Friday, January 27, 2012

Never Give Up . . . Good or Bad Advice for Aspiring Writers?

I've read the titular tip for developing authors at least fifty times at different websites. So have you, probably. The wording varies a little, but the spirit of the thing spans all of them: keep trying, aim for the stars, you can have anything you want badly enough . . . never give up. With enough dedication and determination you can achieve anything.

But what about talent? Is it considerate to endlessly encourage people with little aptitude for writing to keep at it, thus setting them up for perpetual disappointments? And what about the agents and direct-submission publishers who must deal with the relentless deluge of inferior material from writers who have been told to never stop trying?

Like it or not, the most sincere desire to excel at a thing and a blood oath to work tirelessly and relentlessly toward that goal doesn't guarantee that one will ever excel, or even be much good at all, at the thing. We can't have whatever we want just because we want it a lot. I could paint pictures on canvas four hours a day for five years under the tutelage of the best painters in the country and still not be any damn good at it because I don't have the innate aptitude for it. No matter how badly I might want to be a professional painter, it's not going to happen. It doesn't mean I can't do lots of other things, just that I can't be an artist. Now, do you think my peers do me a service if they continue to encourage me to keep at it, even when they can plainly see I'll never approach much proficiency in it no matter how long and how hard I try?

What do you think?


  1. Dan,

    As someone who taught English and writing courses at both the high school and college level, I believe that writing is a craft. If a person has the grit and determination to write, they can develop skills necessary to express themselves. True, they may never become a Shakespeare or a Dickens, but each of us is unique and has something worth expressing.

  2. I see your point, Dan, but I agree with Jackie - there are performers in every art who manage competency by mastering the craft, without ever becoming true artists. Just a sampling of the writers on the best seller lists will tell you that not all of them qualify as artists, though they may give their readers much pleasure. Now, whether the pursuit of this goal is worth the tears and frustration that they generally must endure is another matter. No one could say it is easy.

  3. Dan,I agree that persistance and hard work are no guarantee of success, even in this age of entitlement. I'm equally sure, though, that even with talent, you won't get any place without it. Like Jacqueline, I've seen people grow as writers to a degree I wouldn't have predicted. (I won't go so far as to say we all have something worth expressing--she has a much more generous view of human nature than I do.)

    A few years ago I heard James Lee Burke interviewed at an MWA event. He said a student once asked if his work had any merit, and if he should keep writing. Burke said: That was the wrong question. If you're a writer, you write because you don't have a choice.

  4. Thanks to e-books and self publishing, the question is no longer relevant.


  5. I agree that anyone with reasonable intelligence and who works hard at learning the craft of writing can produce a publishable piece of work. Creating a work of art is another matter. That requires genuine talent and that's something you're born with or you're not. Should those without real talent be encouraged to keep at it? I say yes, but only if they want it badly enough and are driven to work at it hard enough.

  6. I pretty much agree with all of you. There are great and mediocre writers just as there are great and mediocre doctors and everything else. Most of us can achieve competence, basic as it might be, in most pursuits with enough training, practice, and hard work. The folks I'm referring to in the blog are the people like, as I analogized, yours truly and painting--folks who can never achieve what can reasonably be called a tradesman's level of competence in a thing. You probably wouldn't want the brickwork of your home laid by a mason who has been trying his damnedest for the last ten years to become skillful at the craft but still can't lay down a straight course of bricks and mortar. I have no doubt that every one of you has come across a handful of aspiring authors with this level of daunting limitation, as I have.
    Thanks very much for your comments. I'm trying to glean a better perspective on how this ought to be dealt with.

  7. I agree that crafting can produce a decent writer, so if it is the desire of the writer's heart, I would always say...write on:) But, there is nothing quite so delightful, as finding an aspiring writer with that "spark"...that something which brings the page to life...either way...if it's something you truly long for, continue.


  8. To add to what others have said, it depends on the level of success a writer is shooting for (some would say 'settles for'), but with enough study, practice and effort, I think just about every writer has a chance for some success. It's more than grammar and spelling (although that helps).

    It's also storytelling ability. That, I think is a talent, but taking what an average, driven person (or even a bit under average) who reads and studies what works and why, and strives to incorporate that into his/her own style and story has a shot. Maybe it'll take dozens of efforts to get something accepted and out there to the reading public, but that is success, as I see it.

    As was said, there is self-publishing. But if very few, if any read what's self-published, I'm not sure that's reaching what is being discussed as success. Now if readers glom onto it, even in small numbers...that's different.

    Thus, never giving up, based upon realistic goals...sure, go for it, expecting it'll be hard work without promise of fame and adulation.

  9. I don't believe in talent except as an excuse. (I'd write a novel, but I don't have the talent.) Practice and persistence are the two qualities that make a good writer, IMHO. However, practice and persistence only pay off if you're able to learn from experience. Some people lack that ability.

  10. Enjoyed reading the article and the comments. Can't say I disagree with any of you. I do believe in following your passion, and if you want to write--must write--then write. And enjoy the process. GETTING published is a whole 'nother thing from BEING published. Question--does one write to get published, or does one write because they can't not write?

    Me? I'm a Taurus, and I'm going to keep at it until I feel done with it. Then, I'll breathe! LOL

  11. If you feel you have to write, then you simply have to do it. A born writer can't NOT write. That doesn't mean the writing is good, of course. But it sure can be learned. No one is born knowing how to layer a plot or structure a novel. That comes from study. From reading, from taking courses, and from writing a lot. If a person wants to succeed as a writer, I'll keep telling him not to give up! And to always read Dan's blog.

    I agree that you have to have a talent for dance, an ear for music, an eye for color and form to paint. But if you can read, you can learn to write. And if you write badly, you can learn to write better.


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