A writing friend sent me this question: “Are you a writer because of your distinctive ideas, the volume of material you produce, or because of a call or skill or gift?”
None of the above. I’m a writer because I write. It’s my venue for sharing truth and beauty and all that is important to me. It’s how I express myself. My friend Rebecca is a singer because she puts herself into her songwriting and musical performance. My buddy Brad is a doctor because that’s how he connects to the world and shares himself and his abilities. Maybe that constitutes a calling — it’s certainly a gift. But I’ve always seen books and words as a reflection of who I am. Some of us have to write, the way others have to sing or run or paint or speak or run or lead. With me, words tend to pour out.
The thing that doesn’t get talked about very much is the fact that not everybody can be a writer, and few of us can ever be great writers. I’m all for writing conferences, because I often get to meet and encourage diamonds in the rough. And I’m a big supporter of mentor/protégé relationships because they allow an experienced person to share with an inexperienced person. But I’ve come to believe there’s a limit to the talent that can be shared. I believe I can make a writer better, but I’m not convinced I can ever make a writer great — some people just have the gift. Some people can paint, some people can sing, some people can dance – we can write.
Occasionally I come across a writer whose talent is enormous, and it usually leaves me in awe. I love that. At a conference this past weekend, I had a chance to host a salon with one of my favorite writers, Tom Robbins — an author whom many believe is one of the great American novelists of the past 50 years. I need to do a blog post just on his words, because he was amazing — insightful and funny and encouraging and very practical. And he didn’t need to be any of those things, since he’s one of the greats. He could have been arrogant or dismissive (um… I’ve met my share of successful authors who have forgotten how to relate to beginning writers), yet he wasn’t at all. Instead, he just shared some of his wisdom, telling the folks at the conference what he thinks is important, and what they need to consider in their writing.
For all my ego, I still appreciate someone who can do something better than me. I have represented several writers who are simply marvelous wordsmiths, and much better at writing than I’ll ever be (off the top of my head, I can name Lisa Samson, Ann Tatlock, Susan Meissner, Elizabeth Musser, Gina Holmes, Jessica Dotta, Mark Bertrand, Rachel Hauck, Mindy Clark… there are others). It doesn’t bother me one bit to know they’re better at their craft than I am – I’m just happy I get to represent their work. As a man, it doesn’t bother me that Tiger Woods is a better golfer than I’ll ever be, or that on an off day Diana Krall still has more musical talent that I could ever hope to have. And I’m at peace with that.
A couple questions for writing friends… Why do you write? And if you could sit and talk with any living writer, who would you like to chat with?