I came across this poem today and just have to share it here:
For the Young Who Want To - Marge PiercyTalent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.
The reason people want M.F.A.'s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.
As I mentioned before, it can sometimes be very dispiriting to be a young writer. People dismiss your ambition as a mere hobby, fad, or delusion. Those in the world of 'real work' don't take you seriously and either ignore or diss your career choice.
In this poem though, there is much-needed consolation and empathy and truth. Marge Piercy seems to have had her fair share of knocks and discouragement too. (And then all-too-easy praise.) But she's gone beyond it, as all writers do I suppose. We are always told that to succeed as a writer, we must have a 'tough skin.' I get it. We need a rhino's hide to brush off all those rejections and indifferent dismissals. But we must also have a fine skin, an innate gossamer sensitivity, if we're able to make any written observations about the world in the first place. And so we must protect that fine skin... with a tough skin. So, the challenge seems to be how to reconcile the two. Ay, therein lies the rub.
Anyway, the main message of this poem is all you really need, is dedication -'The real writer is one who really writes.' And look at that last word - 'loved'. Love. Love for it more than anything else. Of course. And young people are capable of love most passionately.
It's great to read these inspiring encouragements from established writers. It blasts the cobwebs of doubt off you. I also recommend you read this article, a strengthening tonic: 23 Tips from Famous Authors for New and Emerging Writers. There's another link too about how Hemingway takes a young writer under his wing, who travelled across the country to visit him.
To be taken seriously as a writer, as a young writer, builds backbone. But then again, to not be taken seriously, to forge a fighting spirit to do so, builds it too.