How Great Thou Art

Nope, I’m not singing in the choir.  Mainly because I can’t sing well and I know it.  I’m under no illusions that I should go on national television and belt out any rendition of any song. 

A few years ago, my DD asked me: Mommy do I sing well?

Now, I love my dearest daughter and weighed my choices carefully before answering.  “Honey, I love when you sing.  I’m glad you’re in choir and do well in it.  Now should you go on American Idol?  I don’t know about that, because I think God gave you other talents.”

We both laughed and jumped into a conversation about her acting abilities.  She’s amazing on stage. 

If other parents were so truthful, their kids would not go on national television and become the butt of America’s jokes.  Simon would not have to grimace so much and far fewer people would walk away hurt and angry because everything they had been told was a lie.

Before the inception of AI, I might have lied to my DD.  “Yes, honey.  You are amazing.”  I hope my honesty saved her from pain while still giving her hope.

I would kind of like that honesty with my writing.  I would love to find someone willing to tell me if I was on the right track or if my God-given talents were waiting for me somewhere besides the written word. 

My mom is good for the requisite back pat.  DH doesn’t read much beyond golf and health magazines and my kids are my kids.  My critique buddies are awesome, but I know I would never crush anyone’s dreams by saying “you stink” so assume they feel the same way.  To date, their kind words haven’t felt anything close to brutal and have not deterred me from dreaming the dream.

So far Simon limits himself to ripping apart singers and has not debuted in the writing arena.  The minute he does, I will join the ranks and put my hopes into his hands.  Unless someone can be honest with me and say from the bottom of their hearts, “How great thou art?  Not very.  Honey, God gave you other talents and now would be a good time to find them.”

Would you like an honest assessment of your writing ability to know if you should continue to pursue publication?  If you heard it, would you believe it and quit writing or would it strengthen you for those times you’re ready to throw in the towel?  Would you use an unfavorable assessment as a challenge to overcome?  Or, would you rather plug away at your dream and die trying even though the editors and agents laugh and cringe every time your ms comes across their desks?

I know this is a lot to chew on and I’m not really sure myself where I fit in.  However, I’d like to hear what you think and how you would react if you are ever (un)lucky enough to find out that your dreams and your talents don’t jive.  Or conversely, that you may be the next superstar…in ten years.

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27 responses to “How Great Thou Art

  1. I love what you said to your daughter. People are best served by a realistic self view.

    I have always thought that there was a hazard in telling children what wonderful artists, singers, etc. they are, if they aren’t. Not everything needs to be amazing. Fine is OK too.

    If you like doing something, then do it, but don’t give up your day job until it sells. 🙂

  2. As a writer, I’d never give up as long as the nagging voice in my head told me to keep trying. Learning to write is a process, and years of writing can lead to publication if the writer is reading, studying, and practicing during that time.

    Singing is very different in my opinion. As in writing, one can study to master technique and style. However, singing voice has a physical basis that’s necessary for success. I don’t believe for one minute that writers are born with their talent.

    A critic or agent or editor or professor who tells a beginning writer that he stinks is a terrible person. If anyone ever tells you that, go back to work. Study, and write, write, write.

    • Patricia,

      I find your comment interesting: I don’t believe for one instant that writers are born with their talent.

      This has been a subject of debate on some AQ forums. What is innate talent and what is bought with lots of hard work and practice? Are physical limitations different than mental ones? And if so, how?

      Like you, I don’t know if I would ever give up if I truly believed in myself. I may be the one to take the “you stink” comment as a challenge to prove them wrong. On the other hand, if the verdict has been handed down repeatedly, it might be saying something…

      My brain hurts just thinking about all the implications of these questions. I remain wishy-washy!

  3. It is so difficult to get accurate feedback on your writing. You have to very careful who you present your work to and at what stage of your piece is when you do it.

    I would rather say nothing about someone work than say any thing negative. I have had this happen to me repeatedly in writing groups . I have kept silent when the written piece was terrible but have not hesitated to say something positive about someone work whe he/she deserved it.

