Thursday, July 31, 2008

Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker: Commitment

(the following is part of an ongoing series of columns I did for The Erotica Readers & Writers Association on the ins and outs and ins and outs and ins and outs of writing good smut)

I don’t believe in talent. Sure, I think some people have a touch more hardwiring in their brains that lends them to be artists, musicians, scientists, and even lowly writers but I think that having this turn of mind never guarantees being able to utilize this towards a satisfying pursuit. When someone uses that word, ‘talent,’ I think of something that makes a person have a kind of special dispensation, a phenomenal leg-up on everyone else. I use an analogy to explain this supposedly hypocrisy: just because you’re a good driver doesn’t mean you’ll be a great driver – and not all great drivers started out being good drivers.

Maybe it’s because I think of myself as a Liberal -- that everyone is created equal, or at least have equal access to making themselves a better person – but I don’t like the idea of someone by luck (good or bad) having an edge. I also think the idea of talent is what a lot of people use to give up on something. They put pen to paper and when it doesn’t work out perfectly the first time they toss it too the floor, saying, “What’s the point? I just don’t have it.”

There is one thing, though, that’s true of great drivers as well as great writers: commitment. To do anything well you have to practice, you have to get up and do it even though you’d rather do anything else in the world. It’s easy to lock onto stories of first story sales, first book sales, and think that’s common, expected. But the fact is they are alarmingly rare. For every one phenomenal success there are thousands of other writers who sit in front of their machines every day and work, work, work. Sure, those flashy first timers often deserve their praise and fat checks, but they often vanish as fast they appear. Without determination, a willingness to be there for the long haul, they suffer from expecting the next project, and the next project, and the next project, to be as easy as the first. Someone whose battered and beaten their way up, however, knows that for every five stories, only one will be any good: its part of the game.

But there’s here’s something else to remember ... back to analogies: if you go out and just circle the track, drive the same car at the same speed, over and over again you may be a better driver but you’ll never be Tazio Nuvalari. Writing the same story over and over, never stretching, never trying new things, will have the same affect. Same with writing page after page after page but not taking the time (sometimes very painful times) to sit down with your work and really, honestly read what you’ve been writing. Determination and commitment is one thing, useless thumb twiddling is quite another.

You have to look really had at what you’re doing, to look at it and face the fact that sometimes what you’re going to write is going to be crap. Some stories deserve to be thrown in the trash, but what separates the casual dreamer from the person really in pursuit of their destiny, is when you can look at what you’ve written and go: this is crap, but I know how to make it better.

Personal confession time. Does ten years sound like a long time? Sure, it might be an eternity if you’re in a prison cell sometimes, but maybe only the blink of an eye if you’re a parent watching a child grow up. For me, ten years is what it took for me to become a published author. I started writing very seriously just out of high school and ten years later I sold my first story. Putting aside that I honestly do feel that selling something is not the signpost of quality for writing, this was a defining moment in my life. Ten years of trying.

Nine years after that I have a pretty respectable resume of projects. Sometimes I think I took to long to get where I am, but other times I think that maybe it would have taken much longer – or never happened at all – if I’d never sat down and done the work: word after word, page after page, story after story. But it wasn’t just those words, pages, or stories that pushed me along, that made me as good a writer as I am today. Sure, that was part of it – but I really think that I always tried to be better, tried to improve what I was doing, and was willing to look at what I was doing.

I really do believe dreams can come true, despite the Saccharin sentiment usually tagged to that philosophy. It can happen, but if too often means a huge amount of very difficult, time-consuming, heart-breaking work.

Is it worth it? Ten years is an awfully long time, true. But when I think of the stories I’ve written, the fun I’ve had, the things I’ve learned about myself, and the world, I would do it all again in a second.

The choice is yours. But it’s better to really, truly try, then pass on regretting you never even made a first step.

1 comment:

Mykola Dementiuk said...

I believe in that too, took me about 10 years before I finally broke through. In to what? I haven't made any real money, just dribs and drabs, but I know that finally I'm a real writer as I always wanted to be.


Mykola Dementiuk