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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Talent Isn't Enough

I have taught many Creative Writing classes and workshops in the past 30 years. Writers are all unique in what and how they write and yet there are invariably students who share some of the same characteristics.

For instance, there are those who those who finish too soon and those who don't finish at all. Those who finish too soon just want to write. They have an exciting idea and can't wait to get it down on paper. The creativity is the fun part for them. Once that's over, they resist the tedium of editing their work in order to polish it into a professional manuscript. No matter how good their writing is, they will probably never sell it.

Those who don't finish get lost in the process. Unlike the first group, they edit and smooth and polish and re-write, never able to bring themselves to declare that it is time to stop because their piece is as good as they can make it. Perhaps it is simply the anxiety of public judgment that holds them back. No matter how good their writing is, they will most likely never sell it.

In every class I've ever taught, I've had excellent writers with real potential to sell their work who never will because they are terrified of rejection. Perhaps, they sent out a manuscript once and got back a form letter turning them down (something that happens to those of us who have had a little, or a lot, of success many, many times). But for the fearful ones, one humiliation (as they see it) is all they can bear. They will never allow themselves to be put in that position again. Obviously, if you don't even try to market your work, you never will.

I always have a few dreamers who think a lot about writing but never actually do it. They have entire articles or books in their heads but never manage to get them down on paper. They may make outlines. They go as far as creating Word documents. They give their piece a title but that's as far as they go. When faced with all that blank space, they zone out. Needless to say, no matter how good their ideas may be, if they can't translate them into something that can be shared, no one will ever know but them.

The worst for an instructor are those who eagerly write and edit and read aloud to the class but who have no talent for writing. They do everything so wrong, the instructor is at a loss to know how to begin to help them improve. They are so enthusiastic and willing to put every suggestion into practice but when you read their first paragraph, it is hard not to groan out loud and you're sure any editor who reads it will do the same.

For those who finish too soon, I recommend setting yourself a goal of editing your piece at least six times. Force yourself to be thorough even if it bores you, then send it out.

For those who can't finish, same thing. Edit six times, then make yourself call it quits and send it out.

For those who can't face rejection. tell yourself you're going to send your piece, then do it. Have the next potential market lined up and pop it back on-line or in the mail, as soon as it is turned down by the first one. Don't give yourself time to think about it. Remind yourself that best-selling novelists were often shunned by publishers many times before they were accepted.

For those who never actually write anything, set a goal to write at least a paragraph every day. If it is only a description of a character or a bit of dialogue, get something down on the page. The next day add another paragraph. What you write may be disjointed at first but you'll find yourself automatically pulling it together as you add more material. After a while, that paragraph will come easier. When that happens, up your goal to two paragraphs. Eventually, you'll be writing a page. One page a day everyday means completing a 365 page novel in a year.

For those who have no writing ability (as well as those who do), my recommendation is to keep at it. I used to attend an annual writing conference. One of the instructors was something of a legend. The first year she came with a novel manuscript that was purely awful. Still, everyone did the best they could to give her advice for how to improve it. The next year, she'd re-written her book. It was still pretty bad. The next year, it was a little better, the following year quite a bit better. The seventh year she attended the conference, she came with the news that she'd sold her novel to a publisher.

How many conference attendees do you suppose didn't sell a book or a magazine piece or a poem during those seven years - people who started out with much more talent than she had? The answer is many, because they didn't have her drive, her eagerness to improve, her will to overcome discouragement. She kept moving forward when others gave up.

The secret of writing and selling what you write is to write and to keep writing....to market and to keep marketing. There is no shortage of people with talent but perseverance, ah, that's what makes the difference between failure or success.

  

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