January 9, 2011

Newsflash: Doing what you want? Not always easy...

'Do what you love, no matter what anybody says.' This is common knowledge and any friend will give this advice after a few beers. But it is quite another thing to put it into practice.

WHEN I was about 20 years old and had just enrolled in the writing college in Amsterdam, I felt myself so fortunate to be surrounded by my intellectual peers! I reveled in their attention and took everything they said at face value. They were published writers, career writers and script writers with, in Holland at least, some very impressive work on their CV. 

FOUR years later, right around the time of my graduation, I hated them.

I DIDN'T hate them personally of course, but I loathed everything they stood for. I hated their preconceived notions of literature, of what was 'good writing' and what was 'bad writing', their little get-togethers at Wednesdays in the 'right' cafes, their red wines and their drunken evenings with their jokes that were really not very funny.

WHAT got me most of all, was their complete lack of creativity and their endless devotion to writers who so obviously lacked any creativity themselves, but had good marketeers. Maybe it's my countryside upbringing, maybe I'm just ranting about something everybody already knows, but since then, I have viewed literature and art in general with a certain level of suspicion.

AFTER my graduation I tried to be a Serious Writer. I spent some years writing up stories about everyday country living, invariably featuring characters that toiled hard for little reward. The stories were done in very terse and strict prose. If they were in photographs, they would be in black-and-white. When it was finished, I sent it out to various publishers. Of course, it was rejected every time. Countryside prose is not very hot in Holland.

AFTER three years of working hard, I had nothing to show for it except a handful of rejections and a serious lack of sunlight. I was tired and, admittedly, somewhat bitter.

I TOOK a vacation to Scotland and found an reignited an old love I had: horror. As soon as I got home, I set myself down and took one of the characters of my book and killed him by a tree possessed with the ghost of an evil old man. I sent it off to a magazine and it got published right away. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the e-mail saying they would accept it. 

BUT, what was more important then my first publication, was that I had FUN writing it. For four years I had been drilled to read these literary stories that basically told the reader that the whole world was a bunch of crap, love did not exist and friendship is an illusion (this is actually the name of a famous Dutch song) and I was made to believe that truly creative genres like horror and fantasy were not the playground of Serious Writers. Writing a horror story felt somehow 'naughty'. I had a wonderful time writing it. And apparently people enjoyed reading it as well.

I DID away with my collection of Serious Stories and never looked back.

THE MORALE of this story is probably to do what you love, no matter what anybody says. And although everybody knows this in theory, it is quite another thing to put it into practice. Peer-pressure, the promise of golden mountains, fame, recognition or whatever it is you're after, these are all things that can make you loose sight of why you were writing in the first place. Beware of this!

Hope it helps!

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