Sorry about the long silence. I spent most of last week trying to shake off a flu that clung like the proverbial monkey on the back, and dealing with some other unpleasantries I won't go on about in public.
Here, I'm following up on a previous post about making things as a response to other things. Oftentimes one of the unspoken impulses driving such work is, "I could do that too." And, I fear, not in a good way.
Some time ago, when I was first venturing into self-publishing, I hung out on the forum of what at the time was one of the major fulfillment venues for self-published work. A guy (I guess it was a guy?) on this forum, I'll call him Bill, popped up in a thread about novel writing, and made some statements to the effect that the whole process didn't seem hard, that writing a novel was "all just formatting."
It took some careful Q&A on the part of the other thread participants to figure out what the hell he was talking about. From what we could tell, this guy's screws didn't seem to be all the way in to begin with. After some discussion, it became clear that he seemed to think writing was one of those things anyone could do, because it was just typing a bunch of words, right? The complicated part was just making sure that you had the commas and such in the right place.
It got worse. He claimed — and with some pride — to have only read something like three novels in his lifetime. (He was, by his admission, old enough to have hair on his body somewhere other than his head.) One of them was the Alan Dean Foster novelization for the movie Alien. He didn't seem to think you needed to read all that many books to understand how they were written. Once he'd gotten it into his head that he could do that too, everything else had apparently evaporated.
Eventually, he posted something of his. It was nigh-incoherent. And no, it wasn't even formatted correctly. He had this weird habit of enclosing dialogue in both parentheses and quotes. Nobody could talk him out of using it. Self-expression! After some fruitless arguing, he vanished, and from what I can tell he went on to some other, totally unrelated forums to make an unrepentant nuisance of himself there.
What struck me most about the whole bizarre episode was his "I could do that too" mentality, one both stated and unstated. He did say "I could do that too" out loud at more than one point, but the mindset behind it was what I kept trying to fathom. "I could do that too," he seemed to be saying, "and I will, because I'm as good as you are or better."
The best term I can come up with for the mindset that seemed to be at work here was creative revanchism. "Revanchism" is a term that has been surfacing in public discourse a great deal lately, and there seemed more than a little of it at work here. Take someone who is essentially a nobody, with no discernible talent, point of view, creative spark, or what have you — none that I could see, anyway — and give them the urge to be creative, but not for its own sake. Not because they want to Make Something, but because they want to Get Even — because they want to show a thing or two to all those idiots who don't believe in him.
I have used what I think is a deliberately extreme example to make a point. This is not an attitude that only exists in embittered loners/losers who have barely read three books in their lives and kant spel. This attitude exists to some degree in literally every single creative person I have ever met, myself included. I know on some level in my personality I have a little coiled knot of this revanchism throbbing away, poking at everything surrounding it, whispering "You're better than all those twits, you just need a chance to prooove iiiit!"
If there's a trick to dealing with this feeling, it's not to rip it out wholesale. It's to listen to that voice whenever it speaks, and then let the voice pass through one ear and out the other. That way you can pay less attention to the parts of you that wants to create as an act of getting even, and more attention to the parts that just want to make something.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind