Other-Upsmanship, Continued

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-14 17:00:00 No comments

I mentioned last time how it's hard to learn how to write first and foremost for yourself, and in a way that isn't itself another form of justification-finding.

When you start writing by saying to yourself, "Hm, I could do that, too", a few things happen. One, you find that you can in fact "do that, too", and once you meet whatever internal measure you've set for being able to "do that, too", you lose interest. I've seen this with a few other folks I've known; they get this creative writing stuff out of their system and move on to other things.

Two, the flipside of that: you find you can't in fact "do that, too" — at least, again, according to whatever internal measure you've set — and you give up.

Three, you try to "do that, too", find you can't, but then over time you work up the skillset to do it. And in the process of doing that, you either learn how to do it well enough that you achieve a kind of expert-beginner complacency — or you lose the original motivation and change it up for one a whole lot healthier. You get interested in doing the thing because the thing itself is interesting to do, not because you have something to prove.

That was roughly the path I took. I found that just trying to one-up other people or steal some of their shine wasn't nearly as interesting as actually trying to find both something valuable to communicate and a striking way to communicate it.

Later on, much later on, I found myself dealing with the original impulse in a drastically different form. It was part of what caused me to embark on writing Flight Of The Vajra — this feeling that I could also do this thing that other people out there were doing, and I could probably do it better / more creatively / more interestingly / with less bullshit. I'm not proud to admit that was the originating impulse, and it only strikes me now how self-important that could sound.

But again, there was a transformation of motive. Once I settled into the project itself, I found more interesting things to do with it than just to prove I could Do That, Too. Readers need to judge for themselves if I got there, but at least now I know that wasn't the sole reason I sat down and started typing.

Maybe someday I'll find myself in a place where I don't start by looking at what else has been done and saying ICouldDoThatToo™, because the preponderence of work in my catalog that is like that means I've started from that point too often for my own comfort. The less I strike such a pose as a starting stance in the future, the better. Or, at the very least, the sooner I move past such a pose when initiating a project, the sooner I replace ICDTT with other things, the better.

Right now I have a future project on my plate that is essentially a riff on a popular genre well-known to most anyone reading this. No, correction: TWO such riffs, by way of two different projects. But I'm trying to be conscious of my motives in either case. Just one-upping everything else in those genres isn't the point; taking what exists there and trying to bring something personal to it is. Assuming I can make the end results embody that impulse, and make it clear to others who are only looking in from the outside that was what I wanted.

When people say "I could do that, too", there's a good chance they don't know what "that" consists of in its entirety. Or, for that matter, the "I". And the "I" is, in the end, more important than the "that".

Tags: creativity creators inspiration