When I was in elementary school, a dear friend decided to opt for an unusual instrument. Rather than choose a clarinet or a flute, or even a trumpet (one girl in my class went brass, a scandalous move in the 1960s), that friend chose an oboe.
I was visiting her on the day that she brought her instrument home. With the smugness of a self-obsessed orchestra soloist, she bade her mother to carry her instrument’s box to their neighbor’s house for the “recital” she was giving.
Carefully fitting her beginner’s reed, a plastic contrivance issued to newbies instead of the typical, but easily breakable, cane aperture, into the top of her oboe, she smiled, bowed, and took a seat. Thereafter, she played one major sale and one minor scale, smiled, bowed, packed up her kit, and walked home.
I ran behind her. Although we were only nine, we were allowed to unlock her front door without parental supervision.
When, at last, her mother returned, my friend got yelled out. “Disrespect” began her mother’s harangue, while “unwarranted conceit” ended it. Somewhere, in the middle of that outburst, others of my friend’s displayed and hidden flaws were listed.
My friend, nonetheless, continued to play oboe thru college. She gave away her instrument only when she became a “career woman,” that is, when she perceived herself as having no time for “balderdash.” In the interim, although she never made first chair, she always was the beneficiary of expensive, private lessons.
My gal pal of yesterday reminds me of many emerging scribblers of today. Such persons expect to master proficiencies in months, if not minutes, that established folks accrue over lifetimes. What’s more, on their way to achieving quick, but comprehensive, “knowledge of their craft,” such individuals demand to be recognized as a gift to humanity.
Unlike my fourth grade friend, most modern, wannbe authors lack guardians. More exactly, they have no persons in their lives that are willing to admonish them about how ridiculous their pomposity makes them appear or about how their ill-treatment of others reflects poorly on them.
To a great extent, present-day mediocrities frame themselves as having already “arrived.” They tout themselves on social and other media. In their esteem, the world needs to know how fortunate it is that they are in attendance and how fortunate it is that that they share their creations. Not surprisingly, those inchoate word players tend to be unreceptive to gentle nudging, let alone to more serious sorts of feedback. Some of them even deign to “correct” the gatekeepers, who are trying to help them improve.
In such cases, often, it’s best for folk with editing or teaching responsibilities, when confronted with those ambitious self-seekers, to “drop the rope,” i.e. to disengage. Talent needs no bullhorn. In contrast, brashness can only limitedly compensate for a lack of ability.
I recall one student, who insisted that she be given special permission to participate in an advanced writing workshop of mine because she had already earned more than one college degree. Not only did she hold herself above my rules, but she also refused to send me writing samples, links to publications, or even a short statement about her rationale for writing. I was sad, but not taken aback, when after a single afternoon of one of my introductory courses, she quit.
In another instance, an individual who submitted a story to a journal, for which I was an editor, insisted that his fragmented plot, and his dearth of descriptive language and dialogue, constituted the best piece of literature generated in decades. That same submitter, predictably, was upset to discover that I had summarily rejected that piece.
As well, there was the aspiring novelist, who wanted me to magically “fix” his novel in less than three hours without his having to do so much as to rethink a comma. To boot, he couldn’t believe that I had the “audacity” to charge him expert rates! That self-named “notable” needed: a writing coach, a substantive editor, and the willingness to completely deconstruct his manuscript. When I told him that his first rewrite (of which, I suggested he would need at least a dozen) could take a full year or more, he found his creative disposition; he proved himself inventive with name-calling. Everyone has some potential.
Let’s approach this matter through two other lenses. First, as with professional gymnastics, professional writing ought to be a joy to witness. It ought to look very simple. Contrariwise, both callings take large amounts of industry, over years, or, more normally, decades, to master. Unfortunately, the preponderance of current writing hopefuls grasps the art’s beauty, but not its hard work. Like the oboe player of my childhood, those upstarts want the audience and the glory, but not the rehearsals.
Said differently, the heart of writing is rewriting!!!!!!!!!! (Excuse me - I think I might be shouting.) To rewrite, one must: understand the process of writing, get the gist of the elements of writing, and over and again redo pieces to reflect those elements. In short, a good writer is, among many things, one who repeatedly redrafts his or her documents.
Second, think of soup. Most soup is water-based. Some uses milk or cream. Some uses broth. None is “soup,” however, unless the majority of its content is liquid (note: not all liquid-based foods, including, but not limited to tea or to salad dressing, are “soup.”)
Skilled rhetoricians tweak their “soups” to meet audience needs and wants, to adjust the “costs” of their ingredients, and to take advantage of seasonal markets. A broth-based onion soup might be great for the fall, but a cold, water-based vegetable soup better suits the summer. Additionally, on Sabbath, many families insist on chicken soup over beef barley, and during the spring, it’s easier to feature ramps than in January.
Just as soups have liquid and solid parts, so, too, does writing have predictable and expected rudiments. A writer’s mastery of action and location is comparable to a chef’s mastery of pantry items and produce. Just as a cook knows seasoning, a writer knows diction. Sure, a writer might spend a decade revising a book-length product, whereas a chef might spend mere minutes perfecting a soup, but a book has greater longevity than does the wet nourishment.
In short, unless budding wordsmiths want to be likened to nine year-old, cocky oboe players, they ought not to insist on instant stardom (or on a place on the next Olympic team, or on being given a chance to run a restaurant before they can julienne the vegetables concomitant to hot and sour soup.) Just as it is true that a small per cent of: elementary school instrumentalists grow up to become members of orchestras, kids enrolled in extracurricular gymnastics get featured on cereal boxes, and cooks become famous chefs, it is true that a small per cent of authors succeed sufficiently to pay their bills through their publications. Whether oboists, gymnast, chef, or author, practitioners, who fare well, possess: a dedication to their trade, a willingness to sacrifice other pursuits to make time for practice, a willingness to learn from people more proficient than themselves, and a readiness to accept that any achieved success won’t be fast, easy, or on their terms.
People should continue to try to become writers. They should continue to celebrate any and all creativity with which The Boss blesses them. Yet, they should likewise appreciate that reactions, kind or not, which they receive from folks who have already launched themselves in the word business, are inaluable.