Hello again. Today I am venting about something that’s been putting me off for years. I am sharing it with you to feel better in the company of likeminded souls. The question in the title is not really directed at you (unless you think it should be). It’s just how I accost writers mentally when I hit a spot of unwanted self-indulgence.
I’m sure you have come across bits of writing, sometimes an entire piece, whose sole purpose is to display writing skills, rather than illuminate or entertain us with anything substantial. Just look around, Writing Narcis are on all our favourite platforms.
Narcissism is often allied with an aversion to being criticised. So it’s more than likely the Writing Narci won’t be nice if you poke fun or find fault with him or her. And this sad combination is not limited to articles, stories or books. It can be seen lurking in their comments on other people’s published work and even eMails.
There, it’s not uncommon to see long passages where they show off their critical acumen, unbounded intelligence and biting sense of humour. Or what the culprit considers to be such. I bet they read their own comments, wallow in self-admiration and sigh in satisfaction at their eloquence. Then they edit it to fine-tune the self-glorification. And edit the edits.
By now you’ll have gathered I am a cynic about this sort of thing. I don’t believe we should string highfalutin words together into pretty sentences unless they convey something pithier. Writer as a performing monkey? Not really a thing, is it?
For these moments of temptation, Strunk & White should have advocated along these lines-
If all you wish to display is your ability to write pretty prose, you might as well take up poetry and be done with it.
The problem does not afflict only us run-of-the-mill writers. Many exalted hall-of-famers indulged in it. And with not as much calling-out as I’d like to see.
Here’s a case in point. F Scott Fitzgerald in “Tender is the Night” –
It was pleasant to drive back to the hotel in the late afternoon, above a sea as mysteriously colored as the agates and cornelians of childhood, green as green milk, blue as laundry water, wine dark. It was pleasant to pass people eating outside their doors, and to hear the fierce mechanical pianos behind the vines of country estaminets. When they turned off the Corniche d’Or and down to Gausse’s Hôtel through the darkening banks of trees, set one behind another in many greens, the moon already hovered over the ruins of the aqueducts….
Really? Just because you could, Mr Fitz? I love your stories and style, but you’ve lost points with me more than once for such capers. And didn’t your friend Ernest have anything to say about it?
I think you’ve got it. So I’ll stop.
As for you, my friend, I know you have many valuable things to contribute than just prettiness. So, don’t be a Writing Narci, please. At least not most of the time.