If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I went to school, and what my goals for life are, and my parent’s aspirations for me and all that crap, but I don’t presently feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
What I do feel like talking about is my writing. In my 17 years, I had six times endeavored at writing a novel. I had the story, bit by bit, from various perspectives, and as generally happens in these cases, each time it gradually fell apart. My plots seemed sturdy, my characters developed, but every time I would abandon my work at its middle after realizing that all of my words were swallowed by the voice of the author whose novel I had most recently read.
After The Catcher in the Rye, I couldn’t stop inserting “sort of” and “phony” into characters’ dialogue, you know? Joyce had me stringing together sentences until they ran together into a blur of words and strange phrases and the entire point was moocow just lost in the jumble. Shakespeare: the only I did ne’er attempt; Pentameter mastered, iamb exempt.
Bad novels are all alike; every good novel is good in its own way. My novels were bad like any other. I strived to make my voice unique, to stray away from the novels that I’d lost myself in, but each time I strayed away from one author, I compared myself to another. These genius novelists — Salinger, Wharton, and Tolstoy — had taken hold of me. In their shadow I could not envision my own individual voice.
In the midst of my struggle to achieve literary glory, I realized I would be eternally inferior to my own ambition.
I wanted to attain the kind of greatness these authors had in their lifetime. I craved the mastery over words that Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde and Jack Kerouac had. How was it that they could attain such uniqueness in their voices but mine was only an echo of theirs? My motivation would drive me mad. I kept writing, never to reach the expectations I set for myself.
Halfway through my sixth novel attempt (this was my Jane Austen phase), it occurred to me that it is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of so many ambitions must not compare herself to others. I had spent so long comparing myself to others’ greatness that I had ignored my own capacity to create a greatness for myself. I looked back on the writing I’d done over the years, and saw that I’d improved immensely. My skill set in writing had also changed from a novelistic approach to a journalistic one. Seeing my talents change opened up new possibilities for me. My ambitions have grown into goals I can realize. I’m going to stop comparing myself to others, and leave that up to you.