There’s that scene in Rocky III when the Italian Stallion hangs a photo of Clubber Lang. Every morning and every night, Rocky stares into the mirror and sees his enemy looking back at him.
Now, you might not ever reach a triumphant moment on the literary beach, when you out-pace your teacher, and you might not ever feel strong enough to grab that photo, as Rocky did, and crush it in your hand, and you might not ever feel completely ready with your writing skills, completely prepared, and strong enough to confidently growl “Go for it,” to the publishing industry. But I suggest to you that a little literary animosity can go a long way.
I like to think I’m pretty realistic about the quality of my writing. I read some books and say, “wow, I could never write that well.” I read other books and think, “well, that’s not really my gig so I wouldn’t want to write that.” And I read other books and exclaim, “I would have never thought of doing that.” So I don’t usually compare myself to the names on the spines that line my bookshelf.
But there’s this one guy… This one writer who flirts with the best seller list and who appears in a number of my favorite magazines and journals. He’s both hip and respected, popular enough to have some stature and yet still be considered a literary writer. And you know what? There ain’t a word that’s come out of that sonuvabitch’s typewriter that couldn’t have come out mine.
Every time this guy releases a new book, usually to a fair amount of acclaim and attention, I swear I won’t buy it. But then some latent masochistic tendency surfaces, I break down, and I slink into the bookstore and pay for this bastard’s book while avoiding eye contact with the clerk. I always justify the purchase by saying “there’s got to be something special about this guy’s writing. Maybe this book will prove it to me.” But I’m always sorely disappointed and usually end up flinging that fucker up against a wall while I ponder Talented Mr. Ripley-style plots to take over this charlatan’s life. Or, maybe I should really be conspiring to take my rightful publishing place, since this guy seems to steal all my ideas.
And after I’m finished plotting against my literary enemy’s career, I sit down and write a streak of fury and emotion.
So give it a try. I constantly hear people complaining about Dan Brown, or J.K. Rowling, or whoever. Next time you find yourself criticizing that best seller, visual the author, blast the Rocky theme song, and write that hack off the page. You’ll be surprised how far that venomous fuel can take you.