Thursday, April 21, 2011
Spinning Yarns of Gold
Occasionally I receive what I feel is a gold nugget that I feel is profound enough to educate the adult writers in my world as well. Anthony Otten is a junior in high school, with few years under his belt, but his writing clearly displays a maturity beyond his age. His message was so noble, I asked him to let me share it with you. In an environment where competition is fierce and rejection common, many writers throw up their hands and quit. Some limit themselves to easy markets. Anthony, however, gives you another option. Leave it to a teenager to tell us how we ought to deal with a challenge.
Spinning Yarns of Gold
Envy is a writer’s best friend. Indeed, it does for the aspiring scribbler what compasses do for hikers in the wilderness. In the moment that a writer, smoldering with jealousy, holds between his trembling fingers a page of someone else’s brilliance, he begins to discover himself as an artist. Without recognizing it, he has caught the scent-trail of his muse.
You know it the first time it happens. In the coziness of your reading nook, you’re sinking into a novel…and suddenly the writer fires off a metaphor that dazzles like a ruby, a snatch of dialogue that seems to echo in the hollow of your heart, a line of such bold understatement that its simplicity cuts into your soul. You rush onward, peeling through the pages as if skinning an onion, on one hand desperate to consume every remaining morsel of story, and on the other, desperate to not believe anyone could write something so achingly good.
You finish. You clap the pages shut and sigh. I’ll never write like this.
I know the temptation is overwhelming to admit you could never be among the hallowed legions of wordsmiths whose novels are the soft bricks in the bookstore aisle wall. But just as surely as a couple’s feelings now can affect the futures of unborn children, your confidence in your abilities to place gold on the page will determine what books will exist in the future…and which won’t. Just imagine what captivating stories would remain floating in the limbo between mind and page if you don’t pick up your pen and surrender to your dreams.
My first ordeal with this kind of envy was with the author Ian McEwan early in high school, when I read his WWII literary novel Atonement. The sublime descriptions still make my neck tingle—“the leonine yellow of high summer” coming into the greenery, the “chaotic swarm of impressions” that assault a young writer’s mind, the “caged panther” that is a torturous migraine headache. McEwan was a god behind the page, skating invisibly through characters’ thoughts and conjuring genius with a flick of his pen. This is the way he seemed to me, at least, and the intimidation I felt would’ve turned into despair if I hadn’t realized a simple truth: no one can hold a pen in the womb; every writer begins as a novice.
Since then, I have realized the work of great writers does not exist to dampen dreams, but to goad young writers into accepting the challenge of creating something even better. The key to overcoming this envy isn’t to imitate your favorites, but to let them guide you, admiring them as proof of what you can do if you stick proudly to your own vision. All else will follow, as long as every time you sit at your desk and lick your lips nervously at the thought of creation, you smile and remind yourself that you’re about to spin your own yarn of gold.
BIO: Anthony Otten’s fiction and poetry have been published or are forthcoming in Short Story America, Poetry Quarterly and The Houston Literary Review, among others. He will graduate from his junior year at Lloyd Memorial High School in the spring of 2011. He is at work on a literary novel set in the Appalachian coal country in 1933. He lives in Erlanger, Kentucky.