We’re going hypothetical today. It’s like a thought experiment on steroids, only if the steroids had themselves had been taking steroids in order to become super steroids on steroids. Or not. Here goes.
Question #1: Let’s say there was a seer who could tell you definitively whether or not you have the talent to be a published writer. Absolute 100% accuracy. But. If the seer person said no, that’s that. Final answer. Would you want to know?
Question #2: If the seer person said no, you don’t have the talent to be a published writer, would you still write?
Lazy Trainer says
I would keep writing because, for me, writing is a vice in the same way smoking or drinking is for other people.
Move over, Seer: the number and variety of comments here suggest that, if writers listened to seers, there would be no publishing industry!
There are no perfect writers. Everybody needs an editor. Writing is the craft of making a (plot) point–or a series of points designed to lead to an end. With the proper guidance–not to mention focus and practice–anybody can learn how to grab and maintain a reader’s attention.
1) Who needs a damn ‘seer’ to tell me something I doubt daily?
2)I’d still write, but I’d probably try different genres just for the hell of it. Who knows? I might be better at writing children’s stories than romance, or horror, or mystery.
It’s a crapshoot anyway!
Dave F. says
#1 – I’d ask. (How do you know that you haven’t met the seer?)
#2 – I write because I enjoy it and not to get published or to feed myself. So yes, I’d still write.
This is a trick question. Writers have to believe in free will. A character’s actions are meaningless without it.
Still, I would visit the seer. If the answer was “yes, you will get published,” I would grab the seer’s crystal ball and hit him in the head with it. If the answer was “no,” I would do the same. Either way, I would be guaranteed publication, because everyone would want to buy my memoir, HE DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING, chronicling my descent into madness and subsequent homicide.
I would want to know because it takes away so much of the guess work.
I do think I would still write, but the pressure would be off to make it perfect, which could take away some of the fun. (Some stress too, though…so that wouldn’t be so bad!)
A lot about my writing is getting the story out of my head and onto paper where it grow and take form. That’s a fun, creative process whether anyone gets to see it or not. ^_^
Would I want to know? Of course. That way I wouldn’t waste my time trying to perfect a query letter/synopsis that would only be rejected anyway.
Would I still write? Of course. I still have to make a living somehow. (Oh, wait, I guess writing for a newspaper is being published. Isn’t it? Maybe this is a pointless question for me.)
Regardless, writing is a good, healthy form of escapism.
1. Yes. I would definately want to know. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to know!
2. I would still write, but not as much. There’s so many other things I’m interested in, so I would spend more time on those. I might still write in a journal, but I certainly wouldn’t be attempting a novel, not because it would never be published, but because it would suck and like I need a crappy story I wrote sitting in my drawer. I’d rather go dancing.
So you don’t have the “talent” to be a published author – even with luck, contacts, marketable idea or life experiences. Means your bad, very bad.
Sam Taylor says
I’m pretty sure I have the writing talent, so I probably wouldn’t bother asking the seer.
What I’m not sure about is if I have the strength-of-will and bloody-minded-determination to eek out that “one last rewrite” that makes the novel work. 🙂 I’m sure someone’s said it before, but sometimes it feels very similar to banging your head into a wall.
I think I’d ask her instead, “What can do to make the process less painful?”
Absolutely I’d keep writing!
So, if someone who loves to play the piano or guitar, knew – 100%, without a doubt – that they would never be a record selling musician, would they still play? Of course.
The same goes for the man who loves to paint or the woman who sculpts. Even athletes who will never play professionally still love to play the sports: basketball, hockey, etc.
Not being among the elite who can make a living doing what they love doesn’t mean you stop doing it. If it makes you feel good, gives you a creative outlet, why would discontinue just because you couldn’t make money off of it.
If money is the only reason to write, then you were never a writer to start with.
Oops forgot to add: No I wouldn’t want to know.
Q1: Yes, I’d be curious. And I probably wouldn’t spend as much time editing if I knew I would never have to meet an editor.
