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Appreciating Your Betters

As a reader of books who also writes, I often feel a distinct, conflicting emotion when I read great books written by great writers. There is the delight, of course. Here is a person made by God doing something beautiful.

Then there is the (often very slight) tinge of despair as I recognize I could never do this. This is less pointed when the genre and style are out of my own vein of writing (such as Patrick O’Brian’s books, which are, for me, an unmixed joy I hardly experience in any other fiction).

I have written before on, and firmly believe in, the well-worn wisdom that it’s no use in copying others, or feeling bad about how you compare. It’s best to find your own voice and write what only you can.

But still that feeling comes. “Am I kidding myself? I can’t write like this. This is art. This is compelling.”

I guess part of it is simple envy, ordinary coveting. This of course, like all sin, must be rejected.

I want, rather, to be the kind of man who says in his heart, like Robin Hood to Little John in the Errol Flynn film, “I love a man who can better me.”

This runs quite counter to the self-important manure which passes for a philosophy of life in our envy-based culture.

May it not be so in us. God be merciful to us.


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