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E is for everyone, everyone who wants to do what you want to do

July 23, 2012

E is a special letter. It’s almost always the first vowel you pick when you play Wheel of Fortune. Without it, we wouldn’t have sleep, beer, sex, or chocolate. For this reason I publish two entries for e. Also because I lost track. You can spell idiot without an e.

As I write this, I’m listening to the “You’re not special” speech that caused a ruckus a while back. If  you missed it, English teacher David McCullough told graduates at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts that they weren’t special. Numerically, everyone can’t be special because if everyone is, no one is.

The point applies to writers, as well. Only so many of us will finish a book that an agent wants to read. Only so many who will have an agent say that you are right for them. Only so many of us who will sign that contract so we’re able to ask readers to shell out their money to enter our universe. Only so many who will sell enough books to make publishers look at the second entry to that universe. And so forth.

The point here isn’t to browbeat you into submission, to discourage you into not trying, or to clear the playing field of another competitor for one of those coveted spots, but to make you realize that while you aren’t special just for placing hands to keyboard–anyone can do that.

This is not special

But you could be. Every person who writes has the ability to produce something no one else can produce. And like your life, the quality of your writing will increase based on the effort and discipline you dedicate to making yours a special story.

It’s hard, this thing we do. It’s the product of long toil and emotional rollercoasters. It’s time spent writing when you’d rather be sleeping, hanging with your buddies or family, or checking out the latest reality TV show. It’s agonizing over that scene you wrote that doesn’t work, even after the tenth time you’ve reworked it. It’s dreaming about the character you think you’ve formed perfectly, only to have her deformed figure in your dream tell you there’s more work to be done.

This is a little bit special.

It’s taking something you think rocks to your critique group and having them gleefully set fire to it and dance the pagan it sucks dance in the flickering light of its destruction.

It’s instantly seeing the look in that agent’s eyes that your work isn’t for him, and that he’s thinking more about dinner than about you.

This is special. Not everyone does this.

 Overcoming all of that, continuing to write and improve and persevere through all that, that’s what’s special. Margaret Mitchell took eight years to write Gone with the Wind. You’ve probably heard about that. If you read the beginning of On Writing by Stephen King, you’ll see how much he was rejected. Scholastic published Harry Potter because almost everyone else turned it down. The Naval Institute Press published The Hunt for Red October for the same reason.

Writers aren’t special because the are, they’re special because they work at it and get better. Because they perceive no as not now or not yet, rather than you suck.

As the cute blonde in the song says, today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.

So get to work.

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