Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

image copyright Simon Howden

I’ll never be a great writer. I’m not putting myself down here, I’m just stating a fact--an obvious fact. I’m no Edith Wharton or Charles Dickens or Jane Austen. I’m just Lisa Papademetriou. If God had wanted me to be a great writer, she would have given me a name that was easier to spell. 
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a good writer. And it doesn’t mean that nobody cares what I have to say. When I think about the books that have influenced my life the most, the first one that comes to mind isn’t The Scarlet Letter or  Anna Karenina, though I loved both of those books. It’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, but Paula Danziger. Is that book the highest achievement in literature? All I know is that it was the right thing at the right time. It spoke to me; it reflected my life. It was very, very important to me.
I once sat down to dinner with a man who insisted that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was the greatest book ever written. I said that I didn’t think it was possible to determine what the greatest book ever written was, but he wanted to argue about it. (This man was in his sixties, too--a testament to that book’s universal popularity.) So I guess that--in this man’s world--Harry Potter is the best book ever written. In my world, there are no best books, only books that speak to me, or books that are beautifully written. Or books that are engrossing. It’s subjective.
Still, my demon likes to insist that if I’m not going to be great, I should just stop. “You’ll never win the Newbery,” he taunts. You’ll never win the National Book Award! Who do you think you are?” It’s tiring to listen to him, and it doesn’t get me anywhere. Do these doubts help finish my novel? No. 
So when your demon starts to scream, Who Do You Think You Are?, just answer, I’m me. And keep on doing your thing. Squirrels don’t worry about being the Best Hole Digger that Ever Lived. Lions don’t worry about being the Best Lion. Writers shouldn’t worry about that junk, either. How is it helpful? The point of reviews is just to help sell your book. If they don’t have anything nice to say, then they are not your concern. 

Here is something that someone once told me: Art is not a competition. Artists can be competitive, though. But that doesn't necessarily help the art. What does "winning" really mean, anyway?
The trick is to be so engaged with what you’re doing that you don’t have the time or interest to care about what others think of your work...unless, of course, we’re talking about a fan who has contacted you to thank you for what you’ve produced. *Then* you should have time.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, this is a dead-on point. I often feel this way about music. I actually really dislike the question re: best ever albums/artists/bands because it is TOTALLY subjective. When that question is posed, I sometimes get this tinge of "Oh, I SHOULD say the Beatles or something," but the truth is that they don't deeply speak to me. Natalie Merchant, however, does. So, yeah, 10,000 Maniacs' Our Time in Eden is my musical equivalent of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit!