I don’t know who originally told or wrote down this anecdote, or where I first read it—and if anyone could tell me, I’d love to give credit where credit is due—but I often think of it when a new wave of articles come out calculating the lottery-like odds for a writer looking to make a living with words, or when someone does a post questioning why it’s worth it to spend so many hours on something that may never see the outside of a file folder, or when the discussion of constructive criticism versus the other kind comes up.
But after dropping this story in comments here and there, it was recently suggested by a few people that I should use it as an actual post.
So here it is:
There was once a young violinist who practiced long hours, sacrificing time with family and friends for the sake of his music. He won several awards, but still wasn’t entirely sure if he had the talent to become a professional musician. So when a famous maestro came to town, he begged an audience and asked the older man to listen to him play and tell him once and for all if he should continue to pursue music.
The maestro agreed and the violinist played his soul out. But afterwards, the maestro shook his head and said, “No. I am sorry. You don’t have the fire.”
The young man was crushed. He put away his violin for good, turned to the family business, and did very well. He still loved music, though, and always supported the local orchestra in acknowledgement of his past dreams. One day, he was delighted to receive an invitation to a party to welcome a visiting conductor—the old maestro.
At the party, the former violinist approached the older man and said, “You may not remember me, but years ago, I played for you. You told me I didn’t have the fire to be a musician. Your words hurt at the time, but I thank you for them now. I’ve built a good, secure life instead of wasting my life on something I could never have.”
The maestro smiled and said, “I don’t remember, no. To be honest, I barely listen to the young musicians who ask me to judge them—there are far too many! So I tell every one of them the same thing, that they don’t have what it takes.”
“What?!” the man said. “But . . . if you didn’t pay any attention to my performance, maybe I did have the fire—I might have been a great soloist!”
“But see,” said the maestro, “if you’d truly had the fire, you wouldn’t have paid any attention to me.”
The thing is . . . we can argue talent versus practice versus delusions versus luck until the cows sneak in past curfew, but I’ve noticed that successful writers—whatever the definition—seem do one thing that others don’t: they write. A lot. And they keep doing it, despite time crunches and kids, health issues and work crises, multiple rejections and too much praise, and all the other assorted excuses life likes to lob at us.
Hmmm . . .