Role of Talent
I vacationed with a group of friends, one of whom took tennis lessons from the resort pro. Although a complete novice, she stepped into the moves as if she had been doing them her whole life. This was athletic talent on show.
I think it is sometimes assumed that writers have or need to have the same level of talent to write.
I would be the last to deny that talent at anything allows you to learn faster and sometimes better than others. It might even give you an edge on how easily your imagination transforms into something magic on the page.
But talent is not enough over the longer term.
The role of skill
If my tennis friend had turned pro, she’d need to learn the moves and strategies more likely to promote winning; she would have to practice obsessively. What she ate and how much she slept would no longer be only her business. In short, she’d have to acquire the skills of a professional tennis player.
Similarly, with writing, there is a huge body of craft that needs mastering. It is essential to learn how to move easily around the page, employing the techniques that help create the continuous dream for your readers. Without control of your craft, you won’t be able to produce the kinds of effects which best serve your story.
Even more is needed
Unfortunately, as with all things worth doing, there’s more. Here are a few.
This is tough for writers because they seem to discourage so easily. Ten positive statements are outweighed by a single negative. Even if you know your friends have not a literary bone among them, it still hurts if they aren’t encouraging. It can be hard to keep the faith.
But it is important to remember a line whose author I forget but whose wisdom I constantly rely on:
Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
Making the time to write is a bugaboo for all writers. But serious writers, like serious tennis players, set up their lives to have the time. They forego some pleasures to leave space for the greater joy of writing. They constantly work at being in control of their craft. And write and write and write.
Profit from feedback
Not everything will spring from your imagination, whole cloth and perfect. In fact, the earlier on in the journey you are, the more the feedback is likely to be instructive rather than rhapsodic.
This is hard to bear. But you cut yourself from ever improving if you don’t listen to criticism without automatically assuming any negative comment confirms your lack of talent. Cultivating an inquiring rather than a defensive stance is more productive. I have spent several posts on working well with feedback because I think it is critical.
The farther you advance in the field, the more you will find that those whose self-belief has faltered, who never made the time, or whose defensiveness prevented improvement have fallen away. Who is left? Those who have persevered, worked hard, and were open to criticism. You need to be among them.
But what if I really don’t have any talent?
News—there is no fairy godmother who taps some of us on the head with the blessing of writing talent. Like all artistic endeavors, you’ve got to put the work in before you know whether you’re successful. Work hard, keep learning, welcome feedback, and write, write, write.