Thursday, 19 February 2015

Why you shouldn't care too much about other people's opinions

If you wish to become a poet, I can give you some clues, but please take your heart medication before you read this through, since it contains some strong truths.

Nobody else cares, so what?

First, you have to realize that nobody cares about what you want to be, so don't go around complaining that you are misunderstood. Artistic sensitivity is fine, but please keep it to yourself, since there is already too much noise in the world.

Second, you should just start writing poetry and do not ask anyone for permission. If you do happen to ask someone for permission, you most likely won't even get a response. Again, it's not that most people won't understand you, it's simply that they are too busy with their own lives.

Acquire this essential quality

Third, you have to develop a thick skin. This is a quintessential requirement for any artist, as it is for salesmen and lawyers. People will criticize your work for no reason, editors will correct the unique syntax that you have worked so hard to create, and bookshops will place your poetry books in the cooking section.

Fourth, you have to show your work around and try to find the small percentage of people who might like your poetry. No matter how good a poet you are, that percentage will always remain small, but remember that there are 6.7 billion people in the world. Even if only one person in a thousand likes your poetry, that still makes 6.7 million people.

How long it takes to win

I know that you are going to ask me when you will know for sure that you are a poet. This is an easy question for me to answer. You will know one day in the evening, after many years of taking daily steps towards your goal.

By that time, you might be already discouraged and ready to quit poetry altogether, but take heart. On that evening, you will be invited to a party by someone you barely know. You will attend in the hope, after so many years, of meeting a publisher who will really appreciate your work.

Ten minutes after you arrive at the party, your hope will vanish. Nobody will pay any attention to you and you will wonder if you have received the invitation by error. You will retire to a corner to sip your green tea in loneliness, but then, you will realize that two young women are staring at you from the opposite side of the room.

The two will cross the room and stand still a meter away from you. "Can we ask you a question?" one of them will say. "Sure," you will reply, wondering if they are mistaking you for someone else.

A crucial piece of advice

"We want to become writers," they will continue. "Could you give us some advice about how to write a book?" At that point, you will frantically try to figure out a brilliant answer, something that will identify you as a successful poet.

You will look around the room, a little desperate, realizing that you have no good advice to offer. You will wish that someone would join the conversation and give you the answer, but of course, no one will.

As you mumble your piece of advice, you will feel embarrassed by your lack of ideas and imagination. "Writing a book is easy," you will say, "you just start at the beginning and finish at the end." Then you will blush, ashamed of having spoken out such triviality.

The two women will stare at you in silence for a long time and then exchange a satisfied look. "I told you he was a poet," one of them will comment in awe. "You were right," the other will concur. And at that moment, at that very moment, you will know yourself for sure.

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Image by irishwildcat under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

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