Stop Being a Dilettante

I like to write, but for the things I dream of writing; I am a beginner. So what do I say when people ask for advice on becoming a writer? What can I offer? If they only knew that the how-to books were still on my bedside table! Still, mature beginners do have life experience.

I am a classically trained singer and worked with a lot of young voices in a summer training program. Year after year, I saw a new crop of eager young hopefuls, dreaming the dream. After a while I realized that I could almost tell the ones who had a good chance at becoming working professionals. It was in their attitude, of course. They had already embraced the ideas in a quote I like from Anna Deavere Smith:

“Start now, every day becoming, in your actions, your regular actions, what you would like to become in the bigger scheme of things.”

- Letters to a Young Artist

They weren’t waiting to become singers, they already saw themselves as singers. They weren’t naïve or arrogant, but they had accepted that it is a constant becoming. They seemed to know that a diploma didn’t make them a singer; it was just a nice piece of paper that said they had completed a course of study. The vocal fitness they needed to attain, they would need to maintain - throughout their careers. They accepted the process and were willing to work for every role and every performance. They might not have had many paid engagements but they were not dilettantes. The dilettante is an amateur or someone who dabbles and they were not dabbling.

It is no different in the writing world. The dilettante is merely toying with the idea, puttering or playing at being a writer. If we really want to be writers, we must stop dabbling.

There are many reasons why would-be writers don’t succeed at becoming professional writers. After eliminating luck and talent, it could be that better skills are needed. These one can learn. And like the singer who has to practice a lifelong, writers too must practice. Perhaps they don’t call it practicing but writers need to write and rewrite and then write again. Discipline and perseverance are essential.

Sure, having an idea is important, but that idea has to become something. There must be some physical manifestation of that idea. We have to accept the process and commit to the work, to every article, every story, and every novel.

We have to be writers to become writers, and we have to stop being dilettantes.