I don’t believe in talent. I believe in honesty, hard work and modeling excellence. When I was in college, after a couple of years of trying not to write (to make my Mom happy) I finally took a writing course from a teacher we’ll call Jane Swallows. She had a student in her class we’ll call Carl, who was quite smart, and had a flowing, literary style Jane loved.
She loved more than that about Carl, but we’ll postpone that part. At any rate, Carl would write stories about strong, silent guys who ponder The Meaning Of Life as they go about buildin’ and fixin’ stuff. The sort of stories where guys erect mighty houses and then, from their perch on the rooftop, look out over the world and See Things about Humanity.
I thought he was very good. So did Dr. Swallows. She went on and on about how wonderful he was, and defended him like a Mommy Tiger if any student dared hurt his feelings with a criticism.
And when a shy, nervous kid named Steve asked her what she thought of his OWN work (wasn’t exactly existential. I think it was about a giant amoeba that ate a village), she derisively called him “the king of slick.” The class laughed. Carl laughed and sneered.
I sat there, burning. Humiliated. Carl was the star, and I wasn’t even in the same league, she’d made that clear. Later, I found out they were bumping pelvises. Wasn’t that chummy?
Carl rubbed in his contempt for me, every chance he got, and I bit back my anger. Because I knew something. I had watched him react when people criticized him. Even a mild criticism of his work pissed him off. He never considered it.
And I knew in that moment that while he laughed at me and mocked me…I was going to succeed, and he wasn’t. Why? HE COULDN’T HANDLE CRITICISM.
And that meant that I would seek out critiques, and teachers, and role models who would tear my work to pieces in front of me, and learn from every one of them. I would write every day. Would use my anger and pain to motivate me to work harder. Would do my million words of crap to find my voice.
The Hero’s Journey says:
- I had to know what I wanted
- I needed to have enough reasons to act to outweigh the resistance
- Needed to make a clear declaration, and cut off the chance of retreat
- To take daily action, and observe the results
- To find allies and mentors and role models to teach me not just how to write, but how to SELL what I’d written
- To prepare for the inevitable disasters and setbacks along the path
- To know how to deal with total emotional crash-and-burn
- To find the faith I needed to keep going when I was emptied out.
- To define victory clearly, and keep fighting until I succeeded
- To commit to constant improvement, as well as teaching others the path to success.
If I believed in such things, I’d say Carl had talent. I had a dream, and was willing to get kicked in the teeth again and again….until I learned enough to kick back.
Despite the mockery, it was comforting to know that Carl would never get there, would end up being one of those guys who built houses, instead of someone who wrote about them. A good life…but inside, he’d always know he’d let himself down.
And if you think THAT was petty, just wait.
And I knew that if I could handle that pain, and keep going, if I kept learning and growing and was too pissed to let him or her or anyone on this planet tell me “no”…I’d make it. That would be my revenge on Carl.
That, and, well…I slept with his wife.
I contain multitudes.
(The path to successful writing starts with a commitment to write just ONE SENTENCE A DAY. If you will make that commitment, you will be a different, better, more successful writer in one year…guaranteed. ONE DOLLAR gets you started! Oh, and by the way…Carl never published a damned thing. www.lifewritingpremium.com)