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.