Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Greatest Writer Who Never Was

When I started my MBA program back in 2007, I was fortunate enough to have the best professor I've ever had teaching my Entrepreneurship class. As odd as it sounds, this man convinced me that an MBA wasn't what I wanted. Some may argue the point, but I connected with the statement that most successful business owners never reach the level of education that an MBA offers. It isn't because the knowledge isn't valuable. In fact, most middle and senior managers have an education in Business Management. But the hard truth is that these men and women are just that, managers. Statistically, that's what you can count on once you've gotten your Master's of Business Administration. But why is that?

Several studies have shown, and yes - I'm sure this point is arguable as well, most business owners only succeed after failing and many fail several times before getting it right. It's for this reason that those with less education may be most likely to succeed. They learn their lessons hard and don't give up when Risk Analysis and other notions of higher education would tell them to cut their losses. This is, of course, a harsh generalization. There are several factors for success. With the right idea and a keen sense of the market, many people of all levels of education join the fray and lead successful small and large businesses across the globe. A lack of education is not an ingredient for success in and of itself and many more uneducated business owners never succeed verses those who do.

But what does this have to do with writing?

I'm sitting in Barnes & Noble, taking a small break from an assignment for my Master's of Information Security and Assurance from Western Governors University. As an aspiring author, I just can't help but take in how many books line the shelves in the store around me. As a technical person by trade, I see so much more available at my fingertips in the electronic books that also line the shelves of the virtual store available through my Nook Color. I've written before on this blog about how many How-to writing books I've purchased over the years. I've got shelves full. I've only read portions of most of them, finding the contents within to be mostly fluff.  I do have a few gems in my collection, but what good has it done? I wasn't instantly given some boon of Bestselling Authorship. My biggest hurdle to success remains the same... me.

All these books on the shelves, thousands upon thousands of them. Between what's available here tangibly and what I can read online in-store, there are literally hundreds of millions of pages of written words at my disposal. And yet, none of them are mine. So vast is the sea of written content that many of us will never even come close to reading but a portion. Every year countless more pages add to the pot. The only consistent factor is that every year none of them have been mine.

The saddest part of this isn't that I know I'm a fair decent writer. It's that I know I'm not alone. And honestly, before we get too stuck on the notion of writing here, this extends to so many hobbies and dreams. There are so many of us who feel obligated to get our ducks in a row before pursuing our dreams, but the bitter truth of it is that the particulars of this world will never be perfectly aligned. There will always be the next tragedy, the next bump in the road. We cannot manage life, we can only do our best to navigate it.

Will you be the greatest writer (sculptor, painter, angler, sailor, astronaut, etc.) who never was? Or will you choose to step above the odds and chase your dream for the simple joy of doing what it is that you love? Regardless of what you answer today, only time will tell.


Jim Murdoch said...

You will never find a handbook on any of those shelves that will tell you how to be you. There will be some that try but how can anyone who doesn’t know you intimately hope to broach that subject? Yes, like a mind-reader or a newspaper horoscope they’ll be able to hit a few nails on the head but that’s because none of us is that dissimilar from the guy sitting next to us on the bus. I’ve just completed a Q+A and one of the questions was What piece of advice would you give to a new writer? to which I replied:

Don’t. See how long you can last without needing to write. If you can live your life quite happily without writing then don’t bother. If, however, you find yourself wandering round like a kid whose lost their pet puppy and the only way you can stop feeling that way is to write about it then you should; you must. I define a writer as a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. Anyone can be trained to write or dance or play the piano. There are kids aplenty out there with Grade 10 ARCT certificates who are skilled but they aren’t naturals.

That doesn’t mean that those pianists can’t earn their livings playing pianos in bars or working as session musicians and the same goes for writers. There are those who will go to university and obtain a degree in Creative Writing and be able to knock out boilerplated thriller after thriller and make a decent living doing so and as long as you’re not deluding yourself and think you’re the next Proust that’s fine.

I'm not saying there’s no technique to writing but you need to keep all of that in perspective. Naturals like Yehudi Menuhin and Jacqueline du PrĂ© still practiced. Writing is not plumbing and as I’m not a plumber I’m probably oversimplifying the art of plumbing and assuming it’s all science. Some people do need their ducks in a row – Simenon used to fret over piles of telephone books until he found the perfect name for a character and once he found the name he would write it on a manila envelope on which he would build up a complete history of the character the vast bulk of which he would never use. I’ve never done that. I doubt I’ve given the name of any character in any of my novels, even the protagonist, more than a couple of minute’s thought before I picked one. But that’s me. The more you compare yourself to others the more things you will realise you might just conceivably be doing wrong.

One of the reasons I take an interest in your blog is not because I see a great writer in the making because frankly I’ve hardly seen any of your writing to make that kind of assessment and who cares what I think anyway? It’s because I see me, twenty-odd years ago at the end of my tether with work, unable to write and no idea what I would write if someone said, “Here, I’ll pay all your bills for a year, now go off and do something.” And I kinda feel for you. I may not like what you write, what direction you choose but frankly I don’t like much writing I read by young writers these days and in that same Q+A I couldn’t name one I’d give a glowing recommendation to. But, as I said, who cares what I think?

Even you shouldn’t care what I think. It’s just something else for you to think about and I reckon you’ve already got more than enough on your plate to think about.

Primary Education said...

I define a writer as a person whose natural response to life is to write about it. Anyone can be trained to write or dance or play the piano.