I love writers. I want to help them all, sit and talk with them all, read everyone's books. There's usually two major reading experiences for me. The first is when I love a book so much, I'm lost in it. But there's another side to this, which makes me sigh. Sometimes--and I wish I didn't do this--every once in a while I read a book and it makes me wish that I had written it. It becomes like a shock to my system. Here is this brilliant book and not only didn't I write it, but would I ever be capable of writing something that sparked of such genius?
I recently finished Emma Donoghue's Room, which is truly extraordinary, but there's this ridiculous part of me that is stunned by it, that keeps shouting at me, "You idiot. You worthless writer. Why didn't you write this remarkable book?"
I know this isn't really about subject matter. To write something that's true and meaningful, you really have to write about what obsesses you, what matters to you, what you're trying to figure out, to make it all work. And since I happen to feel that every writer's success helps other writers,(I do, I really do) it's not about jealousy, either. I'm thrilled for the success of Room and I want to do my part to make sure everyone I know is reading it--it's that brilliant, haunting and unsettling a novel. I'm going to interview Donoghue on my blog. So what is it? Why this yearning?
I think it has to do with the promise every novel you write has--that hope, that desire to reach people, to write something so alive it breathes on every page. When I discover that in another novel, there's this unsettled, wormily insecure feeling tunneling inside of me (that explains the "you idiot", now doesn't it?) Can I do this alchemy for my own work? Will it be as good? Will it matter? The yearning is so huge it's a little cumbersome, but it does settle me down at my desk, more determined than ever to find that place that speaks not only to me and to what I want to read and write about, but I hope will speak to others, as well.
So maybe it's not such a bad thing, this yearning. Maybe it's even part of the creative process. So with that, I go back to my desk. I shrug away the insecurity and remember the wonder I felt reading it, how knocked out I was. And then I burrow deeper and write harder. I keep on my own path. And, of course, I continue to urge everyone: read Room.