Q2: Of course! I started writing for fun when I was young. Regardless of whether or not I publish I will countinue to write. Getting published is an added bonus. I write daily, I have friends who critique my work, I have people who follow the accounts of my characters, I’m not published but I know other people are interested. And I’m amused, and that’s why I write.
And pinning a story down on paper is the only way to get it out of my head!
I would want to know. No matter the outcome. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. So no matter if the seer said I should never touch a keyboard again, I still would. Even if no one else ever read my work, I’d keep doing it because writing is what I love.
Robena Grant says
Being published isn’t what writing is about. There’s a greater need to get the words on paper and explore ideas. Publishing is the cherry on top of the sundae. But it’s the icecream and the fudge that I enjoy more.
Years ago I visited a seer who asked what I did for a living. I said I was taking a course in writing for children. He said, “Write sex. Sex sells. Think Anne Rice.”
I scoffed, I wasn’t a big fan. “Me, write sex? Hah.” Five years later I joined RWA and am now writing “nice” sex scenes.
I still haven’t sold, but hey, I’m enjoying what I’m writing. Next year I might even move on up to erotica, ha ha ha ha.
Lesli Richardson says
I wouldn’t want to know, and I’d still write.
It’s not what I do – it’s who I am. I’m a writer, and I always will be a writer. So even if I did ask and they said no, yes, I’d still write. I wrote for twenty years before I tried to get published – and now I’m being published. Because I’m a writer, I write.
Let the hag make her prediction–even if she said no, that’d just make me more stubborn to prove her wrong. Heck, I’d just become Emily Dickinson and stuff my writing in the floorboards with a string of hope that a hundred years from now, someone would like my stories.
Yes, of course, I write for other people. I *want* to be published. I want to be loved for writing. I want small children to clap at me when I enter the bookstore. But even if I knew none of that would happen, I’d still want to *try*.
Kate H says
1) Yes. I want to know. (Of course, I believe way down the seer would say “yes,” and that would boost my determination significantly.)
2) Probably not–for now–but only because my life is so full of other things. When my kids are grown and gone, or if I ever get to retire, then I think I would write just for the love of it.
Ciar Cullen says
Yes, I’d want to know. And–gasp–I would probably stop. If somehow I were convinced the all-knowing-seeker had their shit together.
That’s the bad answer for a writer, I know, but it’s my honest answer.
I remember a ballet teacher when I was small telling my grandmom that if I wanted to keep going, fine, but I didn’t have the right stuff. Sure, she could have been wrong. Not. I still take dance classes once in a while, but I found I was much better at martial arts.
There are so many wonderful ways to spend your time. I write because I enjoy it, but this is my life, and according to some, the only one I’ll have. Time is precious. Delusions aren’t. Well, not often.
What if the writer is the seer?
Crouched over his scrying bowl, he peers into his own future and sees – nothing. A life of mediocrity, obscurity and frustration ending in a forgotten urn on a dusty shelf. Writing was his life and now he sees it wasted. What will he do?
Why, he calls up his friends and invites them over to play the new D&D adventure he just wrote.
Roll for initiative, monkey boy.
Lauren Fobbs says
I began writing for myself in the first place, so I would keep writing for myself no matter what!
pari noskin taichert says
Yes, I would.
However, I’m not sure I’d write novels. These take such an incredible investment of time — writing, rewriting, editing etc — that if I knew I wouldn’t have an audience, I might not want to commit to the big story.
But, I’ve always written creatively and can’t imagine stopping.
Rose Pressey says
No. I wouldn’t want to know.
Yes, I would still write. It’s impossible for me to stop.
Nothing is ever 100% sure, so no matter what the good old oracle says, I’m still writing!
I would want to know.
And if the answer was “no,” I would start looking for something else to do with my life. I’m not saying I wouldn’t come back to writing, but I would have to change my focus.
I’d like to say I’m a big enough person not to ask…but I would. I know I would.
For question 2, I would keep writing. Right now I’ve written six novels–soon to start number seven–and honestly I know I don’t query enough. Which is something I’m working on.
