You Are No Shakespeare!
By James Batchelor on December 5th, 2012
“You are no Shakespeare!” That is what the little voice inside my head used to constantly remind me as I reviewed my own work (still does on occasion). It never failed: I would write something that I felt good about, go back to review it, and the little voice would appear, usually chortling derisively, “you thought that was good?” It would sputter around scarcely suppressed laughter and turn to the other little voices in my head, “Guys, come and check this out. James was happy about this piece of crap that a third grader would be embarrassed to have written.” They would all take a turn ridiculing me and finally adopt a consoling air, “Well,” they would say, “at least you never showed it to anyone.”
The voices also liked to show up when I was (re)reading one of the classics. I would be sitting there, minding my own business, really enjoying myself, when a wave of discouragement would descend upon me. The voices would return like a schoolyard bully, “You cannot do what these people have done,” they would say. “You are not the wordsmith that Shakespeare was and you cannot craft a story the way Dickens did.”
I knew these voices were self-defeating. I knew that no good would come from listening to them, but the problem was they were right! I am no Shakespeare. I am no Charles Dickens. I love writing, but that does not necessarily equate to talent, as so many tear-filled American Idol contestants have demonstrated after they are rejected from the show for no other reason than the fact that they are awful. “I love to sing and you’ll never stop me!” They scream back at the judges. “I’m going to the top and in a year, you’ll know that you blew it!”
And just like them, I continued to plug away, because what else could I do? Writing is how I express myself. It is my therapy, and often the only way I can discover or share my most sincere feelings. It is a part of me and I had no choice but to continue to plod forward. Nevertheless, the discouragement did make it easy to discard countless good ideas in the form of half-written stories all the while thinking to myself, “I’ll nail it on the next one.”
It was only when I was well into the writing of The Knights Dawning that I finally understood the significance of that statement, “you are no Shakespeare.” I had a story that I was passionate about and had determined that I would see it through to its conclusion come Hell or high-water (both of which did come in the process). But it was here that it finally hit me that I am no Shakespeare or Charles Dickens. But neither are they James Batchelor. Whether or not I have their genius for writing is not important. What matters is that just as I could not have told the stories they told, neither could they tell the stories which I have to share. They could not have created the characters that I create and I may reach people that they cannot.
We play the hand we are dealt. We use whatever skills, passions, and experiences are at our disposal to create the best product that we can, because, what else can we do? And though as writers we may never be entirely happy with the product we create at the end of the day, that discontent is what motivates us to do better the next time around. It pushes us out of our comfort zone and forces us to try new things that we might not otherwise attempt, and it drives us toward becoming the people that we always hoped we would be.