I’ve often written about lessons I’ve learned from great thinkers, writers, and artists. This week I learned that the lesson doesn’t even have to come from a real person.
The wonderful Hank Moody, protagonist of the American TV series Californication, had some great advice on a recent episode. He said that a real writer, someone who was born to write, can’t be talked out of being a writer. This came after some pretty harsh feedback he’d given his daughter, which was so discouraging to her that she started thinking about becoming a lawyer instead of a writer.
While the people I’m talking about here are not real, the lesson most definitely is.
There are so many writers I know of who took rejection after rejection only to pick up the pen the next day and continue on as though nothing could stop them – J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, Jack Kerouac, Richard Adams. Anyone reading the work of these authors can have no doubt that they were born writers. They may not have been born great writers but they became great because no amount of criticism or rejection could stop them writing.
How many writers do I know of who took those rejections as testimony of their failure as a writer and changed their path? None! Not one! These “writers” will never be known.
Rejection is not easy, for anyone. No matter what profession you’re in no-one likes having their work criticised. Even constructive criticism can be destructive for some, but picking up the pen again is what determines our calling, what makes us writers.
During my early high school years a teacher dished out some particularly harsh criticism of a poem I’d written. This did discourage me for a while, but only a short while. And because I kept at it, even though discouraged, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a fantastic editor whose critique of my writing was balanced with an equal amount of encouragement. To work with such an editor would never have been possible if I’d given up after taking criticism from one inconsequential teacher.
How sad if I’d let that one critic decide my future for me.
I love writing. I guess that was my first clue that I was a writer. My second was that, even though the sting of that first rejection stayed with me for years, it didn’t stop me writing. The rejection slips I’ve received since haven’t stopped me writing, and the ones I receive in future will not stop me writing. Being a writer isn’t just what I do it’s who I am. And nothing can change that.