Today I finished reading All the Little Live Things (1967) by Wallace Stenger. It’s a grim book that tries to explain what the Sixties were all about. It has a killer last line. But what made me depressed wasn’t so much the book’s subject matter but that I know I’ll never write a book half as good as Stenger’s.
Perhaps this happens to more than just me. You try and pursue X art (painting, writing, banjo picking — whatever) and you observe a master at the craft and you know there is no way you can top that. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. Yes, I’m now a professional writer, but many tell me that the type of writing I do “doesn’t cout” because it’s not writing books, newspaper columns or magazine articles.
No wonder I get suicidal.
But I write, anyway. That’s what writers do — they write. The act of writing can be a salve for me — a gap in space and time where the past and the future aren’t so damn important. There’s just the flow of words from my head to the keyboard and that’s all that matters.
So if you feel that your accomplishments and hard work will not be good enough, take heart — you’re not alone in the sensation.
I’ve got a feeling Wallace Stenger didn’t care very much for his own books. I think it was Stephen King or James Michener who said once that all writers at some point grieve that they aren’t “Papa” Hemingway. Then again, Hemingway shot himself, so the world of literature may be better off with only having one Hemingway instead of dozens of successful copycats.