The lemming effect

Another working day has ended
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race

Lyrics from Synchronicity, by the Police. We all know exactly what they are referring to. Lemmings have been been ill-perceived as a rodent that does little more than follow its fellow rodentia — even to their death. There is no truth to that myth, but the image holds strong. When you see one person doing nothing more than what the person in front them is doing, you think Lemming.

I, on the other hand, think emotional and mental suicide. Why? Let me digress a bit.

What is an artist? An artist is one who creates. But how does one define the word “create”:

the act of making, inventing, or producing

If taken solely by its definition, to create doesn’t necessarily mean to create something unique. But if one’s creation is a copy (even remote), then one is merely re-creating.

Unique. Fail.

Imagine a world where artists did nothing more than riff on an already created work. Variations on a theme are nice — but only to a certain extent. We’d have thousands upon thousands of ripoffs of Greensleeves and each of Shakespeare’s works. The horse Romeo & Juliet road in on would be beat to death in every way possible.

The unfortunately reality is that this is all to common. One writer sees something is selling well, so they feel like they should hop on the gravy train while it still has momentum. After all, you only need that one, first hit in order to finally make it. Why not make that first hit an easy home run by re-writing The Hunger Games,  Fifty Shades of Gray, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight… the list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on…

If you know anything about reproduction, you know that with each copy the quality is further removed from the original. That holds truth with artistic work. You copy another work and your work (and your reputation) will suffer.

But this ideology holds true for more than just the finished product. It also applies to the writer and the process. Recently the Stephen King quote, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”, hit MEME status on Facebook and Twitter. I have a big problem with that quote. Why? That quote hearkens me back to when I was an actor. It was inevitable you would come across one of those actors that ate, slept, and breathed theatre. They were of the mind set that if you weren’t always reading scripts and going to see plays, you were less of an actor. Thing is — I knew plenty of those actors who had little in the way of skills. Sure they knew ever current play, who won every Tony award, and what trends were hot on the audition circuit — but put them on stage and they were mediocre at best.

I eat a lot of Mexican food. I can’t cook Mexican food.

I am a kick-ass mountain biker, yet I’ve never read a single book about mountain biking.

Just because someone is consumed with something does not mean they are skilled at that something. You read a lot…you’ll be a good reader. You write a lot…you’ll be a good writer. Period. And if I read a lot of books about how to write, I’ll have a good idea about how other writers work their craft. I’m much better served spending my precious little free time writing my actual books. And what about the King quote takes such issues as dyslexia (which I suffer from) into consideration? You know how long it takes me to read a book? I can actually write one faster!

If I’m being totally honest — I know that everyone is different. We all are. There are writers that read a ton. There are readers that write a ton. There are writers that read little and readers that write little. From my perspective, it’s whatever gets you through to the end of your work that’s important. And so long as you’re respecting your own craft, your craft will respect you…whether you read a book a day or a book a year.