Should You Be Honest?

Writing is hard. It takes a while to get good at it. Selling is harder. And making lots of money at it is…REALLY hard. Haven’t gotten there yet.

I belong to a writers’ club, and all of us that have stuck at it are pretty damned good. But new people come and go. Some of them are realistic, and some of them aren’t. Some write because they love it and can’t stop. Some write because they’re looking for the lucky flip of a coin so they’ll become famous and eventually sell tons of books And some stick around and get really good but drop out after that one rejection too many.

I read a story once about a man who was a musician. He went to see a famous violinist–the instrument he played–and the man let him play for him. “Do I have what it takes?” the man asked. The famed musician shook his head. “No.” The man left, locked away his violin, and gave up. Someone who’d heard the man said, “But I thought he was wonderful.” “He was,” the famed musician said, “but if he gave up that easily, he’d have never made it anyway.” I don’t know where I read that story or who wrote it, but it’s stayed with me a long time. How much of success is talent and how much is perseverance and striving?

I remember going to a writing conference, and one of the speakers stood at the podium and went on and on, telling new writers every single thing that could go wrong to keep them from succeeding. I remember thinking how depressing that speaker was. Why not teach them how to make their writing better so that they might succeed? Which is more realistic? Doomsday or optimistic? And how realistic do we need to be? The speaker’s comeback: Do we do people favors when we encourage them even when their skills are miserable?

But I know this. A retired man joined our group. He’d been a popular radio announcer for a farm program. He asked me to look at the first few chapters of the book he was working on about his years as a pilot in the war. Every sentence was out of order. I had to number them and organize them into paragraphs for them to make any sense. It took me a long time, but he was so determined to learn, he not only improved quickly but turned into a good writer and sold his book. I’d have never believed it possible, but he did it. And it was a good book.

15 thoughts on “Should You Be Honest?

  1. As a member of the writing group, I’ve seen them come and go for many different reasons. What’s recognizable about this post is the difference between someone who wants to write and someone who needs to write. The second bit is that it shows how you have helped and continue to help others. That’s why you’re Scribe’s Fearless Leader.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good thoughts, Judi. I think there is a fine line between being honest and going overboard with criticism.

    Back when I began writing, a friend and I started a local writer’s group. She asked a published author if she’d be willing to speak to our group. The author refused, and while she might have had legitimate reasons, her response came across as “I’m too good to help others.” (Guess what. She wasn’t that good!)

    Anyhow, I vowed if I ever became published, I would try to help others. There are some who legitimately want help and there are others who never listen to advice and keep making the same mistakes again and again. Why they continue to reach out is beyond me, but that’s another story.

    I love how you helped the retired pilot. He’s one who truly wanted to better his writing.

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  3. I think you have to be honest. But you can be honest and cruel or honest and encouraging. I always try to help people with as much support and optimism as I can reasonably offer. If they’re dedicated, they’ll apply themselves and rise to the occasion. If not, they won’t. But there’s no reason to be harsh. This business is tough enough without adding to the misery. I don’t want to be the one to snuff out what could have been a bright light.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. What a great story about the pilot, Judi. We all know this is a hard business and not for the faint of heart, but if someone wants to learn and is able to plow through the down moments, I do believe they can improve. I’m still learning.

    I also look back on all of the people who encouraged me along the way and am so thankful for each of them. And when there was critique involved it was constructive, allowing me to learn from it. When encouraging new authors, I offer support and feedback while at the same time pointing out what they need to do to improve. I believe how that critique is presented is crucial for those who are sharing work early in their writing journey. After all, we were all newbies at one time. We should remember what that was like.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Damn, that’s a pretty good short story about the violinist. And an inspiring story with the retired old man as well!
    All in all, I think honesty with constructive criticism is best. Being brutally honest and simply blasting a person with no feedback is a bit unwarranted.

    Liked by 1 person

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