The lovely Nathan Bransford recently posted an interesting hypothetical question... more interesting was the response by the writers who participated in the mammoth comment section... he asked:
Question #1: Let's say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that's that. Final answer. Would you want to know?
Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don't have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?
First, the responses:
I think, if any of you actually missed the post, it’s worth your time to go look at the writers’ responses in Nathan’s comments section. Not that I’m negating or arguing with any of them, I just got stuck on the fact that so many people could not stick to the hypothetical premise. I think it’s because that premise came very close to some of our deepest fears. What if I really am not talented enough for this? What if I’ve been spinning my wheels for years, years of my life that I can’t get back and I’ll never be any good? What if I’m a failure?
Second, my response:
Well, what if? I thought the same thing, you know... think it every time I re-read something of mine that I thought was damn well-written, and see all of the flaws on second or third or fiftieth inspection... what if? Well, let’s take it a step further and answer his question in the spirit it was intended... the hypothetical spirit, the one that can’t argue the seer’s accuracy or fudge the outcome in any manner.
Question 1: Yes, I would want to know... for the same reason I found all of my Christmas gifts before Santa came... the same reason I found out the sex of my children... we were doing the ultrasound anyway, why the hell should my doctor know and leave me in the dark? So, yes, 100% accuracy beats the hell out of ultrasound (otherwise my daughter would be named after my father)... so yes, I’d want to know...
Question 2: Would I still want to write? Brass tax honest answer – No. Should I give you a minute to gasp and wring your hands before I continue? Okay, at least I’m honest, and I don’t think everyone is... but I do feel the need to elaborate here, just for the sake of it.
I’d love to write some poetic ode to writing, that it’s in the journey not the publication, that it’s in my blood and I can’t for all that is holy, live without it... all true, but I’ll digress... would I, knowing I will never ever make a living from writing novels, continue to spend every possible moment of my time, carrying my notebooks to get in a few sentences during the kids’ swim lessons, staking out the computer during their library time to hunt up research on agents, publishing, writing queries, how to negotiate contracts, and all of that gobblidy gook that’s a necessity for a professional writer but not nearly as fun as actually writing? Would I continue to flow through the rough draft, revel in the revision, and sweat through large portions of the edits for two or three hundred pages? No, I think you’d have to be a masochist to follow all of the steps knowing it will never sit anywhere but on my own damn desktop.
I’m sorry. No. Now, what would I do?
I would likely mourn for a very long time. I’ve actually done this once before, so I know there is an active mourning period in retiring a dream. I’ve mentioned in blog before that I originally wanted to be an artist and studied drawing and painting up to college... I was in my senior year of high school when I realized I didn’t have that talent... no seer, I realized it myself. It was a quick, lightening flash moment, when I realized that that spark, the one you see in great, beautiful, moving artwork, I can’t do that. I’m proficient with shapes and lines, my technique is passable – I cannot make it breathe... I don’t feel anything when I look at my own drawings... I can see the flaws and well drawn lines, it will never breathe.... some people can do it – if you can’t, no amount of training will give you that particular gift. I do still draw and paint... I even do portraits for other people occasionally, but I’ll never pursue it professionally.
If I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d never reach publication with my writing, I would likely continue to write in journals, and send long windy letters and emails... I would probably blog, I’d definitely do something literary, because I can’t not... but I would get to cut out all of the angst that goes with the business end of trying to sell my creation... would I write a full length book in that state? Maybe, but it would be completely up to my own whim and enjoyment, and that push is less aggressive than the one that’s striving for a goal.
Then I’d find a new dream. Life is more fun when you have a vision, a goal... and I am a person who needs goals... I need to be working toward something... I’d venture to guess I’d want to work somewhere in publishing or maybe teaching. I can’t envision a dream of mine not having to do with literature or art of some kind... that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy writing, but you have to strive professionally as well as spiritually... when they match up it’s wonderful... but if they don’t, you still have to keep going.
Okay, guys... how about you? Do you have an answer to this one?