The First Time I… (Holly Schindler)

This month’s theme keeps making me think of teaching music. 

That’s how I paid the bills during my earliest days of writing. As I was drafting those first attempts at novels, I was teaching piano and guitar lessons out of my home. It was the perfect setup: get up in the morning, write until 3:00 (when the kids got out of school), then teach lessons for a few hours, until dinnertime. 

The thing that struck me the most about teaching music was the pervasive belief so many of my students had that if it didn’t come easily or quickly, it wasn’t for them. 

Music, they assumed, required an innate gift. You were born with it, or you weren’t. That first scale or song or chord needed to be perfect. If not, they were never going to be musicians. Ever.

It completely blew me over. Every single time I came across it. I even come to think of as the myth of talent. At times, it sure seemed it did far more harm than good. 

I vaguely remember an article I bumped into somewhere in which the author contended that there was no such thing as a child prodigy—the one we all immediately think of when we hear the term, the kid who just popped into the world automatically knowing how to drive a golf ball or play a concerto. The author’s hypothesis was that what that kid really had was interest. He / she paid attention. And there was a strong desire that went into it, of course, that kind of mildly obsessive component that kept driving them back to the same activity.

That article stayed with me. Mostly because I think there’s something to it. I was often told, through school, I had a “talent” for writing. I loved books. I loved storytelling. I graduated with a creative master’s in English. And yet, it still took seven and a half years to sell that first novel. (Not a typo.) In the end, what was more important—any raw talent I might have had, or a work ethic? The desire to get better? 

Clearly, if you’ve got to choose, determination and stamina and a willingness to work always beats out raw talent. 

So often, we ask the question, “Got an idea for a book?” and offer advice on how to get it on paper. But what happens if you’ve got a draft and it’s awful? Or didn’t sell? 

So what? Write it again. Write another book. Keep going. 

Don’t decide, after playing one clumsy song, that you’ll never play the piano well. 

After all, the first time I ever tried anything, the results were lopsided and disastrous.

…even writing.


  1. Agreed! I always say that I'm no expert at darts, but if I throw enough of them at the board, one of them is likely to hit the bullseye eventually!


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