In a lot of ways, writing is about linear progression — I’ve always thought writing and experimental jazz have a lot in common. Jazz peaked with the phenomenal album Kind of Blue, featuring Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I love that album because it features artists at the height of their powers, just taking off and blissing out.
Writing doesn’t move note-to-note, exactly, although writers certainly are plucking frozen notes out of the air of their imaginations and scribbling the little fuckers down before they get away. But writing moves differently. When I say it’s a linear progression, I mean it moves from writer to writer.
Without the great John D. MacDonald, there is no Carl Hiaasen, no Randy Wayne White, no Jonathon King. Without Nathaniel Hawthorne, there is no Edgar Allen Poe, no Stephen King, no Dean Koontz (I know the smartasses among my readers are now saying “and this is a good thing?”) … Without Poe, there is no Dashiell Hammett, no Raymond Chandler, no Elmore Leonard, no Robert B. Parker, no Jim Butcher. Without Hammett and Nabokov, I’m not sure there’s ever a Donald Westlake. At least not the one we got.
When you’ve spent a lifetime reading, you begin to see the lines of these great writers and where they cross over. Writing is music for the mind. Writing is food to a hungry heart. I know I’ll never write anything as good nor as beautiful as some of those guys I mentioned. But I’m going to keep trying, because that’s the way it’s done.
I got a harsh critique/review from a beta reader this weekend, and it really made me question why I do what I do. It knocked me sideways for a few days. Especially because she was right. Damn it. I planned on picking up a new piece of work this week, but then the rough words came tumbling at me, I really didn’t expect it.
If my ego can’t take it, what the heck am I doing here?
So my ego can take it. I’ll look to those dead white guys I value so much and remember they likely faced criticisms as harsh as I received, and worse. I’ll keep writing, whether another word ever sees the light of day or not.
It’s what I do. I play my own notes, progressing and blissing out to the tune of my stories. Their worth isn’t decided by praise they receive or criticism they deserve. Their worth is found because they made me happy while I was writing them, and because I wrote them the best way I knew how at the time.
So you can bet your ass I’m starting on that project I planned today.
*For the record, I also read writers of every gender and color, too. Live ones, too. I can’t help it if the dead white guys are the ones who speak to me most prominently.