Thank you so much for your comments yesterday! I had so much to say that I thought I would just throw it all into one post. I want to talk about how I've changed as an artist/writer over the years.
First off, I'd like to clarify that I'm not sad about this whole wanting-to-create-a-masterpiece-and-not-being-able-to business. I totally get that every artist, big and small, goes through this. That's why it's the artist's battle. An unending, internal battle that propels you forward if you don't admit defeat.
I also want to thank all of you who said I was talented. I really appreciate that—let's face it, hearing that someone thinks you have potential never gets old. But I've learned that talent isn't, well, enough. It's a great start, but it won't get you "there" in the end.
Wait, don't panic. I have a story! (Several, really.)
I've always been naturally inclined to write and draw. Even when I was little (like 5), I could see that my drawings were a cut above the kids in my class. I won a young writer's award for a book I wrote and illustrated when I was 6.
I rode on my talent for a long time. I didn't really need to work or improve because in my little world I was already one of the best.
Then I moved, and I met a girl named Cherise. This girl made my drawings look elementary. She drew anime like a professional, at least to my eye. At first it made me feel stupid—why did I ever think I was a good artist? But then I realized something.
Cherise always had a pencil in her hand. She hardly stopped practicing. She'd taken what was probably a natural talent and put in hard work.
I'd never really, honestly tried to improve. I drew for fun, and fairly often, but it wasn't like I was studying. Cherise had art books. She studied other artists. She took it seriously. (Note: At least this is what I saw in my 7th grader head, I can't remember the specifics.)
I could have given up. I could have accepted that she would always be better than me and that was okay. But I didn't. I got my own notebook, and I drew and drew. My left hand was basically dirty with pencil, charcoal, chalk, paint, etc. for the next six years.
I haven't seen Cherise in more than a decade—I don't know if I ever "surpassed" her. But that's not the point. That was never the point. I've surpassed myself over and over. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I didn't put in the work to hone my natural talent. And I wouldn't have done that if Cherise didn't inspire me to improve.
I know I'm still not as incredible an artist as some, but trying to be incredible has brought me closer to that dream! Recognizing that there are people out there who draw or dance or write better than you isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think it's the beginning of the path to improvement. Of course you shouldn't spend your whole life comparing and feeling like crap, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with acknowledging that you're an apprentice and choosing to learn from a master!
Actually, it's been the way of artists for centuries.
You'd think I'd have learned my lesson from this experience with Cherise, but I didn't. I in no way applied this newfound diligence to writing.
I wrote a lot for fun. Angsty teen poetry. Journal rants. Even a book/regurgitation of every anime I'd seen up to that point. I printed the "book" off for my friends in chapters. And they would tell me how awesome it was and beg for more. I thought I was some Big Shot writer. I laugh at the thought now. Oh, I was so cute.
But then I met Ms. Woolsey. You know how there's always that cool English teacher everyone likes? Well, she was the one. I was very excited to be in her class, to show off how awesome my writing was.
Our first big paper was on Macbeth. I pretty much thought I rocked it. I had all these good points and was so original. She was hardcore, but she'd see my talent right away just like everyone else.
She gave me a C-.
My first C-. Ever.
I bawled. Because of that C-, I got an A- that term and my 4.0 was ruined. I felt so stupid. Here I thought I was some amazing writer. I don't remember the exact words of her crit, but it was something like "good ideas, but the writing is sloppy and raw."
I'd relied on my talent, once again, without taking the time to hone my skills. And by 11th grade my writing talent wasn't enough anymore. I had to work, and I did work even though I really wanted to crawl under the desk every time I looked at Ms. Woolsey.
I didn't quite learn the lesson like I did with drawing, though. After that C-, I stopped writing creatively. Sure, I learned to rock the literary analysis thing, but I gave up on my dreams of a book. Decided I wasn't cut out for it. That was pretty much the worst mistake of my life.
I hate thinking how much better a writer I could be if I'd just practiced for the five years I didn't write stories. I could have been honing my talent, getting closer to that masterpiece.
Anyway, lesson learned.
Some of the comments yesterday said stuff like "just write it." And maybe a couple years ago I would have agreed with that. But now I know better. Just writing—just getting those words on the paper—isn't quite enough. I wrote a lot of books that are basically at the same crappy level. Yes, every word helps you improve, but I promise you will improve even more if you push harder.
It wasn't until I sought real, technical training that I improved. It wasn't until I treated my story like a potential masterpiece that it got better. It wasn't until I trained under a few "masters" that I really started to understand this story-telling business.
Talent is only a starting point. No matter how much you have, hard work and goals will always get you more of it. Sure, there may be people who are always better or worse, but that is no reason to stay still, to not try to get where you personally want to be.
So yes, I still ache to write my own definition of a masterpiece. And I don't think that's such a bad thing.