Where did SLAY, QUEEN (or SLAY QUEEN or SLAAAAY QUEEEEEN and variations thereof) come from? Actually, you know what, I don’t care where it came from. All I care about is that it is my least favourite Internet phrase of the moment.
Creative people tend to have very much present yet fragile egos, having blown them up to the fullest extent like a bored child at a birthday party. All it takes is one tiny pin or a well-placed punch to make the whole thing weaken, break, and disappear in a split second.
SLAY QUEEN, in its now almost indiscriminately applied form, is not helping. And nor are the ‘inspirational quotes’ telling you what you should or shouldn’t do – as a writer, as anyone creative, or as a person. Maybe this is particular to me, but when I see or hear the phrase you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce, it irks me.
I am not Beyonce. I feel it’s a fairly obvious statement, but nonetheless: I am not a talented singer, dancer, or performer. Anyone who has heard me attempt any of these will testify to that. And Beyonce is not me: she does not manage a team of community social care practitioners in south east London, and – no offence to Queen Bey (sigh) – I’m sure she’d be just as successful at it as I would be at a poor attempt at Single Ladies. And I’m sure both of us would detest our new roles equally.
We have the same number of hours in the day, but we achieve very different things. So, if we take the literal aspect out of it, what I hear from that quote is: you have no excuse for not being exceptional.
What the hell is wrong with just being… you?
I went to a high-pressure school, which instilled in me a perfectionist work ethic – sometimes a blessing, oftentimes a curse. There are things I excel at, and I am proud of these things. But there are many, many more things where I am lacking. Day-to-day, I would rate my performance in life is average. This should not be a surprise. By definition, most people are average.
So, going back to SLAY QUEEN, I can’t stand it when the hero-worshipping gets out of hand. Like the vile pursuit of ‘Becky with the good hair’, whoever she may be and if she even exists*.
Our heroes are people too, and this is important.
If we, as writers, put our writing heroes on a pedestal, we are giving ourselves permission not to succeed. Self-growth is a necessary and enriching aspect of being human: often, the growth we’ve achieved can change the course of our entire lives. Identifying role models is a huge part of that. But deciding that someone’s creative output is the sum of who they are, and therefore they can do no wrong, is acting blindly and does said idol no favours – nor the person worshipping them.
Of course, respect the artist, respect the person, but be realistic – it’s far more complimentary to say yes, this person has flaws but I still enjoy their music/literature/art/etc. It’s a lot of what we do when we fall in love or form friendships. You don’t dictate who your friends are based on their superficial persona (or, at least, I hope not) – you accept them whole.
Lionel Shriver is one of my idols and I respect the hell out of her and her views, but on the downside I find her a bit unforgiving and, at times, somewhat dogmatic. I imagine she might be hard to live with, for example, or hold her close friends and family to her own high standards.
But then, I don’t know her; I just like her work. I would never tweet her after a great article saying SLAY QUEEN, partly because it’s shitty feedback. But I might tweet her saying how much I enjoyed her writing and offering my own viewpoint.
You don’t know Beyonce, or how she truly spends those hours in the day. But you have as many hours in the day as you do.
So don’t blindly exalt success, but don’t celebrate mediocrity either. Strive for your best. Hold yourself accountable to yourself, and resolve to improve in relation to your past self, not to anyone else. Authors – or anyone you admire – are fallible humans, just like us, and that’s to be celebrated. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be attempting to be successful with our writing because it just wouldn’t be possible.
What do you think – is hero-worship a healthy appreciation of someone’s good work, or an unhealthy fetishisation of perceived perfection? How do you feel about aspirational quotes, are they inspiring or insipid?
* I did write a huge, long rant about this particular issue, but – after some editing – all I’ll say is this: Beyonce and Jay-Z are one of the most successful couples in the world. The album was released on Tidal, presumably with the approval of Jay-Z, whom the lyrics are reported to reference in terms of his alleged infidelities. Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that such a successful and business-savvy couple would have realised the potential publicity from this and presumably some of the truth in the lyrics has been magnified, exaggerated, distorted, or outright fabricated in order to make the album as commercially successful as possible. Yet the assumption that it’s real, and that Beyonce requires ‘defending’, means that ‘fans’ have been utterly, unforgivably hideous to several, likely innocent, women. The mind boggles.