The following post is a reprint of one I wrote several years ago on a different website. Reading it again this week, I felt it might be appropriate to post here.
Michael Hauge often speaks of the protagonist’s search for his essence. It’s an essential element of the hero’s tale. The hero lives in denial for a period of time, clinging to what he knows to be true of himself, or rather what he believes to be true of himself. The story reveals his essence which opposes that perception, and while the reader sees the reality, the protagonist must discover that truth along his own painful journey. I’ve also read that each of us must make that painful transition or languish in our delusions, never satisfied. Looking back at my own career path, I can see the truth of this. That path has been filled with some interesting switchbacks. That is the universal story, and I’m only living out one version.
One major switchback or plot twist occurred early in my life. I’ve spoken of it in an earlier post. The fact that this event continues to come to mind reveals its significance. In love with the process of creating, at the time manifesting itself in the visual arts, my path seemed straight and clear. I would pursue my passion, seeking out those who could teach me the skills I needed to succeed. Unfortunately, the teacher I encountered would not take the role of mentor. Although she was not an antagonist she did become an obstacle. Young and perhaps threatened by her inexperience, she asserted her opinion that what I lacked to become successful was talent.
Such a judgement, from one to whom an impressionable youth looks for guidance, was and is devastating. Although it altered my career path as a result, the experience shaped me for the better. Later in life, when I ironically found myself in the position of art teacher for a small private school, I made a commitment to encourage my students and refrain from opinions on their talents. While I see myself as a teacher of students in the arts, I refuse to think of myself as an artist. I still believe I lack the talent.
Along the way, I met a wonderful teacher of ceramic art. He was the C.S. Lewis of potters for his time. Students thrived under his instruction. We aspired to be like him and learn all we could from his vast years of experience. He taught us the chemistry of glaze creations, but he taught us so much more. Never allowing us to keep anything we had made on a potter’s wheel unless it was 12 inches high, he taught us discipline and to pursue excellence in our craft. To me, he gave words that began to undo the damage of that youthful teacher from my past. He said that to become an excellent potter was more about skill than talent. Oh what a revelation! Here was an excuse for me to continue to pursue my essence, just in a different medium. So I did.
In the following years, another creative passion has bubbled within. I loved crafting stories since childhood. Written over a decade ago, one novel still rests in the memory of my word processor. Once again, I read the words that have given me confidence to pursue my essence. This time the champion is one Martha Alderson. In her book, The Plot Whisperer, she states very simply, “I believe that writing is not a gift but a skill…”
Thank you, Martha, from the bottom of my anxious heart. She goes on to challenge her audience to pursue the craft diligently, finding our weaknesses and our strengths. I’m bent over my keyboard now just as I was bent over my potter’s wheel for so many years. Pursuing excellence in the craft is something I can aspire to do. Putting aside my fears of public opinion, I am following my essence. It’s what I must do. Happily, it’s also what I want to do in this chapter of my own hero’s tale.
So here’s the question? Is talent like art simply in the mind of the beholder? My perspective now is this. I have to pursue the craft as if I am pursuing my essence and leave the opinions to others. While I want readers to love my characters and settings as much as I do, I must only concern myself with crafting the best story I can. Of course, that is easier said than done.
I’d welcome observations and experiences in expressing your own creativity.