If I Wouldn't Want To Read It, I Probably Wouldn't Write It

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-02-09 07:00:00-05:00 No comments

"What kinds of writing projects are you drawn to?" I asked a friend once. They ran down a couple of things that made a project seem like a candidate: this kind of main character, that kind of setting. Then I asked, "What about the opposite?" "Well," he said, "there's a lot more kinds of things I don't want to write than I do want to write." I wasn't sure I could agree with that — how would you begin to quantify it? — so I responded with what seemed like a compromise: "If I wouldn't want to read it, I probably don't want to write it."

Maybe I spoke half in jest at the time, but since then I've come to take the idea seriously. If I don't enjoy the experience of reading something, why would I want to put more things like that into the world to begin with?

My first big manifestation of this was when I realized all the "heavy/difficult" litfic I'd idolized as a young man came to seem more like an extended gimmick with no real payoff. All that Gaddis and Pynchon and Harry Mathews (of whom I suspected I was in a fandom of one). I'd had designs to write such stuff, but after some introspection I realized I didn't really enjoy either reading or writing any of it — it was only something I'd latched onto as a quick way to be Taken Seriously. Once I got over the need to be Taken Seriously, and started writing the things I actually cared about in the way I actually enjoyed, I felt far less conflicted.

There did seem in time to be an exception to the "don't wanna read it, don't wanna write it" rule — the "what if I did it my way?" exception. That is, maybe I don't want to write [type of story I don't want to read], but maybe I could modify it in such a way that it was something I'd read. The way this ended up manifesting for me was more general, though — I'd see a work I disliked, or found fault with, and I'd try to come up with my own answer to it, although one that had roots also in projects I already wanted to work on in the first place.

Many things I love to read, I would also love to write, but I fear I can't because I simply lack the wherewithal to do it. Much of the fiction I admire comes from people and places I have no hope of accessing or emulating (e.g., Sembene Ousmane), and maybe that is for the best. Not everything we love must be emulated in all its respects; sometimes it just needs to be an object of adoration that we might better discover what we find sacred or precious. Or it serves to goad us a little closer to some aspirational goal, without requiring that we try to deliver something that must stand next to the aspired-to thing.

I sat on these thoughts for a long time, out of the (let's face it: silly) fear that they might seem like snobbery. The nerve of the guy, only wanting to write the kinds of things he'd bother to read himself! But with that last graf I just wrote, I think now maybe snobbery has nothing to do with it. More like, just choosing what you know will best complement your own nature, and enhance it. Something that takes time to learn, to be sure, but I think I'm at the stage of my career where I can say that without sounding too foolish.

Tags: creativity creators writing