But yeah, without a doubt I’d keep writing.
To have someone tell me the future of my writing would take a big part of the excitement out of it. The joy is always there because I love setting up the scenes, creating the characters, etc. Waiting to find out if they’re accepted or rejected is a pain, but it’s also like the start of Christmas season when you’re a child, lol. If I *did* get a no from the seer, I’d just have to assume they meant that at that point I wasn’t ready to be published. I’d need more experience, more education, etc. in order to change the future. I don’t believe the future is set in stone 🙂
In my city there’s this street guy, plays Harmonica. He’s the “Hey, howzit going” guy. He wheezes out a couple of notes, stops and waves, and greets you. He’s a part of the city, part of Vancouver: probably 400,000 people know him, and look for him when they’re in the area. He is famous.
Q1) Of course I’d want to know. So that
Q2) I could keep writing but stop doing the (pardon my language) shitwork of getting paid.
And I’d go about being as famous as the hey-howzit-going harmonica guy. A part of my city, making my voice known and heard, contributing a grin here and there and a sense of continuity. I’d stop the business, and focus on the art.
I’d still write. I think people today are too much into creativity for a payoff, that shouldn’t be the case. You write because that is the medium of choice that best suits you, the medium which gives you the best platform to articulate want you are feeling, seeing, hearing…some people (like myself) find this to be much easier than actually speaking. If the seer said “you writing is nothing that can be sold” then I’d give it away for free. Someone out there will identify.
You know, Nathan, this is a more relevant question that it looks, because so much irrational author behavior springs from it. Agonizing over rejection-letter comments, begging for any kind of personalized rejection, putting things through one crit group after another, going into pitch sessions with half-finished novels–all of that because we want someone to tell us straight-up, yes or no, are we any good? Are we ever going to be any good?
Look how many people would stop writing if they couldn’t sell it; or better, look how many people would change the way they spent their time, efforts and presumably money if they knew they couldn’t sell what they wrote.
From our perspective any agent COULD be our seer, with better accuracy than our unpublished crit partners, longsuffering spouses, or moms. Instead they send us fortune-cookie platitudes in a form letter. Where’s our Delphi? Where’s our Simon Cowell? What do we have to do to get an honest “no”?
Hear, hear! To what vaqqb said.
Please tell me if my writing is not fit for publication! I really want to know, honestly! For me that would be infinitely more helpful than, “not quite right for me,” or, “I wish you best of luck elsewhere.”
Perhaps there could be a checkbox reply for agents:
1.) My honest feeling is that you don’t have what it takes, but good for you for having the courage to put your work out there.
2.) Your writing needs work, but has promise.
3.) You write well, but this project honestly is not a fit with my agency. Please do submit elsewhere, as I think it will resonate with another agent.
3.) Please send me sample chapters.
Sure! Even if the answer was no, I’d still write, if only for my own enjoyment (and maybe my kids’, down the road).
the question itself shows the totalitarian aspect of agents.
Just like with human resources departments, it’s easier to get a job if you go directly to the manager of the department and not through the “middle” person
Ahh, Anonymous. Your comment about the “middle” person warms my heart. May I recommend this blog post.
1) I would not want to know. 100% of a bad thing doesn’t fit with an optimist outlook
2) If I had to know (“listen to the seer” or we shoot your kid”) I would still make up stories but I doubt I would spend the same amount of time I do now on editing and polishing. I would just get one story out of my system and start another
Josephine Damian says
Sam Hranac: I’ve seen enough of your writing to say: Yes! By jove! You’ve got it! Keep writing and you’ll make it.
Everyone else: the way the biz works these days all you need is the right “platform” – the abililty to get a huge amount of non-readers to read your book, (for example: write a sprawling, disjointed novel and include a lot of dogs, and dog lovers everywhere will automatically buy your book in spite of the fact that it’s badly written) and you will be published. These days, you don’t need talent, you don’t need craft, you need platform.
Yes. I would want to know.