    My wife is my main editor. And I usually trust her judgement. I do not recite a poem in public until I am happy with it or present a piece in a writing group until I can not do any more with it.

    I believe you have to be cautious in presenting criticism of someones work and if you can not say any thing positive about it, hold your tongue. It is too easy to be detroyed by negative and unkind comments.

    • Siggy- no truer words have been spoken: It is too easy to be detroyed by negative and unkind comments.

      That said, is it ever okay to be honest if someone is asking for honest opinions? Or is it like answering, “Honey, do these pants make my butt look fat?” kinds of questions?

  4. Patricia has a good point, singing is different. You can learn to write better… creativity, eh, that’s a fine line, but better writing can be taught.

    That said,

    I’d still rather be told my writing sucks (if it actually does) but ONLY if they explain why they think it sucks. Criticism is only beneficial if it is attached to suggestions of improvement or reasoning for the suckiness. 😛

    I take it as a way to get better, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to hear.

    • Void, true. I would always like critique attached to a reason. Then I could decipher if there is truth behind the comment or sheer vindictiveness.

      So, you believe better writing can be taught. What about storytelling? Are they the same thing and can the ability to weave incredible tales be taught to some one with no real imagination?

      I ask because most people assume that humor is innate, yet I know people who simply do not understand jokes. If they don’t understand them, can they be taught to tell them with the right timing?

      So many cans, so many worms…

      • Storytelling, through writing or speaking, requires imagination. Some people have more and some people have less. I believe that people have the ability to understand and grow and therefore can “expand” their imagination pool, even if it takes a long time of learning. That’s why I say creativity is a fine line.

        The humor thing, I’m not so sure you can teach someone how to “feel” about a set of events, or words. Humor is directly tied to a persons personality, not something that I belive can be taught.

      • Void, you’re right, humor is either there or not. But that makes me wonder how much of writing is also innate. Can sheer perseverence make anyone a best selling novelist? Or do they need to have something hardwired?

  5. I agree with Voidwalker. If they’re not telling me why it sucks, then I would probably not believe them and would think they’re just an @ss. I could take hearing that I’m no good, but that wouldn’t stop me from seeking out others to find out if I really am no good, or if that’s just one person’s opinion. Simon himself wouldn’t stop me if he was the lone voice.

    • Barbara, I think your comment hit the question nail on the head. One opinion doesn’t mean much–good or bad–if everything else is contradictory. But what if four Simons or fourteen Simons all agreed in their assessment? Then is it time to listen? Or does it take forty four similar critiques?

      Likewise, do we hold onto the one positive comment to make us believe we are the next JK or do we seek out four, fourteen or forty four other opinions before finally believing the assessment.

      Sorry for my devil horns today, but this is an intriguing subject. And as I’ve stated before, I’m not 100% sure where I fall on this issue. I’m just asking questions as they arise!

  6. I think that if you get more than one person saying the same thing, you have to listen, but it doesn’t mean you have to quit. If they say your plot drags, then work on that plot. But I think anyone who just says, you’re no good, give up, is not a good source of criticism because you can get better.

    I hold on to every positive comment. I take gushing with a grain of salt. ^_^ If someone told me I was the next JK, I would smile and nod and say thanks, but I wouldn’t let that one go to my head.

    As to how many opinions to seek out, I say, seek all those who will give them, good or bad. If the bad ones aren’t constructive, they will at least teach me how to have a thicker skin.

    • Thanks for continuing this debate. All great points and ones I adhere to. Gushing is nice to hear sometimes : )

      What I hear from everyone is that you can always take sound advice and make yourself a stronger writer. It is the blanket assessment that doesn’t do anyone any good.

      So, does this mean that it doesn’t matter if writing is a talent or not? All that matters is the work we put into it?

