The Difference Between Well Intentioned and Serious

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There is such a thing as a difference between well intentioned and serious. You know it as well as I. It’s that invisible barrier that separates the vast majority of us from the fine sliver of true geniuses. They were put here to do exactly what they were supposed to do. Amaze us. Wow us with their superhuman ability. We can emulate and study them, but we’ll never duplicate them. By “them” I will leave open for you whatever category or interest comes to mind.

Here though, I will refer specifically to F. Scott Fitzgerald the author of the “Great Gatsby.”

What I meant with the opening was this. Sure, I can write a pretty decent essay. I’ve been known to push out pretty good research paper. I suppose if my only way of communication was through the written word, I would manage. But as Fitzgerald said, in so many words, there is writing and then there is writing. I don’t come within 1,000 miles of being a writer.

The personal letter below may strike you as brutally honest. Well, I suppose it is. But like I said, there is a difference between well intentioned and serious. Fitzgerald was asking the essential: Do you have what it takes? Only you can answer that, and if you can’t or are unwilling to honestly, others will answer the question for you.

This letter can apply to anything you are considering on doing seriously. There’s a price to pay for anything worth doing.

I shamelessly stole this from Jeff over at Total Perspective. Jeff writes below:

Some of the best insights about writing, philosophy, and life come from the private letters of great writers and thinkers. Below is a specimen from a collection of Fitzgerald’s letters that I found very interesting and insightful. In this letter Fitzgerald talks to Frances about the high price that must be paid for “professional work.”

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming — the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.


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