I watched The Fault In Our Stars on the plane. Probably not the most intelligent choice of film when you’re feeling mega sleep-deprived, pensive, confused about life and acutely hungover – but often watching a sad film helps with a much needed cathartic release. A friend of mine openly admits to have nights in just to listen to sad music in a dark room because “better out than in”. Anyway, your allowed to sob on a plane because no one will see you and the flight attendant can give you a glass of water and nod sympathetically and leave you to it. It’s the film, I say, just the film.
Of course we all know the book is really sad, and therefore the film is sad. I knew what I was in for. Just like the hangover these tears were self-inflicted. Not having read the book the whole way through I enjoyed the sad suspense of not knowing how it would end. All I knew what that it is a tragedy. A modern day Romeo and Juliet horribly riddled with the C word. Every mention of the word cancer blows away all of the happiness away like a wind machine that gives the characters absolutely no respite. There is a haunting amount of realism too, with depressing lying-in-bed scenes, laptop scenes, Gmail chat, iPhones, normal open parks – it’s a Hollywood film sure, but there is a surprising lack of sugar-coating. And how can it be, with such a harrowing subject? Nothing is particularly glamourised except for their good looks. It makes the film all the more grim to watch, and the many morals of the story hit you over the head with a large frying pan.
Thinking about the author, John Green for a moment, the technique I found the most impressive was the way he wrote a book within a book. A book so seemingly real that I wanted to see if it existed, or perhaps even available on Amazon to read in its own right. I googled An Imperial Infliction by Peter Van Houton, whom the main character Hazel is obsessed with and quotes daily. But it’s not a real book in the real world, unfortunately, it’s planted there by the author as a meta seed. Peter Van Houten isn’t a real author either. And it’s a good job too, because he turned out to be a complete arsehole. A true example of the phrase “never meet your heroes”.
This made me think a little about a recent night out I had when someone said to me that I should stop reading the work of people I admire so much. That I should concentrate more on my own. Because to focus too much on other peoples you are not giving your new ideas the attention they need to blossom. It’s true that there about five writers who I read obsessively. The advice was coming from a good place. But it also jarred with me for some reason.
It was an interesting point to make; because I would never see being a huge fan of someone’s work or to obsessively read books in the hope for inspiration to ever be a bad thing. But I saw the point that was being made. There have been times when I’ve spent hours trawling through a backlog of archives of someone’s work who I admire. Re-reading their pieces again and again. Reading stuff that I cannot necessarily learn anything new from. The other day I went back to 2007 on an archive of articles by a certain writer. I was doing it in order to try and trigger a new idea or be inspired but after a while that doesn’t work. Really, you can only inspire yourself.
The reason why it’s important that Hazel had to let An Imperial Affliction go, is because she was holding on too tightly to it. She was enslaved to the book, to the ending, to the quotable paragraphs. She was so obsessed with the book that she wasn’t writing her own story. None of it was real and she’d become to hooked on it. I have certain books that I cling onto as well, but it’s not always the answer. It could be guiding you in the wrong direction.
I understand why it’s important to step back a little from being a fan of someone and their work. You can be a fan of what someone does but you have to also make sure you aren’t just hanging on to their every word. You need to keep your own thoughts and decisions in check and to avoid being guided too strongly. At some point you will have to create your own words, your own chapters and your own narrative. Something happened recently when I stopped following said writer so closely. I still read it. But I focused more on my own work. And since then, I’ve unleashed more ideas and better work because of it – because you can’t imitate, you can’t compare and you can’t do the same as what someone else is doing.
Go forth and enjoy the work of your idols, but don’t let it get you stuck.