29 March

Learn from Everyone, Compare to No One…


“Be a sponge.” ~ That was the best advice I had ever been given by a professor. Learn from everyone, anyone, all the time. If you don’t stay open to knowledge, you won’t grow in any métier.

“Be yourself.” ~ Another advice gem, but one I’ve fought with over the years simply because I have always walked to the beat of a different drummer, always slightly out of step with the “norm.”

But as the years have wandered by, I’ve come to see that both pieces of advice are crucial if you want to be the best artist you can be, and create stellar works, not as a rarity, but at a regular pace. Harper Lee despised that very American tradition of readers asking, “What’s next?” But reality shows that art is voraciously consumed, and especially when it is good, so that dream of the Great American Novel had better be pluralized, or you’ll be seen as that scornful “One hit wonder,” which is cool, I guess. But if you asked rocker, Peter Frampton, or Harper Lee, they may have a different take.

"How does this pertain to Writers Block?" you ask. Simple.

Learn, grow, without horse blinders.

Create with those blinders on.

Comparing yourself to others will have you stop creating so fast your head will spin.

Comparison can be the death knell of an artist.

Yes, your idolized writers are great. They’ve made wonderful works. But they are not you and your works. They could no more create you than you could re-create them.

I happen to be a fan of Herman Wouk. His WWII epic, Winds of War, enraptured me. It may be the only fictional work that truly took my imagination hostage and allowed me to exist back in those harrowing years with characters who reminded me so of my parents and their generation.

But I had to accept that I would never write exactly like Wouk. I did write a WWII epic, but it’s written in my style, my take on that slice of life. It reads not like Wouk. It reads like me. As it turns out, when asked, Wouk had criticisms of Winds of War, as I have criticisms of AIR (to be published in December of this year, here’s hoping). No artist is ever completely satisfied with their own work. But great artists know when they’ve given their all. Comparison by others is never injected into that success equation. We artists do OUR BEST with the knowledge and skill we have at that particular moment in time, and we give that work to the world, and we ACCEPT that piece of art exists as it should as a time capsule of a particular artist who happens to be YOU, and you alone.

Once I learned to accept this fact— and yes, holy heck, am I a slow learner! — that I AM different from the norm and that is a GOOD thing, I stopped fighting to be somebody else! I accepted Wouk as being Wouk and me, Thompson, as being Thompson, and although I learned heaps from Wouk, I created as Thompson. I accepted that I am different from Wouk and every other artist alive or dead. I accept that I am different because I am an artist, and I am an artist because I am different. You cannot separate the two.

ADVICE FOR YOU, oh newbie book hack: STOP comparing yourself to others, only learn from them. Elevate your skill, but create inside yourself.

FACT: You will never be anyone else but you. You will only create what YOU create. It wouldn’t matter how many times you slobbered over others’ works. You will never create like them. Accept this fact. Acceptance of this will STOP Writers Block in its tracks, for those seemingly insurmountable hurdles of being like someone else will be gone. You will use skills you’ve learned from all those other greats to create YOU, your works, with YOUR expression, with YOUR message.

HOMEWORK: Don’t take decades like me to wise up to this fact. Accept being you now. Keep your ears to the ground and your eyes open to learn. Then, with the skills you’ve acquired, go off somewhere alone and create YOU. Accept the fact that is all you can create. And know the world is waiting not for those other greats. It is waiting for YOU — YOUR work. YOUR art. YOUR beautiful take on life.

And that, simply put, is the rarest gem of them all. Only you hold that bobble. Are you now willing to start writing as YOU, so we readers can take a peek at your singularly shimmering jewel?

Okay then. YOU, start pounding those keys today.

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