I’ve been taking classes in Middle Eastern dance since 2003. When my teacher first began training us to play zills while we danced, I just couldn’t get it. Every time she told us to get our zills out, I would sigh, knowing I was about to clank them together like a toddler beating on her mama’s cooking pots. My hands were slow, and even though I knew I was supposed to play a rhythm different from the one my feet were following, it was bloody hard. Trouble was, there was no way around it. Short of leaving the class, and giving up on something I really loved doing, I had to try. So I put on my zills and suffered through the lesson. This went on for a long time, until one day when I was practicing, and I realized I was getting it right. At some point in the months of trying, I’d finally figured it out, and was playing zills the way my teacher wanted me to. No one gets anything right the first time, or even the fiftieth. It takes practice and determination, and there are no real shortcuts.
Josh Olson, writer of A History of Violence, recently wrote a column about all the would-be screenwriters who approach him to read their work, and famed science fiction writer David Gerrold chimed in as well. The response from a great many would-be writers was angry and ugly, accusing them (and the rest of us who agree) of being cruel and exclusive. This is hardly the truth. God knows we’d be thrilled to see some of our readers achieve publication as well. In this business, there’s always room for one more at the party! But you have to do your own work – no one can do it for you.
The angry would-be’s real desire is a shortcut. He doesn’t want to submit work and be rejected, even though the rejection is a valuable learning tool. He doesn’t want to send out a thousand query letters – he doesn’t want to bother writing one at all. He’d prefer to skip to the part where he gets all the success, and he feels that published writers who say no to his demand are all conspiring to keep him down. Have you ever watched a reality show? Survivor, Big Brother, Project Runway, or any of the eleventy-zillion others, doesn’t really matter which one. Every time they bring in a new crop of competitors to talk to the camera, there’s always one thing they all say – “I’m going to win because I want it so badly.” This is the mind-set of the angry would-be writers. They seem to think that all they have to do is want hard enough. “I want it, so you should give it to me.” Wanting is important. Not long ago, Faith mentioned talking to Kim Harrison, who wanted the success she has achieved from the beginning. Setting your mind on a goal you desire is the first, most important step. But it has to be accompanied by doing. None of us will achieve any level of success if we stop at the wanting.
Does this mean you shouldn’t ask writers for help? Heavens no! All four of us are right here, posting every day for just that reason. I know for a fact Faith has two or three people under her wing right now, just as she once had me, and I have offered help to a couple of folks (who are patiently waiting for me to get back to them – I haven’t forgotten, I swear!) But none of our readers and our proteges are asking us to do their work for them. And when the day comes that our readers and proteges have books on the shelves next to all of ours, we’ll be overjoyed.