The other day I told my journalism class that the best writers are the most avid readers. It’s true. Being able to participate, even silently, in the discourse of your peers (and those far above you) is one of the best ways to improve your craft as a writer. Looking at what people do, how they do it, and then shamelessly imitating it is a time honored tradition among those stupid enough to express themselves using written language.
It can be a tricky thing though. Many the fledgling author has dropped their quill in horror at the very thought of Steinbeck’s sweeping epics or Hemingway’s staccato prose. Being able to look upon such great works and not be blinded can be difficult at best, career ending at worst. Even the best of us find ourselves cast into the emerald pit of envy while reading something amazing, our mouth agape at the very idea that we could ever match such brilliance.
For me, there are five concrete stages I go through when I read something really good on the internet, no matter the source.
Stage 1: Rumination
I always read it a second time, sometimes even a third depending on length and complexity. It’s rare that my manic neurons are able to grasp onto something fully with just one pass, so subsequent viewings are practically mandatory. This is often how I realize that something I’m reading is that good, I find myself scrolling back up to the top as soon as I finish.
Stage 2: Sharing
There’s a shortlist of people I can always count on to actually read the things I send them. Before I can unabashedly declare something as great in my own head, I need to have it verified by no less than two outside sources. If I get at least two “good reads” out of it, I can safely move into stage three. Sometimes I go there even if I’m the lone defender of something, but it’s rare.
Stage 3: Falling
Man, what fucking right does this guy have to write something this good? He probably spent all day on it. I’ll never have that kind of time in my life, nothing I’ll write will ever be that good. Oh, he’s a game designer? Well no shit he can talk about the different forms present in his own game. Fuck this. I’m done with this shit.
Why should I even write when there are people out there doing it this much better than me?
Stage 4: Reaching Out
They make some really good points though. It reminds me a lot of Super Hexagon / Dark Souls / Insert flavor of the month indie darling here. Why one time I…
I’ll craft (this word is key here) a encyclopedic response, hitting every single point and refuting anything I disagree with. Anecdotes flow like a country brook while I knock back another drink and laugh to myself about all the good times. It’s a beautiful thing. Hours pass like minutes.
But it’s absolute shit. Delete.
Stage 5: Acceptance
“Great article, would love to read more.”
Stage 6: BONUS STAGE
Every writer has to start somewhere. This is where I’m starting. I don’t know where this guy started, but have you ever read Stephen King’s early stuff? Awful. If Stephen fucking King got to be awful, so do I. (No, seriously, have you actually read the end of It? I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s an underage gangbang.)
I just have to get better, then one day maybe these guys will be using me as a litmus test for stuff they read on their phone while pooping.
A man can dream.