I went to the symphony yesterday, because I figured I wouldn't get many chances to hear Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 performed live and it is, after all, one of the greatest works of classical music ever. Not only was it well worth the money I paid, but it also got me thinking about degrees of inspiration. I've touched on my love of music before, as well as my writing influences, but I promise this post'll be different.
You see, I had moment after moment after moment in the concert hall where I was awed by the intricacies of the music and blown away that one man could have written what I was hearing and could've held it all in his head at one time. That's something I could never do, because I don't have nearly as much musical talent as Beethoven did. There's such a sense of life in his music—love and rage and joy and fear and grief and playfulness, all painted so well by sound that listeners feel it, get swept away by it, lifted up and out of themselves for however long the music lasts. Dang, but I want to write music that well. Beethoven is a god.
After one of those awed moments—I think it was during Symphony No. 9, Mvmt. 1—I realized that I can't think of any writers who inspire the same feeling, the same passion. I have favourite authors. There are writers who have a particular strength that I would love to share, who write at a level I'd like to reach someday. But there are no writers whose entire canon I love unconditionally, the way I love Beethoven's. Bujold, who is incredible at plots and characterization and dialogue, has written stories that didn't grab me. Gaiman, who's got a fantastic handle of creepiness and modernizes fairy tales like nobody's business, has written stories that, and I hope I don't lose readers for saying this, wouldn't have been published if his name wasn't on them. Both these authors are people whose books I'm collecting. I love them, but I don't love them.
To me, reading Bujold and Gaiman (and the other people I admire and read voraciously) is the same as listening to Vivaldi or Handel or Mozart. There are works that shine, that sparkle, that I can experience over and over and get the same passion out of each time. There are works that fizzle for me, though they're still well-crafted. They lack that je ne sais quoi.
I don't know what it says about me that I have a God Composer but I don't have a God Author. Am I more critical of writers, because I'm more in tune with what makes for good writing? Am I trying to humanize these giants, so that the level of their pedestals becomes attainable? Am I more prepared to be rational and weigh pros and cons when discussing literature because I want the same rational approach directed towards my work once I'm published? I'd also propose the theory that I'm emotionally dead inside when it comes to creative works, but that would be fallacious because I've read books and heard music that has moved me greatly.
I gather that it's different for other people. I've read writing advice and listened to people talking about how to deal with wanting to write at the level of Author X right now, and how inspirational reading a great author can be. I know of people, friends even, who will not hear a single negative word spoken against their favourite author without rising up in defense. This makes me think that somewhere out there, there is a God Author for me, and if I read enough books, someday I'll find them. But I want so much to weigh things, to point out the bad along with the good, to be critical in an English class kind of way, that I suspect that author doesn't exist. How am I going to improve my writing if I don't keep the habit of identifying when writing doesn't sparkle for me?
Or maybe it's a different outlook on the world? I've definitely hit the stage in my life where I know I can't be exactly like someone else, that I can be just as good as them without being them. I've also learned that quality takes time and effort, and that perfection is an illusion. I can thank the School of Hard Knocks for that, as well as the School of Soul-Searching Introversion. So I can want traits of Author X (and Y and Z and…) without wanting to be them in their entirety, and I can let myself get carried away by their books and then step back later and say, "Great story, but Chapter 16 wasn't so hot and there was a weird bit of dialogue on page 47. I think the beats were off." But I will never have the desire to have written that book instead of them, and I will never have the desire to make their voice my own. And I'm completely okay with this because I'm as secure in my sense of self as I think any writer can be.
I'd love to hear stories from the other side of the fence, though. Folks with God Authors, care to weigh in? How do you feel when you read them? Is it possible to have a God Author while still being critical of their work? How did you discover they were a God Author? Or is the God Author thing not exactly right, and it's really God Books? Because God Books I do have. Definitely. (A post for another day, I think.)