Are You Too Ambitious for Your Own Good?

Author:
Publish date:

Image placeholder title

Ira Glass has some of the best advice I've ever read for writers, at
least in relation to great storytelling. He's said that you have to be
willing to be bad at what you do for a long time until you actually can
achieve the vision of perfection you have in your head. He even puts
himself out on a limb and offers recordings illuminating how bad he was at radio when he first started.

I
was reminded of Ira when my writer-friend Teresa Fleming shared with me
the following letter from Charles Dickens, where he responds to an
aspiring writer.

Tuesday, Feb. 5th, 1867.

DEAR SIR,

I
have looked at the larger half of the first volume of your novel, and
have pursued the more difficult points of the story through the other
two volumes.

You
will, of course, receive my opinion as that of an individual writer and
student of art, who by no means claims to be infallible.

I
think you are too ambitious, and that you have not sufficient knowledge
of life or character to venture on so comprehensive an attempt.

Evidences of inexperience in every way, and of your power being far
below the situations that you imagine, present themselves to me in
almost every page I have read. It would greatly surprise me if you
found a publisher for this story, on trying your fortune in that line,
or derived anything from it but weariness and bitterness of spirit.

On
the evidence thus put before me, I cannot even entirely satisfy myself
that you have the faculty of authorship latent within you. If you have
not, and yet pursue a vocation towards which you have no call, you
cannot choose but be a wretched man. Let me counsel you to have the
patience to form yourself carefully, and the courage to renounce the
endeavour if you cannot establish your case on a very much smaller
scale. You see around you every day, how many outlets there are for
short pieces of fiction in all kinds. Try if you can achieve any
success within these modest limits (I have practised in my time what I
preach to you), and in the meantime put your three volumes away.

Faithfully yours.

Yikes, right? (You can read more Dickens letters here.)

Here's the secret, though: If you're the writer, do you read this and think: I should just stop trying.

Or do you read this and think: He doesn't know how wrong he is!

Writers in training know they're not good, but they know they're getting better. And they go on to fight another day.

Photo credit: wallyg

Whitney Hill Elemental

Whitney Hill: Self-Published E-Book Awards Winner

Whitney Hill, winner of the 8th Annual WD Self-Published E-Book Awards, talks fan fiction, creating her own stories, and why she chose to self-publish.

8 Tips to Build Your Supportive Writing Network

8 Tips to Build Your Supportive Writing Network

Writing can be a solitary activity ... but it doesn't have to be. Let author Gale Massey give you some tips for building a supportive writing network.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 14

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a "from where you're sitting" poem.

Tension in Poetry: The Hidden Art of Line-Writing

Tension in Poetry: The Hidden Art of Line-Writing

Writer and editor Matthew Daddona explains how to easily create tension in your poems and how that adds weight to your message.

Natalie Lund: On Grief and Unanswered Questions in YA Fiction

Natalie Lund: On Grief and Unanswered Questions in YA Fiction

YA author Natalie Lund shares how she handles the subject of death for a YA audience in her latest novel The Sky Above Us.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 13

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a Lucky and/or Unlucky poem.

What Is a Plotter in Writing?

What Is a Plotter in Writing?

The world of storytelling can be broken into many categories and sub-categories, but one division is between plotter and pantser. Learn what a plotter means in writing and how they differ from pantsers here.

Waist vs. Waste (Grammar Rules)

Waist vs. Waste (Grammar Rules)

Learn the differences of waist vs. waste on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.