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Notes Not Given To A Student

WORKSHOP NOTES NOT GIVEN TO A STUDENT...

You have a lot of talent -- that’s obvious. I suspect that you’ve always had an excellent facility with words, that in grade school and high school, your teachers and your friends were in awe of your imagination and your ability to paint with words. I also suspect that because you have a great deal of natural talent for wordsmithing, you haven’t had to work very hard at it. The Gift you have was good enough all by itself.

And that’s the problem, sometimes, for the very talented. They don’t have to work very hard to write stuff good enough to get by (or even to be pointed out as excellent), especially early on, and so they don’t work hard. Over the years, they get into the habit of doing just enough and no more. They don’t really study writing because they don’t have to. But eventually (usually in college) they look around and find their classes populated with people with less talent than they have -- but some of those people with less talent are actually producing better work than they are: because those students are working their butts off and using every dreg of the talent they have. And hey, the ones with Capital-T Talent like yours who are also working their butts off... well, their stuff is already nearly at a publishable level.

You could be there with them. You’re not.

What do I mean by ‘working their butts off’? I mean studying the craft; I mean taking your work apart and figuring out why the prose isn’t working and learning how to fix the mistakes. I mean being hard on yourself and not being satisfied with staying at the same level. I mean actively seeking out other people’s opinions -- and not those of your friends who are going to pat you on your back and tell you how amazing and wonderful you are -- and really listening to what they’re saying. I mean reading writers who are doing work that you admire and tearing their work apart to figure out how they managed to make it all hang together, then trying to do the same yourself. I mean writing and writing and writing, but then revising and revising and revising yet again. I mean having genuine dedication and passion for the craft -- because that’s what it takes to be successful at this.

Talent alone isn’t enough.

You have Capital-T Talent. What I don’t know (yet) is whether you have the rest. I hope you do -- though, hey, it won’t matter for this class. All that matters for the class is that whether or not you do the required work in the syllabus -- and your grade will reflect that, not how talented I think you are.

This is for afterward -- with what you do after you leave my class. I hope you realize that you can do much more than you’re doing now, that you might be one of the Really Good Ones. But to get there, you’re going to have learn that writing is also Capital-W Work. I hope you learn that. I honestly do. I hate to see talent wasted.

Home

Stephen Leigh

S.L. Farrell

Matthew Farrell

The Blog

Press Kit

On Writing

Steve's Music

Exit Strategies