Ingredients for Mastery
This summer I returned to the Pacific Northwest to dodge the sun and attend a week of what I affectionately call “writer’s camp.” On both sides of this literary week, I stay with friends in their homes. One’s teenage daughter is an aspiring writer. Although I have yet to read her work, I imagine she is quite good as she loves stories. She spends her days watching television and reading immersed subconsciously in it construction. She saves her writing questions for when I come to town.
My body now knows how to gauge questions telling the difference between questions of curiosity, questions of tactic and questions of weight. She began with curiosity: what do you do at writer’s camp? Moving then toward tactic — how do you pick a publisher and what does an agent do? And the question of weight was loaded with vulnerability: which genre has the least rejection? There it was hanging in the room. She wanted to write in part to hide. Our conversation wasn’t about writing, it was about rejection.
“Honey”, I said, “rejection is good. And, what you don’t know yet is that rejection isn’t rejection. What we call rejection is really a game of ‘does this fit.’ Most people go on many dates and have many boyfriends before settling down (if ever). The dating game is, ‘do we fit?’ Jobs are the same way. When you go for an interview the employer and the seeker are looking for right fit. A ‘rejection’ is pushing you away from what doesn’t fit toward what does. A publishing house is the same. They are looking for writers with a voice that fits their brand. If you do, they work with you on your manuscript and if you don’t, they turn you down.”
I then asked her since I was in town the previous year, how many new pages had she written. She said “five.” Ouch. What would come out of my mouth next were ingredients for mastery. They eased out with the energy of angels wings. “There are two ingredients to mastery,” I said, “commitment and practice.” Now, I knew love, desire, or the soulful energy that propels one forward is part of the equation, but since we don’t do that part as it is given to us I didn’t talk about this. “Ask anyone you see that is real good at something and you will find these two components. Body builders — commitment to strong body; practice of exercise. Musicians? Committed to the voice with practicing their vocal range through exercise. Writers? The same thing. We are committed to a body of work with the practice of writing regularly.”
I could see she had rejected herself before allowing the world to. How many of us do that? Yet shifting rejection from a personal experience of dislike to a game of finding a place of fit can shift the energy within this human pattern.
Today I’ll read my poetry at writer’s camp to a room full of legitimate poets who know the meaning of a stanza, sonnet, couplet, and enjammed line. I will read my ragged poem in their midst and honor myself for showing up and being wise enough to be in the presence of those more skilled than I while my insides slightly quiver.