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What Size Pond Are You Swimming In?

I like to sing.  Singing in choir, singing in the shower, singing to my two-year-old...doesn't matter, singing is fun for me.  And, lucky for me, my voice isn't bad.  It's not great--I don't have a huge range, it can get a little breath-y, and my pitch isn't always perfect. Or close.  Or good, at all.

When I was in college and in the years beyond, I lived in a Music Town.  You know, one of those brilliantly over-saturated-with-talent regions where every other person you meet is a near-virtuoso musician?  If you've been lucky enough to live in the vicinity of a top-tier music school, you know what I'm talking about.  Despite being a member of a church, despite plenty of volunteer choirs in town, despite opportunity galore, I didn't sing in public much.

I was a very small fish in that big pond.  There was no way I was measuring up to the fantastic talent I was surrounded by.  And it intimidated me enough to keep my voice to myself.

Then I moved to a little town and joined a little church and discovered that the choir has maybe ten members on a good day.  And so I joined.

Now I'm the only soprano in the group who can consistently (and fairly nicely) hit the full scope of the treble clef, have better pitch than half the group, and a stronger voice than many of the singers there.  I'm not saying this to brag.  Because I don't have much to brag about.

Nothing changed except the size of the pond.

My voice, nothing too exciting in a space rich with talent, is exactly the same as it was before.  My confidence might be a little higher, and that might give me a slight boost, but I'm the same singer I was a few years ago.  I went from "I'll just watch, thanks" to soloist material.

I bring this up in relation to writing because we all start writing in small ponds.  We start writing for ourselves, as kids.  Maybe we start in classrooms, and for most of us, we're the star pupil when it comes to language.  Few writers recall feeling like the little fish up front.  Few writers start out in a big pond.

Eventually, many of us decide to move to the big pond--pursuing publication.  Suddenly you're not the best writer in your family, or the best writer in Springville High School, or the best writer in your group of friends.  You're a good writer...among a lot of other good writers.  The pond is huge, and suddenly what felt like exceptional talent and incredibly hard work is, in comparison, not that exceptional or incredible.

That can feel discouraging.  Imagine if I had gone from being the star soprano of Tiny Town United Methodist to the nobody of Music Town. I would have gone in believing I was "good enough" and then would have realized that I'd need to work, and hard, just to keep up!

But that's the reality of the big pond--it doesn't matter how talented you are, there are others just as naturally talented.  It doesn't matter how good your ideas are, someone else is churning out great ideas, too.  The only thing separating all these amazing fishies?  Work and perseverance.  Once you make it into the big pond, you've proven you have the talent and the passion, so don't be discouraged.  Just finishing a novel, polishing it, working up the gumption to query--that proves you have a place in the big pond.  It's dedication, resilience, and the choice to work, every day, that give some fish a leg up (wait, mixed metaphors...or maybe the fish who make it to publication are actually mudskippers?  We're going down a twisty road on this one...)

And a final thought--maybe you're not ready to move into the big pond yet.  Maybe you're quite happy splashing around your smaller pond, working and writing and improving.  That's fine.  Moving too fast can be discouraging, and the pond will be there when you're ready for it.  The allure of the big pond is strong, but you don't have to dive in until you're ready--or you can decide that the small pond fulfills your writing dreams just fine, thanks.  There's nothing wrong with the small pond.

Comments

  1. This was such an encouraging post. I think when we start comparing ourselves to others we get caught in an inevitable downward spirals into discontent and jealousy. Life as a writer is so much easier if, as you mentioned, we accept the reality that there will always be others better than us, but keep on trying anyway, knowing that finishing a novel in itself is a great accomplishment. One quote I read in a book that really encouraged me was that God doesn't ask us to succeed, but to try.

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