So I'm reading The Count of Monte Cristo for the first time, and have signed up on Goodreads to read the full À la recherche du temps perdu, (Davis translation for Swann's Way, and Moncrieff for the rest).
Intending to read only a short portion of Swann's Way, I got pulled into the world of Proust, sucked down into the meander and flow of his marvelous phrasings, and carried away by long descriptions of memories. The writing is unbelievably good. I understand the aversion to such purple prose and endless sentences, but by gosh it is gorgeous.
And it reminds me how crappy my own writing is.
Sure, the classics are part of my bizarro work, but each read of those great works has really been selfish, to be honest. I'm using well-known literature to promote my own misguided stories. It's probably OK, since nobody reads bizarro, but it's still a little icky.
So to read Proust, purely for edification and enlightenment, is a moving experience. One realizes that there have been giants that have paved a path, giants whose footprints dwarf our own, and whose quality of work we may only fumble at. I've always been a reader, true, but having gone over to the author's world had stunted my outlook somewhat. At one point, I selfishly thought that my work was on par with modern-day masters, and maybe even thought I could challenge the ancient heros of the written word.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Though halfway through Cristo, and partway through Swann's Way, this experience has been humbling to the point of paralysis (as far as writing goes). What is the point in continuing? Why bother to put pixels to screen when you will never touch such greatness?
But that is also folly.
As writers, we should always strive to be better. Practice is one avenue. I believe that reading a very powerful tool for the writer. For me, reading the masters of the craft--those who have gone hundreds of years before--is the way to go. They have laid a foundation atop which most modern literature stands, and to ignore them and bask in our own self-imposed glory is silly.
What in the Sam Hill am I talking about?
Read. Read Proust, Joyce, Tennyson, Dumas... Authors, take off your writing hat and read. I'd encourage you to take a long hard look at your own craft. There are days when I feel like pulling the plug on all that I have out there and starting fresh... I'd like to blame Proust on that, but I also had to set aside ego and the "business" of writing and examine past and future. It is both terrifying and therapeutic to look at oneself and realize that you aren't the next Robert Jordan. Can you get there? That is up to you and what you put into it.