Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Are you an original?

A couple of days ago, whilst waiting in the car for my husband, with the window wound down in the futile hope that my rampant children might escape, I overheard a passing conversation.

"She literally refers to herself as the next J K Rowling. I mean, that's ego. That's real ego."

I don't know how this conversation began. Did 'she' refer to herself as the next J K because she was going to make lots of money, be famous, become a successful, prolific writer, or all three? I have no idea. 'She' could have been an annoying work colleague or a respected sibling. I don't know whether the speaker was criticising or admiring 'She'. It's so easy to make a judgement, especially when you have a writerly imagination. The aspect of the overheard comment that made me prick up my ears however was this. As a writer, should we/do we aspire to be a version of another writer? Did the aforementioned 'she' see herself as J K Rowling .2?

I've already heard of comments comparing other writers to J K Rowling. I've also heard a couple of writers compared to Stephen King. Only yesterday, I came across a comment comparing Phillip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials to J R R Tolkien. It's natural to compare things in life. It would follow therefore that it is natural to compare writers.

And yet that is surely not the same thing as comparing ourselves as individuals to a writer whom for some reason we aspire to. Is it? I have favourite writers whose books and imaginings I enjoy incredibly. I marvel at their wit and slant on life. I delight in their turn of a phrase. I sometimes even wish I was a successful writer like them. I don't however wish to be them. Although it would no doubt be meant as a compliment, I can't think of anything worse (or more disparaging) than to be called the next [insert the name of a fantasy/sci fi/horror writer you know]. That would crush my writing soul.

I'm happy to recognise the talent of others. I fully admit that we all descend from a great, illustrious, imaginative family tree. I can recite a long list of writers whom I have personally learnt from. If this wasn't so then my bulging bookcases would not be so immense and their contents so wide ranging. And yet, I take pride in being me. I take pride in my own personal voice, be that here on my blog, in my plays or in my novel. I really can't see the appeal of wanting to be anything other than myself. If I aspired to be anyone else, be that the next Clive Barker or Mary Shelley.2, then I'd be striving for a lie.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm missing something here. Maybe I'm unfashionably 'me'. Still, it's a place I'm happy at. They know me here. I don't have to pretend.

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else."  Judy Garland

10 comments:

  1. I'm with you, Fi. Last week I joined in a blogging launch party for Talli Roland's new book, and couldn't think of who I would want to be (unless I could simply try on their life for a few hours. Like being Oprah on vacation at a spa, for example.)

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  2. You are definitely unique and I'm sure that your writing "genes" will help you be the one and only Fiona J. Phillips!

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  3. Love the Garland quote. I completely agree. While saying you're the next ____ is meant to be a positive, I'd rather be the first me. That was awkward, but I think you get what I mean.

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  4. Thanks for the comments. Good to find out I'm not completely mad.

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  5. I agree with everyone here. Being known for your originality would be best. And, no, you are not completely mad. :)

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  6. It never occurs to me to be anything but myself when I write. Yay to being original! Love the Judy quote too. Judy has always been a favorite anyway!

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  7. LOL, great post, Fi. I agree. Be you. Be the best you, you can be. And don't worry about what others think of you. That's my motto. Not everyone is going to like you anyway. So why try so hard to be someone who some of the people will like most of the time. Be the person YOU will like all of the time - it all evens out in the end. I think? LOL

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  8. EXCELLENT! Couldn't be said more plain! It is an authors uniqueness that makes their writing good,not the ability to be like someone else!
    If only more people in all the arts/entertainment industry understood that!
    That is a BIG truth I am constantly trying to get across in my group!
    Samantha Stacia

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  9. Fi, your comments ring very true in my "writer's soul," as you so aptly put it. While I don't think most intend to be purposely hurtful when saying of someone that s/he is "the next ," nevertheless it still would be, to me a hard thing to hear. I write because I'm being me and because I'm revealing that me to the world. Please don't trample on my efforts and take away my uniqueness :)

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  10. Nope, I'm me! I'm not a copycat in writing or otherwise.

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