Friday, December 11, 2009

The Late Great Me

By Mari Miller-Lamb

I wrote my first short story when I was six. My teacher gave me an A and hung it on the bulletin board in front of the class. She told my beaming parents what a talented young lady I was. When I was eleven my poem about a homeless man in Grand Central won first prize in the local newspaper. My fifth grade teacher remarked that I had a lot of talent and she expected to see many more things published. In high school English classes, I shone. Breezily I read Shakespeare understood it all and wrote my papers without even half thinking about them. I got straight A's. Well, of course I would. I was a genius and everyone told me so. And if everyone was telling me the same thing, it was obviously true. How could it not be? I never questioned that I was meant for greatness. I planned my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, absolutely certain that I was going to win it before age thirty.

The bubble of my greatness burst a little (but only a little) when of my English professors made the remark of "Didn't they teach you to write in high school?" and handed back one of my compositions with a "C" and told me to go back and proof read my work. But she had it in for me or was jealous of my huge writing talent or something. And it didn't matter anyway because I still managed to pull and A in that class. The woman just didn't know what she was talking about. Then one of my guy friends was slightly critical of a piece I wrote for the school newspaper. The fool!!! Did he really think I would be his girlfriend after that remark?! Disgusted with his lack of insight and his utter failure to appreciate true talent, I scorned his friendship and sought out the approving comments of the people in my life that would affirm my greatness, my beautiful prose, the poetry of my writing.....and stroke my enormous ego.

I can't tell you how many years I wasted seeking affirmation and reassurance. And how I got from being certain of my writing genius to humbly acknowledging that I still have much to learn is a story for another day. The first time I got a real critical look at one of my short stories from someone whose opinion actually mattered......well let's just say I cried. We writers are all egomaniacs. Deep down inside we are certain there is no one who call tell a better story that us. Otherwise, how could we go on? We have to believe in ourselves. And we should have people in our lives who affirm our desperate need to believe in and acknowledge our own talent. We need our Mommies, our Hubbies, our BFF's to blithely say "Don't worry dear. You're a wonderful writer!" and then pin our latest endeavor with a big letter "A" circled on the front page to the refrigerator door.

Yeah, but here's the thing: You need the critical kind of friend too. And even worse, if all you've had your whole life is affirmation and reassurance of your greatness, you will never ever grow as a writer. Trust me on this one. I've been there. I remember reading a story about two actors who had been in a play. One actor was fretting about the forthcoming reviews. The other actor turned to him and said: "My dear boy, it's not the bad reviews you should be scared of."

If you think about it, he's right.♥

BIO:   Mari Miller-Lamb is an unpublished writer, shopping around her first historical romance to publishers with no expectations of marketing on their part at all.


  1. Having heard, "you should be a writer," since I was a child, I can totally relate to your post. However, when I dig up my old works of art and re-read, I have to say, mine is mostly crap, regardless of the A's and gold stars. We do indeed need positive input, but it must also be realistic. Great post. Thanks!

  2. Mari,
    I can totally relate to your need for positive reinforcement and "kudos". But one can't depend on that from friends and family who are not always supportive and considerate of one's feelings. And remember, writers are sensitive souls! I have to say that RWA/NYC is probably my biggest source of constructive feedback and support. When critiquing other writers, I try to be kind and gentle when giving criticism because that is the way I want to be treated. Useful critiquing, yes -- brutal honesty, not so much...
    Thanks for your sharing, Mari, and keep writing!

  3. Mari, thanks for posting something that certainly gave me a jolt of recognition. I was one of those "you should be a writer" people, too. I guess what we all know is that a talent or a knack for something is just the starting point. We have to grow and learn in our writing profession just as we would in any walk of life. I read somewhere that Barbara Walters, when asked about her success, said that she just filed one story after another, year after year. I remember Mary Balogh's background, too. She was a schoolteacher, and one night just sat down at the kitchen table after supper and wrote every night consistently until she had a novel--and proceeded to sell it. Stories like that inspire me; I think talent is needed, but persistence and a certain street sense are what get us published. There is a certain scary absolute--ya gotta finish the story, finish the article, finish the novel--query, send it in--as my husband always says, "Don't be a talker--be a doer." Well, this is a long comment, but you obviously think about these things, as do I. Thanks again for your thoughtful post. Elizabeth Palladino

  4. Ah, Mari - humor, self-deprecating wit, and a healthy dollop of wisdom. Good words for every writer, no matter her level of success - because once you begin to believe all that "good press", you stop growing, stop striving and will ride for an even harder fall when your "high" suddenly comes to an end.

    Good luck with your work - you really ARE a good writer!