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Critical Hits

A Wise Man Once Said...

by Dave Smith
Jun 09,2004


A Wise Man Once Said...

"All intellectual pursuits are ultimately futile."
-Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote"*

I recently came to a conclusion. Before I share it with you, let me say that said conclusion may be a hasty and or incorrect one, but I rarely come to conclusions, so I'll take what I can get; should I be proved wrong, so be it. I try not to hold myself to anything I say or write, as terrible as that sounds.

That last statement actually supports the conclusion I came to, which was this: the greatest obstacle I face as a writer is that I lack authority. By this I mean that while I can hypothetically write about anything, and possibly even produce a solid, readable piece of work despite knowing nothing about the subject, I never feel as if I have any real authority about what I'm writing about.

Let's take Axis Mundi Sum, my first novel. Half of it revolves around things I know little or nothing about: Monaco, Taoism, neuroscience, Chinese-American tongs, phone phreaking, and so on. I think I did a decent job of sounding believable, especially if one is willing to suspend some disbelief. Nevertheless, I believe that with more research, and better writing skills, my authorial voice would have been more confident, which in turn would lead to a more solid novel.

Why do I think that I lack authority? One reason, as I just mentioned, is lack of research. While Google may be the best thing to the internet since, uh, Google, not only do I not use it enough, but I rely too heavily on it when I do. Everyone's familiar with the arguments that internet research can be shallow and/or deceptive, and those arguments are generally true for most of the populace. I'd like to believe that I am a better internet researcher than most people, but the operative word is still "internet": there is simply too much information that isn't online, or is online but is too abbreviated, to fully rely on the internet as your main source of information.

That said, my own poor research habits are not the biggest cause of my authority problem. My own inexperience as a writer, and the resulting doubt, is a substantially greater culprit. I do not write, and do not trust my own ability as a writer, enough to feel that I am saying what I want in the clearest, most meaningful way possible. I'm sure that many writers, even those who have been successful for years, feel the same way, but I take no solace in such a thought. I refuse to hold myself to any standard but my own when it comes to writing fiction; that isn't to say that I ignore any and all advice, editorial input, or influential works, but I will not let anyone tell me that "this is really good, Dave; you're doing just fine." I know better than that, and while my dismissal of many opinions may stem from pessimism, it's better than letting someone who really doesn't know better convince me that my work is fine as it is. The only way my work will improve is if I stick to a program of dissatisfaction.

This dissatisfaction with my own work is the greatest impetus I have to be a better writer. The relative failure of Axis Mundi Sum has been a real kick in the ass to make sure that Critical Hits is a better book in every way, but I nevertheless feel that it is not as authoritative as it could be. I don't mean to say that it's supposed to be a definitive fictional account of geek life, because it's not, but rather that my narrative voice, characterization, and so on are not as strong as I feel they should be. If anyone who's read my stuff had any criticism, I'm sure that would play a role in my opinion of Axis Mundi Sum and any other works, but thus far I haven't received very much in-depth commentary.

In the long run, I'm not really bothered by the conclusion I've reached. It's frustrating that I'm not as good a writer as I'd like to be, but hell, that's the way it goes. I'm only 24, a sworn idler, and I've only written one novel. Things'll fall into place with a little effort, which is all I really want to expend. I like writing, and I'd sure like to get better at it, but I'm not going to break my back doing it. After all, I have the sneaking suspicion that Borges was right about intellectual pursuits. Not that futility is any reason not to do something; in fact, it's kind of relieving in an unsettling way. If all cerebration is pointless, then we're wasting our time, and the only difference is that some of us know it and get a kick out of it anyway.

Now that I'm done with dispensing useless information, I'll say adios and wish everyone a pleasant June. Kick back on the porch with a glass of iced tea and a good novel (like, say, Axis Mundi Sum), and enjoy the languor that the summer will force upon you.

Take it easy, Dave Smith dave at axismundisum dot com

*This statement is more commonly seen as "There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless." I am (mostly) sure that I am not paraphrasing it, but rather citing a different translation of the short story in question. Should anyone be able to prove that my version is wrong or nonexistent in any translation, I would be grateful if they informed me.

My first novel, AXIS MUNDI SUM, is here! More fun than a fight between an octopus and a rabid dog!


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