"Quite honestly, you don't have what it takes."
"You're not very good."
"God invented you for practice, and then he made the amoeba."
Welcome to the world of writing.
"It's one of the toughest professions in the world because of the constant rejection, including 40 or 50 years after you've been a professional," said William F. Nolan.
Mr. Nolan should know. He's the author of Logan's Run and has sold about 2,000 pieces of writing in his career, including screenplays, biographies and short stories. He's in his late 60s, and he still gets rejected.
Mr. Nolan will talk about handling the repeated rebukes, among other things, when he and seven other publishing professionals come to the Sandhills Writers Conference May 8-10 at Augusta State University. Other participants include Gloria Naylor, author of Women of Brewster Place, and literary agent Jane Dystel.
For people who paid the full registration fee, the big draw of Sandhills is the chance to have their work evaluated by a pro. They send in their works in advance, and the writers come armed with criticisms.
You can still register for the workshops and readings, but it's too late to submit manuscripts.
Mr. Nolan has sorted through 31 Sandhills manuscripts. He has seen some real talent, and some people who should probably give up their dreams of making a living as a writer.
He'll let the less talented people down gently, he said, but he'll definitely let them down.
"The cruelest thing you can do with an aspiring writer is to declare there is talent where there is none," he said.
It's cruel because the most difficult part of writing may not be the rejection, but the amount of time you have to put in before you find out if you're getting anywhere.
When speaking to aspiring writers, Mr. Nolan often announces that he is about to share the secret of becoming a success. People always get quiet and lean forward, and he slaps them with the unglamorous truth.
"You just lower yourself into a chair and hover over the keys and work every day for 10 years," Mr. Nolan said. "If you have it, something will happen. If you don't, nothing will happen."
Mr. Nolan sold his first work at 26, but he said he had been writing seriously for 15 years before that. He had churned out an entire novel at 16.
Most professional writers he knows start at an early age. The people who succeed are usually the ones who write all the time, out of compulsion, rather than the weekend writers who drag themselves to the keyboard. As a 12-year-old, Ray Bradbury wrote sequels to Buck Rogers books on a toy typewriter, he said.
Mr. Nolan said the people he tells to quit writing should take his counsel as the opinion of an experienced professional, but not as gospel.
"If they want to say the heck with me, and I'll show you, that's just the spirit we need," he said.
He will tell the talented writers that they need to write something that functions as a "calling card," the way Logan's Run does for him. When he became "William Nolan, the guy who wrote Logan's Run," it made selling new works easier.
When it was suggested to Mr. Nolan that some Sandhills participants would likely be happy just to get published, and were not at the point of creating a "calling card" piece of work, he replied that Logan's Run was his first novel.
"If you have the talent and the inner vision, you can get there," he said. "You can create these things."
What: Sandhills Writers' Conference
When: May 8-10
Where: Augusta State University
How much: $110 for whole conference; $55 per day Thursday or Friday, $25 Saturday.
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