We All Start Somewhere

I spent this weekend cleaning out the closet of my former office and future daughter’s room. I don’t think I would have finished the job without Cecil’s mellifluous voice to keep me company.

At one point, I unearthed several folders of poetry and fiction from my high school and college years. I’ve mentioned before that I came to writing fiction through poetry. Many of the poems, though they stirred up painful feelings, held up pretty well. (Some were crap, of course.)

The fiction samples started in college. And let me tell you friends, my first attempts at short stories and “one act plays” were uniformly dreadful. Occasionally a clever metaphor or turn of phrase would pop up in the exposition as my poetry roots bled through. These momentary flashes were the only indication that I had any talent at all.

In which "Geraldine" and "Ishmael" plot to kill a dog. Very Good Stuff. Yup.

In which “Geraldine” and “Ishmael” plot to kill a dog. Very Good Stuff. Yup.

So I probably should have thrown all this crap away. But while the works themselves were not enjoyable to read, it was really informative to see myself grow from stunningly incompetent to merely mediocre with occasional streaks of quality. It made me realize a couple of things.

  1. We all start out bad. (And in my case, bad.) I felt a lot of cognitive dissonance looking at my old shite because I remember how supportive everyone was of these incredible cow piles. I was quite the fragile flower back then, and if someone had been honest with me about my ‘talent’ I don’t know that I would have been brave enough to keep writing. The low marks I got on most of these assignments, given fairly and without maliciousness (with one notable exception), only fueled my desire to better myself.
  2. Therefore, as long as you’re willing to work and learn, there is always potential for improvement. I honestly think that’s why I got as many decent grades as I did… the work itself was passing at best, but my earnestness, enthusiasm, and visible improvement over time gave me a bump. Good ethics and good attitude are just as important as talent. They say you can’t teach talent, but you know what? I’m starting to think you can. As long as there is one tiny grain of talent to start with, a writer who is willing to learn can and will get better.