Yes. I would still write.
What I wouldn’t do is bother with any more queries.
I wouldn’t want to know and if they insisted on telling me, I’d “kill” the seer. I write horror so I can get away with that!
And I’d keep writing because I really don’t have any other choice. Besides, I’ve already sold 24 short stories and counting. Novels, on the other hand, zero. Hmmm, maybe I should string all those short stories together. Now that would be horrific!
As a person, I’m very curious, but as much as I’d be curious, I wouldn’t want to know.
But, if an alien came down and said I must know or else everyone in the world would be forced to wear only spandex, I would listen, and if I was told no, I would still write. Being published is the ultimate goal, but the writing itself is the fun part.
1.No. I wouldn’t want to know.
2.I might keep writing, but if I did, I know that my stories would be absolutely ridiculous. Zombie llamas who eat literary agents? Yep!
I was so taken aback by these questions I began a treatise on this post, but this is the essence of my reply.
Writing is a mission, a mystery, a madness, an addiction. Once you have stumbled into the maze it is most difficult to find your way out. It appears perhaps, Mr. Bransford, you know this. You have seen the brilliant colors of our tangled garden, you have inhaled the perfume, but you remain wisely at the gate, unwilling to cross over to the crooked, devastating paths. Alas therefore, you cannot fully understand. I am sad for you, and yet as I look back through the hedge at the gray pallor of your existence, mine cloy with sensation and emotion, choking me, closing my throat, making me blind with an infinity of images, deaf with eternity’s Song, I am envious too. Do you see the pearls of dew upon the leaves? Those are our tears, and I do not know if they are of joy or of sorrow. Please, do not judge too harshly those of us lost here; there is great suffering in the sweet paradise of our minds.
answer #1…yes…I would like to know if my work has value beyond keeping me sane…
answer #2…yes…see answer #1…
Sun Singer says
I wish a seer had told me that a long time ago so I can stop all this nonsense and become a lineman for the county.
#1 Yes. I’m the curious type.
#2 Absolutely. All that time I waste struggling with queries and synopses — now I’d spend it writing fanfic… 😀
Zoe Winters says
No I wouldn’t want to know. I can’t answer number 2 because I wouldn’t be privy to that knowledge. It does me no good to have it. Being told I would make it might cause me to slack off and not make it (and I don’t believe in luck.) And being told I wouldn’t make it, well who is the authority that knows for absolute sure this dude is right? How could I put so much stock and my entire life on this one dude’s prediction?
Though I can respect the “hypothetical” aspect here, I think it’s silly to say someone’s “cheating” on a hypothetical question that’s designed to produce that response.
I think it’s clear no one really believes a seer could know something like that. And I question whether “talent” is really the magically elusive thing we need to be concerned about.
This feels like a koan to me. I think if one wanted to know and the seer said no, and they quit, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. But I don’t think that talent can possibly be the only deciding factor for success. it’s too simplistic, and that IMO is why people rail against “following the rules” of this hypothetical.
I don’t think it’s “denial” as some have suggested elsewhere.
Talent is also about “innate ability” not learned skill. One may never be mozart, but they can still be in a band.
Zoe Winters says
oops, i just reread the question. You said “didn’t have the talent to become a published writer” you didn’t say…didn’t become a published author.
Talent is entirely subjective and often has little bearing on the end result.
I forget who it was, but some famous author said something about figuring out he didn’t have the talent for it, but by that time, he was already famous. too late to quit then. 😛
Lady Heidi, Duchess of Kneale says
Answer #1: Yes. It would be nice to know where the future lies for writing. It would affect my goals and the steps I’m taking to reach them.
If I learned that I would never, ever get published, then I could arrange my priorities and focus my career development on something else instead, like my music.
Answer #2: Yes, I would still write, because I enjoy creating stories. I just wouldn’t devote any time to the professional development side, ie researching agents, publishers, subbing to paying magazines, etc. I’d probably go back to the hobbyists’ fields like fan-fic or making my own little online archive.
Writing makes me happy.