Awesome Without Trying. This phrase was eyeballing me from a t-shirt worn by an eight-year-old boy. He was running up and down the concrete steps while I was waiting to drop my boys at a summer camp, yelling some shit about Pokémon or Minecraft or something else. I couldn’t look away. I still think about it now, even though I know it’s just a shirt. A shirt is a shirt is a shirt, Right? But this wasn’t just a shirt, or slogan to be more exact. It’s an ideal. This message is being fed to us in ever-growing quantities, and I believe it’s responsible for ruining humanity. Today, I’ll try to hone my rage to Art.
Spoiler Alert: YOU AREN’T AWESOME WITHOUT TRYING.
This particular belief is like cancer for Art. As someone reading the slushpile for our magazine, I can tell you that a lot of submitters aren’t trying hard enough. Trying and failing is how most artists evolve and create better art. That’s part of the process. What I’m talking about is the perception of inherently being an artist. We’ve published other blog posts that focus on tighter issues, but the general miss that’s occurring is a lack of effort across the totality of fronts that, I believe, can be attributed, at least partially, to this idea of already having “arrived”. You haven’t. Work harder. Understand that your writing, no matter how hard you work, will likely be shit. Keep pushing that rock uphill, though, for each aspect of your art. Never “arrive”. Head down, slog. Keep your eyes at the sentence level instead of your perceived fame. You have a tight plot? How’s your grammar? You wrote 20 pages? Do they say anything? Your characterization is good? Where are your page numbers? Why do the people you write seem cardboard? Have you gone on a bender because you have one too many syllables in your title and you can’t fix it?
I think a common misconception about writing is that it’s just putting words on the page. It isn’t. It’s many many things, but it’s mostly not that. There are as many approaches to writing as there are animated meat sacks, and most will work for someone out there. We’ll cover the basics here, that we at Wordsworthing feel should be ingrained. You can build on these, but you can’t do without them.
1. Reading. That’s right, kiddies. If you aren’t reading, then you have nothing to measure your work against. This is a critical step in understanding where your skills are on the scale of EL James to James Joyce. Here’s a link to short film in which Ira Glass explains the gap between what you make and your taste. Watch it. Remember that in order to establish this gap, you must first understand the destination. You can’t do that without reading. And you can’t do that by reading lower tier writing. You have to beat your fucking face into Moby Dick until you understand why it’s exceptional, thereby giving you the ability to see why your arrangement of words is garbage. (Time taken: 20%)
2. The White-Hot Heat of Streaming Creation. This is the stage where material just flows from you, and you can’t get the words down fast enough. This is maybe the least important out of all of the steps because it’s the least amount of work. It doesn’t require understanding, depth, vision, craft, or any real writerly skills. It’s witnessing. (Time taken: 5%)
3. Editing. This is “trying”. You take everything you learned from step one above, you then put something out there to sculpt (step 2), then you move back a little bit, take the whole thing in, breathe, change the angles you see it from, get really close, into the sentences, keep moving through the work, AND YOU FUCKING GET RID OF THE SHIT THAT DOESN’T HONE YOUR WORK TO THE FINEST POSSIBLE POINT. Stop believing that you get it. You don’t. I don’t. William Fucking Faulkner didn’t. No one of salt does. What I can offer you is this: You won’t find it believing that you are awesome. You’ll find it by knowing in your fucking heart that you can sculpt these words into something better than you did before. That you can kick your own ass. And that you need to in order to self-validate your existence. Only this kind of effort has a chance to cause the reader to transcend time and space. Maybe even then you won’t get there. (Time taken: 75%)
Then you repeat those steps, even if you’ve written the greatest story ever written. It’s not about whether you are awesome or not. It’s about connecting with readers’ empathy. If you don’t understand every single aspect of what you are doing, then how can you tweak and nudge and push a story well past where you thought it could go? You can’t. If you are awesome without trying, your first draft is what you send in and you get indignant when you get rejected. This is bullshit. This version of you is bullshit. You have it in you to better than that. Don’t be that. Don’t be awesome.
With the advent of filter free digital self-publishing, everyone’s a “writer”. But not everyone is creating art. Yes, all human voices are important to someone. But not all of them are important to the canon. Only those who are blessed with serious talent AND the work ethic to continually refine, rework, and remake themselves are the voices that deserve to be in the canon. If you think you are one of those people, first remember that you aren’t, and second go back to the trenches and try harder.
We don’t all get to play tennis with Venus Williams. That’s just how it is. She has talent and works herself to the bone. She gets to play others that do the same. There isn’t a long line of people outside Wimbledon that get a chance to compete for the title. I don’t walk into the operating room and say, “Nurse, I’m ready to perform the operation.” When your five year old draws dick pictures in his coloring book, he doesn’t get to be Picasso.
So why, in the literary world, does everyone think their voice deserves to be heard and that their art is a wonderful? I believe this is because the price of entry is so low. You need time and a computer (you don’t even have to own one) and within a short span of time you can produce material and distribute it globally with zero criticism. Validation shouldn’t come from distribution, though, when that bar is so low. It should come from closing that gap of product vs taste, which is, for most, impossible. This pursuit is daunting in the face of that impossibility. This work is trying. Really fucking hard. Without this try, you might as well be Stephanie Meyer. Dan Brown. Upside fucking Down Cake.
What do I think about a t-shirt that says Awesome Without Trying? Might as well say:
Self-Validating Excuses of Laziness and Unfounded Arrogance
Captain Douche Von Douchenstein
Everyone’s hoping I’ll move tomorrow’s scheduled suicide up to today
By Castmate Nick