ne my favorite movies is The Great Waldo Pepper. It’s a movie about World War One fliers trying to eke out a living barnstorming and movie flying in the twenties.
In one scene near the end, Waldo is talking with Ernst Kessler, a one-time top German ace and now a boozy three-time potbelly loser. But there is still something magical about him. He speaks of flying and the paramount moment of his life, when he fought (and downed) four American fliers. There is a line that sticks with me.
“I keep track of talent.”
That’s an interesting statement, short and sweet. It implies you are competent at what you do, so much so that you can rank others in your endeavor.
I feel this way about writing. Both my reviews and this blog look at other writers, where they carried the storytelling torch into the darkness of the unwritten, and where they just hack. And with the web and all the sprouting writers out there, there is a lot to hack. It’s like what you’d get if the old growth forest was cleared and now all the little seedlings are sprouting.
I generally don’t look to web-writers – most of them are unpolished and unimaginative. Like, how many vampire fan-service stories can we endure? But still, in one of my own web-avatars, I came across a writer who was good. Very good. I read a couple of his short stories and complemented him on his skills – I thought he developed the descriptions well, paced the story, and came to a nice close. I dropped him a line and he was very gracious in his response – turns out he read a number of my short stories as well and was a fan, so that lit my ego-light even brighter.
But that’s the thing – if you are going to write, you are going to need more behind you than watching every episode of Buffy or Firefly. You’re going to have to read what’s current, what’s past, all the way back to Gilgamesh. You are going to have to figure for yourself what works and what does not, even if it means questioning things like Harry Potter. You’re going to have to develop enough skills that you can see that hackiness of others so you can see it in yourself.
If you are too busy writing to read, then you are likely too busy being bad to be good. Read others. Learn from others. And apply it.