When you’re striving to do whatever it is you’re passionate about, be it writing, music, dancing – you name it – you always want to be the best you can be, but what happens if you’re only ever mediocre?

It’s an interesting point for thought, flagged up by the recent film about a struggling folk singer who, despite his talent, never quite hits the big time and has to come to the realisation that he quite possibly never will. He may have to accept that he’s good, but just not that good.

The film is of course, Inside Llewyn Davis, and I haven’t yet seen it, so that’s about all I can say on it, but nevertheless – it’s something to mull over. I’ve always known that it’s incredibly difficult to ‘hit the big time’ with writing and, if you’re in any way good, being in the right place at the right time, meeting someone in the know at the right time, is often the key to success. (If you’re not good, these things won’t help.)

Literary inspiration from a New York sidewalk...

Literary inspiration from a New York sidewalk…

Today, however, the possibilities for writing are endless, thanks to the internet, and getting yourself out there is easier and yet simultaneously, much more difficult. You could drown fairly rapidly in the sea of words swamping the world wide web and no-one would notice. And the questions you want answered if you do venture forth tend to be:  Will anyone stumble upon my words? Will they read them? Will they like them? Will they dismiss them? Will I stand out?

Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Will you be satisfied with just being another wordsmith in a vast ocean of wordsmiths, all frantically flailing around trying to splash their words in as many people’s direction as possible? Will you be happy being mediocre, being good, but maybe not quite good enough to stand out from the crowd? Do you care? Should you care?

Well, that’s a lot of questions of an afternoon, but I thought it worth bringing up. I’ve touched on the idea of success in writing before, on this blog, and that writing should be because you love it first and foremost and success a happy after-effect, if it comes. But when the issue reared its head on the radio recently with the film, it made me think on it again, as I write in various different forms and want them all to be good – great, even. Journalism, blogging, prose, poems, short stories… Am I happy if some are simply mediocre? Well, on reflection, I think that maybe I am.

My short stories could be polished more, and my poems I often like, but never re-work enough. My journalism I am more precious with – it’s work and I know I’m good at it, but again, tweaks can always be made – interviewees probed more for quirky details to add to the story and so on.Picture 1

So, there’s a lot to be said for being mediocre, I think – it keeps you on your toes to always strive for improvement. Going back to the film, the Guardian, in reviewing it, asked the question – ‘when do artists cut their losses and abandon their careers?’

They thankfully later added that, ‘The awful truth is that “existing” is what people inside show business have to do as well’.

Well, firstly, it is my belief that any artist who feels the need to create, should. If they are good, talented, mediocre even – they should never feel they have to give up and ‘cut their losses’. If you enjoy it, keep going. Secondly, call it ‘existing’ if you like, but what’s wrong with that anyway? We all have to exist in some shape or form… better to do it in a way that fulfils you.

Happy writing!


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2 responses to “Mediocrity

  1. And then there’s also the reality that some writers’ mediocres (Zadie Smith always comes to mind) would still be enough to wipe the floor with other writers. I guess it’s all relative but I agree with you, Claire, as long as it makes you happy doing it, you will rewrite and rewrite until it’s the best you can make it.

  2. Good point – what one person may deem ‘mediocre’ can actually be really great writing, even if it never quite ‘makes it’ in the literary world. Here’s to keeping at it 🙂

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