Tenacity Over Talent…


A few weeks back, my boy Jermaine Hall asked me to impart some wisdom on an up-and-coming writer. Her name is Jenny. And she sent me this very nice email.

Hi Aliya,

As you already know, I’m one of Jermaine’s friends (the harassing kind who always wants to know if he read her samples yet) and we also work for the same company. In a bid to help me, he passed me along to you.

A little background: I’m 20, a marketing major in Baruch, and the “alleged” Spring semester intern for TIME magazine. I can really care less about marketing, since it’s writing I love, but also a good idea, I think, to be practical when it comes to one’s future. Not everyone can make it as a writer and I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. However, I’d never forgive myself I didn’t try to succeed at what I am passionate about.

And so attached are two of my rough as sandpaper writing samples. The first one is from an untitled work that’s taking the most amount of my focus since I like where I’m running with it. The second sample is a sequel to my already published work, Late Night Alumni (vampire fiction – forgive me, not everyone’s a fan).

I’m not entirely sure what you can/will be able to do for me since Jermaine didn’t give me the most thorough history about you (you’re published, I know that much, and am in awe), but I think another person who has my writing, the better.

I honestly appreciate you taking the time to read them. It’s not every day I fall into someone’s good graces, so thank you in advance.

Jenny Gurvich

Okay. So did anyone else read the graf in this email that’s just all kinds of wrong? And I don’t mean in a grammatical way. Let’s revisit. She says…

I can really care less about marketing, since it’s writing I love, but also a good idea, I think, to be practical when it comes to one’s future. Not everyone can make it as a writer and I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. However, I’d never forgive myself I didn’t try to succeed at what I am passionate about.

I read Jenny’s email a few times before I even bothered to open the writing samples. I know that writing is considered a lofty goal. But she’s only 20! Still in college! If you don’t like marketing, screw it and be a writer. Not clear on what’s so hard about that. I wrote Jenny back:

Hi Jenny!
I can definitely read your stuff. I ghostwrite celebrity memoirs, write fiction and write the occasional piece for Jermaine at King. So, our beats are not similar. But no matter. A set of eyes is always valuable.  Give me a minute. If you don’t hear from me in a week, send me an email reminder…

P.S. Why are you majoring in marketing if you want to be a writer? If it’s writing you love, do it. Writing is practical. Majoring in marketing when writing is your true love is NOT practical. Just my two cents.

Jenny wrote me back, using words like “backup plan” and “inferiority complex.” She mentioned the writing industry being fickle and wanting to set up something “practical” just in case.

I’ve heard this sentiment often from aspiring writers. And it’s bullshit. What the person is really saying is that they are afraid. They are afraid they are not good enough to make it. Afraid to put themselves out there and actually try to do it.

I graduated from college with a degree in education and taught for two years before striking out on a writing career. So I know exactly what Jenny is feeling. But the truth of the matter is, a successful career in writing has more to do with tenacity than talent. Of course, you have to actually be able to string a few sentences together. I read Jenny’s stuff. She can do that. What she needs is confidence and the guts to go for broke.

Pitching editors is scary. Taking words that come out of your head, putting them down on paper and then asking other people to read them is terrifying. Every part of being a professional writer comes with a million make-or-break moments that can have you reaching for the Klonopin.

But it still pains me when a budding writer tells me she’s majoring in marketing as a backup plan for what she really wants to do. She’s 20. There is no better time to go for broke.

I told Jenny to stay in touch with me. I hope she does. I also wish I had some kind of magic vapor I could email to her. It would envelope her in a cloud of confidence. She’d march into the academic office at school at the start of Spring semester, change her major, take a bunch of writing and literature classes and then apply to the Columbia Publishing Course, where I got my start. And she’d get a job (maybe?!) at a literary journal or at an agency or a book publisher or a magazine and she’d love it and write on the side and work her ass off and get published and live happily after.

It could happen. Right, Jenny?

15 Responses to “Tenacity Over Talent…”

  1. serenakim Says:

    I love the design on this blog. Too cute. It still needs to be linked to your Facebook page though.

  2. Anita Says:

    So I’m saying, do you get a commission from Columbia for recommending people to the Columbia Publishing Course? Because I do remember that was your advice for me many moons ago. I must say, it was very interesting reading this particular entry as I was once caught up in the similar dilemma (granted this woman is not a lazy bum like me and has actually finished her manuscripts!). I hope Jenny finds what she wants. If it is writing, I hope she finds that.

  3. Portia Says:

    Li, You’re so awesome at mentoring…Jenny’s a lucky girl. If Jenny knows what’s good for her…she’ll keep in touch. Right Jenny?

  4. lucky Says:

    I love this. I really wish more people would pursue their passions, especially writers, and not let fear and money get in the way. but it’s easier said than done :/

  5. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Anita. Yes, I get a commission from Columbia: it’s a warm-and-fuzzy feeling, knowing I’ve led a budding writer in the right direction. Ahem.

  6. Aliya S. King Says:

    @lucky: i know, I know. I hope I wasn’t too hard on Jenny. Honestly, it IS hard. But what’s NOT hard? For real. It’s hard to be a doctor, too. (Right, Anita?) It’s hard to do ANYTHING you really want to do.

  7. Dionne Says:

    I was once in her boat and a marketing major, but after one too many classes in marketing I couldn’t do it anymore. And I loved writing and words in general. So there I sat in the journalism department advisor’s office and changed my major from Marketing to Print Journalism. Did I forget to mention this was my last semester of my junior year, which meant that I started off my senior year in college with a new major? It took an extra year to graduate but I’m so grateful I made that leap and since I had so many business classes under my belt, I just made it one of my minors. My advice to her, don’t let fear wrapped up in phrases like fickle, inferiority complex lead you, sometimes you have to just do it. I’m glad I did, I’m a writer who is working to improve my craft every day, and it started with having faith.

  8. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Dionne: love it. love love love it.

  9. The Heat Check « Aliya S. King Says:

    […] the brutal honesty of what’s been floating in my mind lately. Meanwhile, I’m telling Jenny to kick butt and take names and damn that marketing major! And I’m counseling young people who […]

  10. Rosanne Says:

    I love the blog on pics online! My daughter put a pic of me Christmas morning, no makeup, rings under the eyes (you get it?) and I was pissed! She said it looked fine but ME – oh God, to have the world see you when you first get up without makeup, etc??? That is just CRUEL!!! Anyhoo, loved it!

  11. Aliya S. King Says:

    @Rosanne: i feel your pain!! It’s not right, I tell ya. It’s just not right!

  12. Jenna Marie Christian Says:

    Aliya, then you are going to be really mad at me because I am a psychology Major and Work in the Finance field. I don’t like Finance at all

  13. Aliya S. King Says:

    Grrrrrrrrr. Yes. I am mad at you.

  14. Jenna Marie Christian Says:

    lol…i know…i know… I can’t even use any excuses. Get me on track!

  15. Aliya S. King Says:


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