Last week I wrote about what it meant for me to aim high. A significant part of reaching for the stars is not grasping them.
I believe that for me to be fulfilled as an artist, I have to try to hit some pretty difficult targets. I also acknowledge that for me to live as an artist and not endlessly punish myself for my failures, I have to admit when I’ve missed the mark. If the sublime could be so easily grasped, we’d all be visionaries, burning brightly in the night. Sadly, that is not the case.
This may be ridiculous, but I’m going to say it anyway. I start every project wanting to be Shakespeare. Or better him. Why not? What is there to lose? He is not a god, nor is he without flaw, but he is held up to the followers of western literature as the ne plus ultra of writing. It is hard, to live in his shadow. To be told constantly you cannot possibly match him, or Conrad, or the Brontes, or Joyce. They all lived in his shadow too, and none escaped it. So bugger it, I hope to break out of all their shadows when I write. But mostly Shakespeare, as he crushes all who came after, who play in the sandbox we are told he created. I don’t buy that anymore. I think Homer would have a thing or two to say about it, at minimum. I am sure, when William was writing his plays and sonnets, he had no idea what an outsized influence he would leave behind. Thank God, what a pressure that would have been to live with.
But to be honest, I don’t see the point in writing if you’re not going to try your best, and measure yourself against the best. Even when writing something that is essentially designed to be an entertainment. Big Billy wrote things that were essentially entertainments, public and private. Shakespeare took the theory of Sidney, the allegorical soul of Spenser, the dramatic power of Marlowe, and proceeded to use what he learned from them and many others in all kinds of genre fictions: comedies, tragedies, histories, and yes, even fantasies like The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
I’m not Shakespeare, certainly, but I don’t mind aiming at him and missing. That’s what I wish to convey to any budding writers out there: do not be ashamed of your ambitions, or your dreams and desires. Do not be ashamed of your medium, or your form, or your genre. Go for it. But also, don’t despair if you fall short. Instead, learn, pick up your bow, and aim high again. Shakespeare, it seems pretty clear, learned from his contemporaries and from his own early efforts, so we can too. You will get better, your aim more true, and you will find that every arrow you fire hits a target, though maybe not the one you aimed for. I believe an arrow truly fired will always hit a worthy writing target.
I tried my best with The Thief and The Demon. Undoubtedly, there are things I would change still, but I also know that paralysis over every word and sentence could have left me publishing nothing at all. I drowned in choking silence for fifteen years with a book I could not speak. I’d rather speak imperfectly now than choke on the perfect sentence. Sod that imagined perfection if it mutes the speaker. I have learned more, even since publication. I will try to do better going forward, and will never aim anything less than high. I hope all you writers, artists, musicians, and dreamers out there do the same, because I, for one, enjoy your efforts.