I dreamed of being a singer

When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a famous singer. I used to watch MTV and fantasize that it was me starring in those music videos. I’d watch live concerts and imagine singing in front of those huge crowds.

Then it happened. Reality struck in the voice of my mother saying, “Dayle, you can’t sing.”

“Yes, I can! I sound just like they do!”

“No Dayle, you don’t. The way you sound in your head is not how you sound to other people.”

“Ya huh!” Well, I was 8-years-old – my arguing skills were not all that well-developed.

“Dayle, go record yourself and play it back.”

And so I did. And when I came back to my mom I said, “Do I really sound like that?”

My mom just nodded. And there ended my singing career before it ever began.

Some people might think my mom was cruel. I don’t. She was honest with me. It’s not that I could have gotten better with practice. I’m tone deaf. Really. I did try again a couple of years later. I joined the choir in 5th grade. Everyone was allowed to join in elementary school. The next year in middle school, they very kindly asked me to leave the choir. Yeah, I was that bad!

When I was 15, I handed my mom a typed poem. She read it and said, “Where did you get this from?”

“I wrote it,” I said.

I’ll never forget the look in her eyes. Later she showed the poem to my step-father. He said, “What book is this from?”

My mom smiled, proudly and said, “Dayle wrote it.”

I had been writing for seven years (since about the same time my singing career ended), but it was at that moment that I knew I was meant to be a writer. I knew I had talent. And the reason I knew was that my mom had never given me false hope. I knew that her praise was worth a fortune!

I watch shows like American Idol. I see the people audition who have no right auditioning. And I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for them because nobody bothered to tell them that they’re not good, and they’re left to embarrass themselves in front of millions of people. In fact, I’ve seen many with family members encouraging them to keep going. Why would you do that to someone you love? Encourage them to find and pursue their true talents instead.

About a week ago, I wrote I can’t build a house – about how not everyone can write and how I really wish everyone would stop telling me that they can. I wanted to follow up with this – how do you tell someone he is a bad writer?

My boyfriend made a good point. He said that since everyone learns how to write in school, everyone thinks they can write well. I suppose it’s a bit easier to tell someone she’s a bad singer.

There is a difference between someone who is not a great writer and someone who is a bad writer – just as there is a difference between someone who is not a great singer and someone who is tone-deaf (like me). Please let me explain what I consider a “bad writer.”

I’m not referring to those whose writing I just don’t like. There are different styles and while I may not enjoy them all, I can appreciate them – just as I can appreciate talented vocal artists even when I don’t like their music.

I’m not referring to people who end sentences with prepositions or start sentences with “and.” I’m not referring to those with occasional typos or mixed up homophones. I’m not even referring to those who neglect capitals and punctuation. The mechanics can be learned. The talent cannot.

I am referring to those who cannot string together a coherent thought. I am referring to those whose writing is the equivalent of word vomit – or me trying to sing. I’m referring to those whose writing makes your eyes bug out of your head, your jaw drop open and your tongue roll out of your mouth like an old Tex Avery cartoon.

If the person is a friend of mine, someone I know well – someone who knows me well, I would tell that person the truth. I have a little more trouble being directly honest with people I don’t know. I’ve mentioned before that I have these conflicting desires to be nice to everyone and to be brutally honest.

How do you feel about telling people they are not good at something, especially when that person fully believes she has that talent? Would you be nice and encourage them to keep trying? Or would be brutally honest and tell them to give it up? Does it make a difference if it is someone you know well or don’t know at all?

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Like you, I can’t sing. Although it’s not as bad as I thought it was; according to hubby I am not actually tone deaf. I took piano lessons for seven years and guitar lessons for two. It finally hit me that *some* people are meant to appreciate, some to create. As far as music is concerned, I’m meant to appreciate. I’m ok with that. I have a friend who thought she was a writer for the longest time. Finally, after about 20 or so rejection slips, she gave up. She may still think of herself as a writer, but she hasn’t said anything to me about it. I had my chance once when she sent me pages to read, asking for my input. She expected me to overflow with praise. I didn’t, but nor did I say what I should have. Her writing was horrible. Dry, uninteresting, wooden, predictable…I could go on. I should have said something, I really should have. I regret that to this day. Either she would have given up and been spared the rejection, or she would have worked at it and perfected her style before submitting her work.

    There is no shame in being an avid reader. Avid readers *do not* need to be writers! We *need* avid readers to support the writers who really have talent! Avid readers are FANTASTIC! Rock stars need fans watching their shows, and writers need readers.

    I still wish I’d told my friend the truth, though…*sigh*


    • In my writing classes in high school (I went to art school and majored in Creative Writing) we had to critique our peers. We tended to be brutally honest with each other because that’s the only way to get better. We were also quick with the praise when it was deserved – and it was deserved often! I think that’s what has made it easier for me to be truthful with friends. With strangers, my social anxiety and need to be a people-pleaser come into effect!

      “There is no shame in being an avid reader. Avid readers *do not* need to be writers! We *need* avid readers to support the writers who really have talent! Avid readers are FANTASTIC! Rock stars need fans watching their shows, and writers need readers.”

      YES! YES! YES!!!


  2. Posted by Tammy W. on July 10, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Loved this! So similar to my own experience, re: my singing & writing, both. Personally, I tell people the truth, perhaps to a fault. Not a popular way to go through life, but I hope at least my kids will thank me someday! 🙂


    • I think that’s fabulous, Tammy! I am brutally honest with friends, but I struggle with people I don’t know well!

      When it comes to kids, I think parents often fall into that trap of “You can be anything you want to be!” . . . While I do think that is true, for the most part, I also think it’s important to teach our kids to build on their strengths. I am beyond grateful that my mom told me that I couldn’t sing. Maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, but she saved me a whole lot of embarrassment later on!


  3. I would rather be told the truth than lied to…..I sincerely hope people don’t lie to me all the time. 😦
    Now I’m getting a complex! LOL
    There are tons of posts I do on here where I think that I did a horrible job and then there are some I think I did good with….I would hope other bloggers would be honest with me…..:(


    • Ok, I already emailed you, but I’ll say it again . . . You are fabulous! . . . And I now count you amongst my friends, so I would totally be brutally honest with you!


      • Thanks..PLEASE do be honest with me! I love to read AND write but if my writing is not good enough, I would prefer to be told rather than wasting my time pursuing it as much as I do! 🙂


      • I LOVE your blogs and I think you are a wonderful writer 🙂 You should definitely continue your pursuits!


  4. Hi Dayle! I popped over to check out your blog and I love, love, love this post! First let me say I don’t sing well either..not even in the shower…and secondly, amen to your point on giving false hope. We try so hard to be honest with our kids and their interests without squashing their spirits. Right now they are still young and we still have control so it’s kind of easy. The day will come I’m sure when they may need to hear the truth….I hope we will be up to the challenge!! I know I prefer when others are honest with me….even if at times it stings. So glad I stopped by…I enjoy your writing.


    • Thank you so much, Lisa!

      I prefer when people are honest with me too . . . That’s what I like about kids. Kids will always tell you like it is!

      I think the key to being honest with our kids without squashing their spirits is to reinforce what their talents are. If you have to tell your 8-year-old that she can’t sing, tell her that she’s great at soccer or artwork or that she’s a great friend . . . everyone has a talent . . . We need to help our kids build on theirs! 🙂


  5. Great post Dayle and oh so true. Loved it!


  6. […] the time I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a famous singer when I grew up. That dream was crushed by the silly little fact that I can’t carry a tune in a […]


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