Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Infallible Seer

By Beth Terrell

Top agent Nathan Bransford has a blog on which he occasionally asks such thought-provoking questions as, "What is your least favorite word?" and "What's the hardest part about being a writer?" Yesterday's question was, "Do you think you're a better writer than the average reader of this blog?" Talk about a loaded question!

The one that had me stewing went something like this: Imagine there is a seer. His predictions are always right. He can tell you with 100% accuracy whether or not you have the talent to be a published author, and if he said no, that was that. Would you want to know? (For the sake of fairness, I'm interpreting the question in its strictest sense: that if he says no, it means that, not only do I not possess the talent now, but I will never have it.) And if the answer was no, would you keep writing?

Notice it doesn't say he knows whether you will be published. It says he knows whether you have the talent to be published. He isn't just making a prediction; he's telling you your worth as a writer.

I've gone back and forth on this question a hundred times. If I were to become a successful author, with tons of adoring fans, I think I'd take that as an affirmation of my talent and forget about the seer. But if I weren't...Well, that's a different story, isn't it? To know, or not to know. That is the question.

I've always told myself that I would always write, no matter what. I love writing: creating new stories, falling in love with a character, exploring that character's relationships and history. There's nothing like it. My success as an author (or the lack of it) would have no effect at all on whether or not I continued to write.

But if the Infallible Seer told me I was a talentless hack, a lot of the joy I take in writing would shrivel up and blow away. Part of what I love about writing is believing that, whether anyone else ever reads my work or not, I'm good at it--or at least, that I can learn to be.

So, after much soul-searching, I've made my choice. I would choose not to know. Let the Infallible Seer destroy someone else's dream, if he can.

For my part, I'll keep learning, keep trying, and keep writing.

What would you do?


Jean Henry Mead said...

If someone told me I was an untalented hack, I'd try even harder to prove him wrong. If it's in you to write, I think most of us would continue whether anyone read the work, or not.

Beth Terrell said...

I would keep writing too, if someone told me that, and I would keep writing even if I knew I would never be published, but the premise of the question was that the seer has a supernatural ability to gauge your talent. If I knew for a FACT that I didn't have any, I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much.

Of course, I'd probably tell myself he didn't know what he was talking about! Denial can be a powerful thing:)

Chester Campbell said...

That question doesn't bother me because I don't read or write fantasy. I deal in the world of fact, and the fact is there's no such thing as an infalllible seer. If somebody told me I didn't have the talent to be a published author, I'd say that's one man's (or woman's) opinion. I choose to accept the one I get from all those people who say, "When is your next book coming out? I can't wait."

Beth Terrell said...

I guess a less fanciful way of asking the question is, if you knew you were (and would always be) a terrible writer, would you still do it? Obviously, that scenario doesn't apply to anyone here.

It's a purely hypothetical question, because we do have the ability to get better. If I were a terrible writer today, I could study and learn and maybe eventually become a terrific one.

But if that were not the case--if I were terrible and knew I would always be terrible, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't take the same pleasure in it.