The Power of Determination
Back in the day, I used to be quite an accomplished amateur photographer. I sold crafts to save up enough money to buy a good, cheap, Korean made 35mm SLR camera. I carried my gear in my daddy’s old military helmet bag and built a studio in what had been his wood shop.
For a while, I entertained the idea that it might be my career, though I eventually realized my true talents lay elsewhere and let it go. But for several years, I had my own subscription to Popular Photography, and I’ll never forget one particular article that made a big impression, one that frequently come back to me today.
“An amateur,” said the article, “Will shoot one roll of film during a vacation, get only two or three good prints, and consider it a failure. A professional will shoot five rolls in one session, and if one frame is usable, consider it a success.”
The author was not saying that the difference is merely one of odds. While exposing those five rolls, the pro is changing lenses, angles, exposures–playing with lighting and depth of field–combing through years of experience and training and judgement, maybe even camping out for hours to wait for the light she know may come.
I’s an important lesson.
My wife used to play in a regional orchestra. She tells the story of a pianist of national renown, who after hearing an effusive fan declare “I wish I could play like you” during a fundraising dinner, turned to a local musician and said, “You know, I kind of hate when people say that. It’s like God came down and gave me some magic. They don’t wish that at all. They don’t wish they’d practiced scales for hours a day when their friends were going out during high school. They don’t wish they could put in thirty years of work and study and sacrifice. They don’t wish they could screw up their marriage. If they were willing to do that, they could play like me. They don’t want that, they just like the result, and they should just say they like the result and cough up a few dollars to support it.”
In my writing sojourn, I meet all kinds of writers, from those who have established, successful careers mediated by traditional agency, to gutsy newcomers finding their own way in social media and self-publishing, to those with raw talent but thin skin who seem unwilling or unable to suffer the slings and arrows of rejection, to rank hobbyists who write hundreds of thousands of cathartic words that they will never try to publish except as an affliction on those who love them too much to say “I’d rather not, dear.”
But ultimately, writers come in two types: the “pros” and the “wanna bes.”
The pros will not all automatically become household names; success requires good fortune in addition to talent and determination. The wanna-bes are not all some sort of degenerate hacks; many are simply eager hobbyists or are just starting on their path and have not yet decided to commit to the craft. But some are like the patron. They don’t “wanna-be” enough to put in the hard knocks, they just enjoy the results, and they enjoy the illusion–made possible by cheap web hosting and digital publishing–that there is no real difference between fishing and cutting bait.
But there is. And we all of us loose site of that, to our detriment.
I was never going to be an Ansel Adams.
I hauled my back issues of Popular Photography out to the burning pile a long time ago and took my life in other directions. That wasn’t where my passion and talent lay. I eventually found where it does, and all I can say is, if you are lucky enough to do the same, dive in and be a “pro.” Life is too short for mere living.