Appreciating Your Betters

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As a reader of books who also writes, I often feel a distinct, conflicting emotion when I read great books written by great writers. There is the delight, of course. Here is a person made by God doing something beautiful.

Then there is the (often very slight) tinge of despair as I recognize I could never do this. This is less pointed when the genre and style are out of my own vein of writing (such as Patrick O’Brian’s books, which are, for me, an unmixed joy I hardly experience in any other fiction).

I have written before on, and firmly believe in, the well-worn wisdom that it’s no use in copying others, or feeling bad about how you compare. It’s best to find your own voice and write what only you can.

But still that feeling comes. “Am I kidding myself? I can’t write like this. This is art. This is compelling.”

I guess part of it is simple envy, ordinary coveting. This of course, like all sin, must be rejected.

I want, rather, to be the kind of man who says in his heart, like Robin Hood to Little John in the Errol Flynn film, “I love a man who can better me.”

This runs quite counter to the self-important manure which passes for a philosophy of life in our envy-based culture.

May it not be so in us. God be merciful to us.


17 Comments

  1. Chris Yokel

    Great thoughts S.D. Both as a musician and a writer I have had the very same mix of feelings: an awe for the gift of another and an accompanying sort of despair of ever wanting to pick up your own tools again in sheer disgust. But you are right: we have each been called to do what we have been called to do, and certainly improve upon it as we are able. It reminds me of Paul talking about the “manifold” or “multifaceted” wisdom of God in Ephesians. Each of us is a different facet of the jewel–we’ve got to shine in the way God made us to shine!

  2. Robert Treskillard

    Great post, Sam!

    And those feelings are oh-so-normal for all of us. But whether it is writing, playing music, making soup, or changing diapers, God is pleased with our efforts to glorify him.

    And God will use what we do to bless those around us, and that is what really matters. And your writing is a blessing, Sam! Keep at it!

    -Robert

  3. S.D. Smith

    Thanks, kind humans, for your words.

    As far as O’Brian goes, book one of the Aubrey/Maturin series is “Master and Commander.” And that gives me a chance to point out that it’s not for the young, and the principal character is at his worst, as regards his moral character, in the first book. As the series goes on (I am only at book 6 out 21) it only improves in every way.

    I am sure many ladies enjoy the series (as I enjoy Jane Austen), but it is the evident masculinity, usually so foreign to modern fiction, which is a significant part of the enjoyment for me.

    You have to kind of get used to/immerse yourself in the naval terminology. It is also deliciously antiquated in that regard. Huzzah for the “outdated.”

    I suppose there is an almost infinite attraction for me in un-(or anti-)modern stories (Tolkien, Lewis, come to mind) where we are not drowned in p.c., media-savvy boundaries of dogmatic, faddish folly.

    The Bible is, likewise, so delightfully counter-cultural along these lines, and I find great stories like The Lord of the Rings prepare me for the (at first) shock of it. Then there is the slow recognition, and growing fondness. God is a glorious artist.

    This probably deserves it’s own post. Sorry. Turning into Ron Block here (and I’m no Ron Block…I could never do what he does –sigh).

  4. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    As someone who wrote a book heavily featuring Age of Sail naval warfare, I have to say that Patrick O’Brian terrifies me. I tried reading Letter of Marque as ‘research’ but had to quit because I was close to being scared off writing my own book.

  5. Andrew Mackay

    Sam,

    this post was helpful to me (as Andrew pointed out above, particularly tied to Matt’s words the other day). It’s so easy to want to throw in the towel in the light of my own (perceived or actual) lack of greatness. Art is not done in a void… some portion of greatness is acquired through experience (a healthy dose of “born with it” is mabeline… no, wait… helpful).

  6. Hannah

    Thanks for this post. And hurrah for the Errol Flynn Robin Hood! I had the good fortune to see it on the big screen recently in a classic film series. It’s quite delightful.

  7. Jaclyn

    Beautifully said, and exactly something I needed to hear today. Thank you for letting your facet shine!

    Thanks, Chris, for the great word picture: “It reminds me of Paul talking about the “manifold” or “multifaceted” wisdom of God in Ephesians. Each of us is a different facet of the jewel–we’ve got to shine in the way God made us to shine!”

  8. Jodi

    “I am sure many ladies enjoy the series (as I enjoy Jane Austen), but it is the evident masculinity, usually so foreign to modern fiction, which is a significant part of the enjoyment for me.” — If you were reading G.A. Henty Samwell, you would be saying the same thing…just being that annoying pest that you know me to be.

    Also applicable to Henty: “It is also deliciously antiquated in that regard. Huzzah for the “outdated.”

  9. becky

    Each of us is to use our gifts according to the grace given to us–not the grace given to someone else. I don’t have to be “the best”, just the best that I can be.

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