My last post about Martine Leavitt and her gift from the universe got me thinking about the term “gifted.”
My elementary school had a gifted and talented program, meaning from time to time I got yanked out of regular class to go learn how to write stories. I usually won the PTA Reflections contest, and I won a book-writing contest sponsored by the school library. They bound my winning story and put it on the library shelves next to real published books (and I hope it has long since disappeared). I was delighted but never surprised by my prizes—I was gifted. Teachers said so.
I think having confidence can get you started, and I’m grateful to the teachers and librarians who gave me some. But feeling gifted won’t get you far, especially if you believe in yourself too much. That’s the first danger of being naturally talented. You who regularly attend writing workshops know what I’m talking about—there’s always the guy who tears down everything everyone else has written but turns up his nose when anyone dares give him a suggestion or two!
But I digress. What I really wanted to talk about here is balance—the line we try to walk between wanting to make sure a gift is not wasted and giving our favorite talent too much focus.
Is there such a thing as writing too much? I didn’t used to think so. I thought excellence came at the expense of balance. Our culture is so success-oriented in the business and financial sense that living a full, well-rounded life does not always come intuitively, nor does it always seem desirable. Becoming obsessive about our gifts is danger number two.
For religious people, I think this article can be instructive—“The Seduction of Our Gifts” by BYU Dance professor Pat Debenham. He talks about how artists are misled in feeling their talents are more valuable, more magical, more infused with divine purpose than other gifts, like accounting. And yet the “gifts” of dance, writing, painting—even accounting—are never mentioned in the scriptures. When we try to use our talents rather than real spiritual gifts to “bless” other people, we may be trying to justify our self-absorption. You can’t delve into writing a book and think you’re doing the world a favor if you write at the expense of developing universally needed gifts like hope, faith, and charity.
For religious and non-religious people alike, I think Nathan Bransford’s post “Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer” is a great wake-up call, especially commandment number four: “Don’t neglect your friends and family. No book is worth losing a friend, losing a spouse, losing crucial time with your children. Hear me? NO book is worth it. Not one. Not a bestseller, not a passion project, nothing. Friends and family first. THEN writing. Writing is not an excuse to neglect your friends and family. Unless you don’t like them very much.”
So, a question for all you lurkers who may be inclined to comment. How do you fit writing into the overall purpose of your life without letting it become THE purpose of your life? Or (because I like stories), what are some of the success stories you’ve seen in your life of artists who are more excellent at what they do precisely because they aren’t so narrowly focused on only one thing?