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.