f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Nurture or Nature

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, October 07, 2004

On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Nurture or Nature

Given that our subject matter comes from the sciences today, here is a hypothesis:

Outside the world of writers, most people think writing is a God-given talent because it comes as a struggle to them. Inside the world of writing, we all cling to the hope that it is a learnable skill…because we see writers who are so much better than us and that seems to be our saving chance.

Disagree or agree?

On the actual topic, I’ve vacillated and waffled more times than (insert appropriate political candidate here.) When I first started writing, I seemed to have a natural affinity and so it seemed like a talent. Later, in college, my writing seemed to improve mostly by work and listening to teachers and workshopping so I began to see it as a teachable skill. My experiences in writing my own novels seemed more reliant on talent since I was flying without a net. Hearing the diligence and intense workmanship of authors I really love, though, I see how I short shrifted my stories in some ways by not “working” on them harder. Finally, my job as an editor has brought me into contact with many writers who have the dedication…and yet I still can’t publish their books, that I’ve swayed back toward talent.

So what I’ve learned from this is that it’s gotta be a yin-yang, balance-thing. Duh, right? Obviously you need to be talented. Obviously you need to work hard. I doubt many of us meet that perfect balance though. I know I don’t work as hard as I need to on my writing. I have never been a perfectionist and, unfortunately, “good enough” often works for me rather than try to push on toward “great.”

But that raises some uncomfortable questions.

A.) What is “great”? How do I know if I reach it? What if I can’t reach it?

The answer we hear time and again is: “Do your best. That’s all that can ever be asked.”

Well, what if doing your absolute best still gets rejected by publishers? Is that truly your best? Couldn’t you learn a little more somehow and improve and do even better next time?

Surprise, I have no easy answers for you. I think it just goes to show you A) How frustrating and deeply personal an experience writing for publication can be. B) How badly we need our priorities in line so rejection never becomes devastation.

And finally, I think we all need to come to some private and realistic understanding of where we stand in terms of our ability AND how far study, hard work, and learning the craft can take you. If you miss on Manuscript One there’s no reason that you can’t build on that and find success with Manuscript 2. What I don’t want, is for this to turn into American Idol where I become Simon taking pot-shots at self-deluded writers who think their masterpieces should be published because frankly it’s not healthy and there’s no way I would ever look good in those tight shirts that he wears.