Last week, after making the foolhardy decision to open my mouth and share some advice about writing and publishing, I wrote this post about The Danger of Knowing Everything. While my intent is never to discourage, I want these posts to match my personality and my mindset. I’ve always been an optimistic realist. I have a can-do attitude and more tenacity than I probably need, but I’m a realistic person too. So if anything I say disheartens you, please know that my intent isn’t to inflict any sort of psychological damage on you. But there are many ways to lead folks astray, and blithely telling everyone on the planet that they (incorrect grammar used on purpose) should try to be published authors and money-making writers is just as irresponsible as discouraging them.
Having said all that, let’s examine a passage from Ratatouille. This flick is one of my very favorites, and it contains all sorts of wisdom. There’s a great exchange between Remy the Rat and Chef Gusteau that goes like this:
Gusteau: What do I always say? Anyone can cook!
Remy: Well, yeah, anyone can. That doesn’t mean that anyone should.
What should we take from this? Frankly, I think both parties are correct. What Remy’s saying is true—not everyone belongs in a five-star kitchen preparing food for others. But Chef Gusteau’s attitude is the more useful one, at least for the aspiring chef—anyone can cook. If the folks in Ratatouille didn’t end up buying into this idea, the movie wouldn’t have ended as beautifully as it did. The transformed critic Anton Ego later says, “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
To which you probably shrug your shoulders, frown, and say, “Okay. How does that help me?”
My answer? Maybe it doesn’t help you…but then again it might.
Let me tell you some things I know…
1. I know that no one can write like you.
2. I know that no one has lived your exact life.
3. I know that writing is a beautiful thing even if no one ever sees what you write. It can enrich you and help you become happier. It can also lead you to feel miserable and crabby. It all depends on how you approach it.
4. I know that taking a shot at a dream is never harmful as long as you do so with your eyes wide open and you don’t hurt others in the process.
5. I know that you miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take. Being paralyzed by fear is no way to live.
6. I know that you might fail to be published, and the odds are very likely that you’ll fail to make money with your writing. But someone has to be published, right? Someone has to make money at it. And it’s possible that you’ll do one or both of those things.
7. I know that if you know these truths going in, you’ll enjoy the process of writing and getting better at writing, which is indeed a reward. That probably sounds cheesy to you, but I find the cheesy ideas are often the truest. So get over it and stop acting like a thirteen-year-old kid who’s too embarrassed to sit in the front seat next to his mom for fear his friends won’t think he’s cool. I have no time to worry about being cool. I’m thoroughly uncool and I couldn’t be happier.
8. I know that if you approach writing with an open mind, a healthy dose of humility, a stalwart work ethic, and an unshakeable belief in your ability to improve, you will improve. How much you improve is partially dependent on what is already in you, but it also correlates directly to what you do.
9. I know that you should never bet against yourself.
10. I know that others might want you to fail, but truthfully, they don’t matter. They can’t stop you if you want to improve. Again, you might never rise to the level that you dream of rising to in your secret heart, but you will certainly rise higher if you focus on what you want and replace negative energy with positive energy.
11. I know that determination isn’t the only thing that matters, but it is the thing that matters most.
And those are the things I take from Ratatouille. You have to know you might not get everything you want out of writing. But with the right attitude, you will get something out of writing. And you might become the next Remy. How will you know if you don’t try?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to work on my latest novel.