This was, perhaps, the best piece of advice I have ever received.
It was 1995. I was working a short contract for a software development company in Cambridge, when I learned that the colleague sitting beside me was a published author.
Just prior to moving down to Cambridge, I had completed the script for a screenplay that I thought was pretty good. After a few weeks building up a relationship with him, I decided to seek an honest review from the companion at my side.
His review was stinging. He thought my script was utter drivel. He was right. It was dreadful, infantile, an abomination. “Don’t give up the day job,” he laughed, and that was that. I deposited my script in my box of misadventures.
This tale was supposed to be the beginning of an inspiring exaltation to two children inclined to giving up before they have even started, but they just rolled their eyes at me and walked away. Oh well.
I was going to tell them that this scathing review was the starting point in my lifelong mission to become a better writer. I was going to tell them of the novel that followed, hammered out mostly at night once my contract in Cambridge ceased. That too was astoundingly bad.
I submitted it to publishers and earned my first round of rejection letters. I then went to university, where a number of fellow students reviewed it, reminding me that I really was no author at all. The following summer I tried again, editing yet another adaption.
What I was trying to tell my children was that you have to persevere in anything worth doing until you are actually good at it. Most people, the odd genius excepted, start off really, really bad, and gradually over time get better and better.
Certainly, over twenty-five years, I have become a better writer. I continue to write for pleasure, in my ever-decreasing spare time. I think of myself as an amateur writer, akin to the stars of the amateur dramatics scene.
I confess that I still yearn to be a published author, but as my burgeoning pile of unfinished manuscripts testify, that will probably have to wait until I am old and grey, or better still after I am dead and buried. I have self-published, briefly, a couple of times, but yet more stinging reviews have always forced me to withdraw. I am still a writing apprentice, still honing his art.
I have a ninety-percent complete novel sitting on my computer right now, but I have not touched it in eighteen months. It does not matter. It may ultimately end up in the bin. Still, it does not matter.
Anything worth doing takes dedication and a high degree of determination. For my part, I am glad of those rejection letters at eighteen and for the stinging reviews over the years that followed. I was not ready then, and perhaps I am not ready now.
But one day, I hope, I will write something that I can be really proud of. Something that will allow me to say that the decades trying were all worth it. And I hope my children too, when they have grown out of rolling their eyes at their parents, will come to that realisation too.
Whatever your dream… invest in it and patiently persevere.