much better than mine. It might be interesting, or at least relatable to other people. I’d imagine that most everyone has felt this way before, especially if you’re doing something artistic.
Anywho, as you can imagine, I’ve not got too much that relates directly to my writing to go over today, as I haven’t really been doing that much writing. What I do have to talk about, though, is how rereading His Dark Materials is sending my brain into a panicked nose-dive of despair. Now, to be fair, a lot of the content is new to me, as I had only ever read The Golden Compass. I don’t actually believe the other books had come out yet when I’d read the first one, and until recently I’d just never gotten around to them.
Looking at the books now, as someone who tends to spend a good deal of his life in front of a keyboard, trying to turn single words into chains of coherent sentences that form even more complex tales, I am distraught. I am distraught because I’m really encountering some text that I don’t know if I can ever, ever live up to. I’m totally aware that this is just a form of envy, and that yes, Phillip Pullman is wildly more experienced and an exceptionally talented individual—the combination of which is hard to compete with. I don’t even want to compete with him, though, just eventually be able to write on the same level. Some of the scenes that I was running through the other night were just entirely perfect. The words he chose could not have been changed for the better. There are plenty of authors that are very famous that I really enjoy, that on occasion I say ‘Ya know, this would be better like this,’ but not the stuff I was reading the other night. It was just page after page of mind bogglingly exceptional word play. And, to top it all off, the story is like nothing else.
I’ve, of course, encountered some very impressive bodies of work before. Most of which were hundreds of years old, though, and their authors long perished. The texts also tended to be nothing like anything I would ever write. The market for Middle English Alliterative Long Line poetry tends to be rather small. Even what a lot of people call ‘the classics,’ which range wildly from The Illiad to Great Expectations; these books are all amazing, but don’t really wander into the spectrum of what I’m working with/on. His Dark Materials does come close—really close—to what I’m trying to do.
I guess it’s mostly just intimidating to encounter a body of work that’s massive, technically impressive, and creatively immaculate. It’s hard not to have those feelings of dread and wonder to yourself ‘Will I ever accomplish anything so amazing?’ It’s even harder, and not necessarily the most useful to think that maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll never be able to attain something like this—most people don’t. It’s a harsh reality to face, but then again, you never know. There could be something waiting deep down in the recesses of your brain, just hanging around until you reach in there and pull it out.
I guess what I’m saying is that even though it’s utterly terrifying to sidle up next to a masterpiece and look upon it (as someone who does the same work). There’s no point in giving up and not trying to accomplish something just as great. If everyone gave up at the first sight of someone else’s great works, we’d only have one, and that would make for a very boring world.