Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Butt in Chair

Last Friday, Jane Friedman quoted a bit of wisdom from writer and professor, Michael Martone:

Only 10% (if that) of writers keep at it, and because they do keep at it, they are successful and known—even if not talented.

This got me thinking: how many people get discouraged by criticism and stop writing?  I don't have the answer, but I can tell you that I was one of them.

It was my tenth grade English class that thwarted my own early creative writing.  We were given an assignment to write a short story for class.  Meanwhile, the twelfth grade creative writing students would edit and critique our work.  At the time, I had been reading a lot of fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, so I decided that I would write a story about elves.

Before you ask, I no longer have a copy of the story, nor do I remember what it was about.  All I remember was that there were elves and there was a fight scene.  I couldn't keep the word count down to a reasonable short story length, and in the end, I'm not sure that I really ever finished it.  The story just stopped.  It was BAD.  But I had to submit it for the class assignment.

The senior that read my long piece of you-know-what absolutely tore it to shreds.  I knew it was awful, but she nit-picked through the thing and sent me running home in tears.  Okay, not really, but still. 

I was absolutely mortified by the experience.  In retrospect, the senior was just fulfilling her class assignment as well, so I can hardly blame her for tearing it to bits, but nonetheless it caused me to believe that I was terrible at creative writing in general.  Since there were other things that filled my time that I was already good at, like softball and volleyball and piano lessons and jazz band and AP classes...I decided it wasn't worth the effort to get good, even though I'd had a lot of fun with the writing.

I didn't write any other creative works until I got the itch a couple of years ago.

What gave me the itch?  I think it was a lack of a creative outlet.  There were of course other outlets that I could have turned to -- like playing piano, in which my loving parents invested thousands of dollars from the ages of 6 through 18 -- but I wanted to tell stories.  I wanted to give a reader the escape and the enjoyment that I had always received from books.  I wanted to write.

So I tried again.  The difference is that now I'm choosing to write because it's fun, not some class assignment that's required of me.  I'm choosing to learn and develop my creativity.  I'm choosing to put in the practice time so that I can become a great writer.  Anyone that's read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers can tell you it will take 10,000 hours of practice to master a complex skill.  Well, my butt is in my chair and I'm sticking with it.  Practice makes perfect and only time will tell if I'll ever be successful and known.

Of course, I hope to be successful, known and talented.

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