Monday Motivation: There’s a special kind of hell reserved for these

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

I have a list of words that I know but have never used, certainly, never written. One of them is “threnody” – which means, as I understand it, a poem or a song of lamentation – especially for the dead. A synonym might be “dirge” – but I prefer the musicality of threnody.

If I could write songs, I would dedicate a threnody to the memory of all those might-have-been writers who were deterred early in their lives from writing, usually by teachers or “experts” who rather fancied themselves and their own skills in the field.

I was talking recently to someone who had developed, as a child, a profound delight in words, and in composition. She’d gone through school writing enthusiastically, composing poems and essays, and trying her hand at short stories.  She had no interest at this stage in anything but the writing: the possibility of having anything of hers published had not even occurred to her.

But then she left school and decided to submit one of her stories to a writing guru that she’d long admired from afar, a published author and, more importantly, a pontificator on all things literary.

He wrote back in his own good time – she knew he was a busy man, so she didn’t mind – and told her that while he thought there were some “felicities” in her writing, he didn’t believe she possessed the sort of talent that would merit publication – and she should put out of her mind any thought she might have had of earning her living from it.

Yours sincerely, etc.

And so, for the next twenty five years, my interlocutor didn’t write a creative word. What, after all, was the point? She’d been told by an authority that she had no talent.

This is not the only story of its kind I’ve heard. How many teachers have told children in their care that they don’t have what it takes to write anything of value?

So I’ve often wondered how many people there are out there in whom there might once have flickered a love of writing which was then carelessly extinguished either by an explicit judgement of the sort I’ve described, or by some thoughtless dismissal by a teacher or a parent?

Hence my impulse to compose a threnody to lament the death of a writing dream. Perhaps, though, a more appropriate response would be to compose a hellfire and brimstone sermon denouncing anyone who ever told a young person that they lacked talent.

Happy writing,


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