My first thought after reading Sherman Alexie’s “Superman and Me” was, What a great piece of writing. Of course the piece invoked other feelings –He makes learning to read sound so magical. How many Indian reservations are left? Was I taught poetry in school? But even an hour after finishing the essay, after reading blog posts, checking my email, and calling my mom, my mind lingered on “Superman and Me.” What a great piece of writing.
Like Alexie, I have enjoyed and had a knack for reading since childhood. My passion has never been quite as strong as Alexie’s, but all the reading over the years has helped me able to differentiate good writing between bad, and has given me an appreciation for the good. So, what makes “Superman and Me” so good? It has a purpose. It has a soul, a reason to exist. The world (in my opinion) is better with the essay in it. That is what makes “Superman and Me” so good.
And that is why so much writing I do is bad. Honestly. I don’t say this to be modest; I’m not fishing for compliments. I know that I have the ability to create good writing, it’s just that most of the writing I do on a day-to-day basis is out of obligation, not out of love for the art. A professor hands me an essay prompt; I research; I follow the guidelines and attempt to meet all the criteria; I check my facts; I revise; I submit the essay by the pre-determined deadline. At no point in these academic essays, however, do I insert my soul. Sure, the essay has a purpose: to improve my GPA. But is the world a better place because of my purely factual, uninspiring, 12-page report on anti-Semitic propaganda and socialism in Germany? My answer is no.
Don’t get me wrong, I still (somewhat) enjoyed writing that essay, and in some parts you can surely hear my “voice.” But there is no soul in it. No philosophical purpose, no reason to exist beyond last semester. For these reasons, in the grand scheme of things, that essay is not a great piece of writing. Good, but not great.
And that’s where I am now as a writer. I’m settling with the good; searching for the great. I suppose I shouldn’t wait around for inspiration to come to me, it’s one of those things you need to get out and find for yourself. I doubt I’ll find it in a dimly lit classroom surrounded by 200 other students, or on an essay prompt handed to me by a caffeine-deprived professor. It will come when I least expect it. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy reading works like “Superman and Me,” and work to the day I can write something as great.