Jan 11, 2008

Writing Oil

By Rebecca Talley

As a youth I remember being baffled by the story of the Ten Virgins. I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just share their oil. I thought they were being a bit selfish and trying to prove a point about being prepared at the expense of the others.

As I grew in age and in the gospel, I realized the significance of that story. The oil was symbolic for preparation. The five virgins who had the “oil” had actually spent time preparing and were ready for the bridegroom, while the other five simply weren’t prepared. Individual preparation cannot be bestowed on someone else. The knowledge and experience that I gain in this life cannot be handed to someone else nor can I expect to ride the coattails of others who have put forth more effort than I have.

So it is with writing. Many beginning writers want to see publication immediately without putting forth the time and effort it takes to write well enough for publication. I was guilty of this myself. I figured that all I needed was a desire to write and publishers would flock to me. Wrong!

I soon realized that doing well in English class in high school did not qualify me as a writer. I had to not only learn how to write effectively, but I also had to gain knowledge about the publication process. No one could bonk me on the head with a “knowledge stick” and suddenly give me all that information. I had to learn it on my own by trial and error, by my own experience. No amount of desire on my part could substitute for the good old fashioned “school of hard knocks.”

I wrote stories and submitted them. I collected rejection slip after rejection slip. I started taking correspondence courses and even enrolled in a creative writing class at a local college. I read books on writing and underlined the passages that stood out to me. I then practiced what I’d studied. Once the internet took off, I found online communities and email lists that all helped me to gain knowledge. I joined a critique group and I continued to write as much as I could. Every rejection slip has made me re-evaluate the piece and see what I could improve. It’s also made me study the market more effectively and try to understand how to match my writing more specifically with the market.

The parable of the Ten Virgins now makes even more sense to me. Just as they could not share their “oil,” more experienced writers could not “give” me what they had learned themselves about writing. I needed to do that on my own. I still have more to learn, probably more than I’ll ever be able to, but the time I’ve spent collecting my writing oil has helped me to be more successful with my submissions and, hopefully, will continue to help me as I navigate these wild and crazy publishing waters.


  1. Nice thoughts. Is this a way of burning the midnight oil? : ) I (along with three talented singers) perform my Women Who Knew program. When I ordered an oil lamp replica, I was surprised and disappointed, thinking it was a miniature rather than full size. Later I learned it was actual size, and that's when I realized why the women could not share their oil--the lamps are too small to share any oil.

  2. Nice little analogy, and a twist on the parable that I never thought of. If I may, I'll use this next time I have the thought in ANWA meeting.

  3. Sure, use it all you want--that's a great compliment--thank you.

    Thanks for your comments.

  4. I remember President Kimball saying when we attend a meeting we should, a drop of oil is added to our lamp. When we could and don't, a drop leaks out. Being a 50-percenter leaves our lamps dry -- in that area. Perhaps we have many lamps. I've discovered if I mess up a room as fast or faster than I clean, I live in clutter. If I procrastinate I don't get as much done, but on the other hand some things I have worked hours on were not needed after all. And I am usually doing SOMETHING while I procrastinate.

    I wonder if Solomon had these problems?

    And should I post this comment now, or procrastinate until I'm not this sleepy?

  5. I love this analogy. Now I won't get quite as frustrated (maybe) that I can't achieve what others seem to have done so effortlessly. Thank you for your insightful post.
    Margaret L. Turley

  6. Beautiful analogy, Rebecca! I experienced similar questions growing up. I love the way you expressed the answers you found. Thank you for the inspiration!


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