Building Chops

“I want it. And I want it now!”

Okay, mature adults might not say that, but most of us would love to live our lives getting what we want without having to work years to get it.

Who wouldn’t love to be at the top of the game from the word, “Go!”? To have every word you write drip from your fingertips, sparkling and bright, and have editors and agents jockeying to get a chance at it?

Who wouldn’t love to have the knowledge before you ever start trying to write that each and every manuscript you pen is going to be so good, so lyrical, that people will line up the night before it goes on sale, just to have a chance to buy it?

An Instant Society is what I’ve heard it called. Newlyweds expect to have what their parents took years to save for. New businesses spend as if they have the same budget as their long-lived counterparts. New employees want to have the same authority as the boss and TV Star.

Think about instant a moment. Instant Coffee. Instant Tea. Instant Success. Is that really what you want? I’ve never been able to stomach Instant coffee or tea. Although I know people who drink it, I’ve never met anyone who names it as their first choice. “Not bad for instant,” is usually how they describe it.

Look at how long it took some artists to become who they are. Take the Beatles, for instance. They were all performing with other groups by 1957. They went through a time when, after they’d found each other (at least some of them) they worked in Germany playing eight-hour shifts.

They gained members and lost members until finally, in January of 1962, they recorded 14 songs for Decca Records and they didn’t pass the audition!

In October of that year, they released, “Love Me Do,” and “PS. I Love You,” and hit the charts.

Six years of constant work, work, work to become an “instant” success.

Was it worth it?

Just as there’s a difference between instant coffee and coffee that’s been brewed from good, roasted and well ground beans, there’s a difference between instant success and those who’ve taken the time to learn and built the chops to be the artist you’d like to become.

Without discouragement. So what if you don’t sell in the first year? Or even after five years? Many of the writers I know have written for ten years or more before selling their first book. But it’s worth it.


What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

My advice, for what it’s worth–Take the time to learn what you need to know. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking you or if you’ll ever be able to sell it. Learn it for the enjoyment of learning. Write it for the love of writing.

Find the joy in doing whatever it is you do, and you’ll never have to work.

BTW: Whatever your endeavor, whatever your goal, you may just find the most important ingredience is tenacity.

Or, as they used to say when Shep was a pup, “Keep On Truckin!'”


2 thoughts on “Building Chops

  1. When our kiddo was little, we made him save money for every major splurge he wanted. He thought at the time that we were mean, since his friends’ parents just bought them whatever they wanted. But he was proud of his TV, video games, bike, etc., and he took better care of them. He understood the satisfaction of working to get what he wanted.

    I’d love for everything to be easy peasy in publishing for me now, but not back in th beginning. I had so much to learn, and it’s been a valuable experience. I knew some writers who, for various reasons, made their first sales and saw their first pub dates without much effort, but because the first ones came so easily, they didn’t know how to deal with rejection when it eventually came around (and, of course, it did). Rather than stick with it and fight for what they wanted, they folded and disappeared into the ether of the barely published, never to be heard from again.

    You gotta love it, gotta want it, gotta work like hell to get it.

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