I read a lot of craft books for this site. Quite often, within the first few pages, the writing guru lays out for me and all other aspiring authors that the odds are against us, that artistry in writing can’t be taught, and that we’ll probably never succeed . . . so try at your own risk and prepare to be disappointed.
I long ago gave up wondering why most books intended to teach the craft include this contradictory, nay-saying language. And I’ve been at this for a while now, so I’m pretty good at predicting its presence and skimming (or daydreaming, if I’m in a workshop) until it’s over.
But I still resent it. And I finally came across somebody else who resents it. Dorothea Brande called writing teachers out on this practice back in 1934.
That means that experienced writers have been stifling would-be writers for over 84 years.
Open book after book devoted to the writer’s problems; in nine cases out of ten you will find, well toward the front of the volume, some very gloomy paragraphs warning you that you may be no writer at all, that you probably lack taste, judgment, imagination, and every trace of the special abilities necessary to turn yourself from an aspirant into an artist, or even into a passable craftsman. You are likely to hear that your desire to write is perhaps only an infantile exhibitionism, or to be warned that because your friends think you are a great writer (as if they ever did!) the world cannot be expected to share that fond opinion. And so on, most tiresomely. The reasons for this pessimism about young writers are dark to me. Books written for painters do not imply that the chances are that the reader can never be anything but a conceited dauber, nor do textbooks on engineering start out by warning the student that because he has been able to make a grasshopper out of two rubber bands and a matchstick he is not to think that he is likely ever to be an honor to his chosen profession.
Those last sentences say it all: No other artistry prefaces their teachings with a blanket statement that newbies have no chance of making an impact in their field and, quite the opposite, are doomed to fail.
The interesting thing is that Dorothea Brande wrote another book, two years later, prompted by the feedback she got on a speech she gave at some conference. In the second book, she basically says that the secret to writing success is–get this–write like you cannot fail.
Yeah, that’s right: The very thing you need to bust through whatever barriers stand within or before you is the very thing some “mentors” steal from their writing students before they even start to teach.
Don’t let them. If this has happened to you, take back your right to succeed.
Mentors should challenge us to blossom bigger and brighter. I don’t know why some feel the need to nip us in the bud before we’re even in a position to bloom, but I do know this: THEY ARE WRONG.
New writers become the next big thing several times a year; many more become up and coming writers to watch all the time; and millions more make strides toward achieving their writing dreams Every. Single. Day.
One of those writers might as well be you.
Don’t believe the nay-sayers. Keep your butt in your chair, your eyes on your WIP, and your words flowing. You’re gonna get there.