So I wish I was haughty enough to know the Ranier Maria Wilke quote from “Letters to a Young Poet” that I am about to reference, but God’s honest truth is I know it from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. So I’ll let Whoopi explain instead:
While I love the sentiment and I certainly believe pursuing what your true passion is, things are a little more complicated than that. If you want to be a writer, you have to learn about things like grammar and how to structure a piece. You need to know how to outline, how to properly reference and credit outside sources, how to meet deadlines, and how to write about a topic assigned to you, not just something you think is nifty.
In other words, it is not enough to just write every day. You have to push yourself past your comfort zone, you have to study, you have to read people you admire and think about what it is specifically you admire about their work. You need to write and rewrite. You need an editor and feedback.
To put it bluntly: love and passion are not enough.
There are a lot of things to admire about last year’s critically acclaimed movie Whiplash, but what I love most about this movie is the ideology that practice and passion isn’t enough to be truly exceptional. You can be a natural talent, but without someone (albeit not necessarily someone quite as volatile as JK Simmons) pushing you into a place you didn’t know existed in you, you will never be great.
In Whiplash, a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) is at a musical conservatory trying to be one of the greatest jazz drummers in history. It isn’t enough for him to be good. He wants to be the best, and in order to be the best, you apparently have to get locked up in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with your mentor. But this movie isn’t about how terrible a monster this teacher is. Like Black Swan, The Red Shoes, and other “for the love of art” kind of movies, there is reverence for taking your craft to an obsessive level, to being pushed to the brink to see if you have the wherewithal to hang on.
In this optimistic, Millenial-driven era, we don’t pay much attention to the sacrifice that comes with truly pursuing your passion. Whiplash is not a movie intended to be a horror film about an obsessive psychopathic teacher. It is a statement film about the fact that pursuing your passion isn’t easy. Settling is much easier. You can please others, live up to expectations, or you can put yourself out there, take a giant risk, and know there is a very good chance you can end up face down feeling stupid. But there is a chance that you could accomplish something out of this world phenomenal, and you are so hungry for that chance that you are willing to accept you’re probably going to fail, but that it will be worth it.
The more I watch Orphan Black, the more I think the lead clone in this show about an experiment full of identical clones, Sarah, is in the same kind of impossible situation Teller from Whiplash is in. For her, it isn’t a love of music, but a love of her daughter that keeps her driving and pushing through a seemingly endless series of dangerous and life-threatening situations in which giving up makes so much sense, but for love, she just can’t.
This fantastic sci-fi program is relentlessly paced with Sarah and her band of clone sisters constantly working their way through and out of terrible situations. There is barely enough downtime for a dance party before the next problem arises, but the clones care so much about each other and Sarah has such passion being a mother to her daughter that they don’t care and they just keep trucking through because they don’t have another choice. She could just turn herself over to the lab that created her, but she is going to take the hard way against long odds because the slim hope of living a free life with her clone sestres and her daughter and her foster brother is worth taking a chance on your life, even if the chances she will pull it off without someone suffering is slim to none.
Many movies are structured this way. Saving Private Ryan, Snowpiercer, any sort of war or prison film, there is a culling of the herd because the simple fact of the matter is not everyone is going to make it. They know going in that is the case and the thought of living a different, theoretically better life is well worth taking the very likely chance you won’t make it to the end to see it.
The problem today though is that we focus so much on the success stories that people don’t fully understand the risks and the massive number of people out there who failed. I watch people putting themselves out there, opening themselves up for ridicule and I admire the courage, but I shake my head that they thought this plan was ever going to work.
I wanted to be a ballerina for several years. I loved ballet more than anything, I went to a performing arts school as a ballet major. I had the perfect feet for it; small with high arches, but the problem was I was too short and too muscular in build to ever possibly succeed as a professional. More importantly, I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t bad, but I would never be great, so I am grateful for the teachers and my mother and others who supported my hobby, but admitted this was simply not something I could successfully pursue. They didn’t quash my dreams, they spared me from nightmares.
The same happened in college. I was an incredibly active member of my high school speech team to the point where colleges were actively recruiting me to be on their speech teams. As a wise speech coach once told me though—“I know you love this, but here is the thing. You can do speech in college, but you can’t go pro.”
While I fell in and out of love with dance and speech, knowing they would never be anything more than hobbies, somehow I became a writer. I didn’t think it would stick, and I certainly never expected me to start a blog and voluntarily put words to page day in and day out and yet, here I am. And there are people in my life for once telling me not the reasons why I can’t do this, but the reasons why I can. It is still scary as fuck, but I just basically wrote a book this month admitting all sorts of my inner thoughts and personal stories and opinions on things and I survived. So I keep going, cause like Whoop…err..Wilke said, if you want to be a writer, write.
And even though I know I have about as much of a chance reaching the pinnacle of the writing world as I do of being a ballet dancer, I can’t seem to help myself from putting myself out there like I have over the past month. But whether or not this whole writing thing wants me or not, at least for now, I am digging my claws in. I’m ready to Latch.
Sam Smith and Disclosure know how scary an unsafe bet can be. It is horrifying and stimulating all at once and the prevailing thought is that you need more and you need to make sure that it won’t go away. It sounds possessive, but you’ve got to lock that shit up before someone else gets there. If you find that passion that seems the slightest bit attainable, you lock in and you hope to God you never have to let go.
So this is me, writing world, locking in and latching on. Cause I’ve gone through my whole life and the things that have touched me and touched others and nothing gets me more excited about the day than putting fingers to keys and trying to talk about them. I kind of hate how much I enjoy this because it means I can’t walk away without giving it a little more of a try to be a writer of something more than how a poker tournament turned out or what sports betting law went into effect. I know what I have found and I am ready to try to knock those boundaries down, even though I am fully aware that it is going to suck a lot of the time, and in fact, it may always suck and I give up. It may take a mean as hell editor or my back against a financial wall, but now that this writing thing is shackled in my embrace, I am not letting go for at least a little while. So, we may have gone through the past together this past month, but get ready, cause I am really hoping there is a future full of this to come.