      • Well, I think some people start with more raw talent than others, but everyone needs to work hard. I don’t think great writing just flies from anyone without practice. And no matter how talented someone is, they should never stop learning. If the work we put into writing makes us happy, than that IS all that matters, no matter what anyone says about that work. I don’t think anyone should ever give up just because someone else (or even a few someone else’s) said so, not if what you’re doing makes you happy. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever be published, if writing makes you happy, I say keep writing.

        This a great discussion! I’m totally going to link to it in my blog.

      • Barbara, I think these are questions writers struggle with every day. At the easiest, writing is difficult. It takes a lot to put ourselves out there. The problem comes in when too many negatives take the joy away from the process and we quit. Maybe just shy of our big break.

        I think that’s what keeps me going. Just one more try–whether a new agent, a new query, a forty seventh revision or a new manuscript. Eventually I will nail it. Right?

        That’s what I tell myself, anyways!

  7. Don’t know why it listed my comment as anonymous – it was me, layinda.:)

  8. Hmmm. Good question. I think if someone who knew what they were talking about told me I really sucked, it would zap the confidence out from under me. It would take me a lot of time and a lot of effort before I would have the nerve to try putting my work out there again.

    On the other hand, nothing would stop me from writing. But I might keep it just for me. 🙂

    • Well, I hope no one ever zaps you because I like it when you share little bits and pieces. My gift card is ready for the day I can read the whole thing between hard covers!

  9. Pingback: No time to post today « Barbara Ann Wright

  10. http://www.critiquecircle.com is the best place to get an objective viewpoint for written work. I’m dependent on it for the short stories I want to publish.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I am always on the look out for great writing resources. And good crit partners are like gold!

      I appreciate the link.

  11. Great discussion and a lot of food for thought here. I guess I’m lucky ’cause nobody has told me my writing sucks, but then not that many people have seen it yet. My critiquers were brutal, but encouraging. A great combination!

    If someone critiques your writing it should be constructive; otherwise there’s not much benefit. That’s a difficult job too…I mean critiquing other writers’ work. One has to be very careful about that fine line where you aren’t discouraging but can find helpful things to say.

    If I read somebody else’s work and it was really awful, I would just pass it by (like online critique boards). If someone took the time to critique my work, I would always consider what they said, but like someone mentioned on this discussion…sometimes it’s not such a good thing to get too many reviews. You don’t always know where they are coming from or what level of expertise they have.

    If you love to write, keep writing no matter what anyone says. It lets all the ‘brain tangles’ out! Even if I’m tired, the act of writing relaxes me.

  12. Don’t know why my post jumped above your reply catwood. Didn’t mean to get in the middle of your discussion.
    Cheers
    ~rahma

  13. Cat,
    I read your blog again. And all the comments. The question, “How great Thou Art?” really does not help. Of course, you always have doubts of your talent. Those doubts really do not help and all they do is split your concentration.

    You are asking the wrong question. The right question is to be, “Am I getting better? Not am I matching up to someone else work, which is implied in the question, “How great art thou?

    Only one person can answer the question, “Am I getting better.” That is yourself . All you can do is improve as a writer. And the benchmark is your own work.

    As far as publishing your work, that decision whether your work is accepted for publication is not yours. Yes, you have to put it out there but you can not become overly concerned with that. It prevents you from writing as well as you can if that is in back of your mind when you are writing and editing your work whether it will be published. Your job is to get it as good as you can. That is it.

    I believe everyone has talent but somehow you have to get beyond anyone expectations including your own and write as honestly as you can with the least amount of affectation and be whoever you are. You are who you are. And when you can demonstrate that people will want to read what you have written. I apologize for the length of this comment.

    • Siggy, thanks for the heartfelt comments. I agree that writer’s need to concentrate on their writing. I think many of us write because we have to. It’s a part of us. I never let self-doubts muck up my writing or editing. Life has taught me long ago not to sweat the small stuff. My capacity to worry is small, so I save it for my kids. Afterall, I am not in control of the publishing market.

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