Monday, February 2, 2009

What It Takes

A while back I mentioned that one of the biggest misconceptions I've since had corrected is that writing is all about talent.

Well, it's not. Not even close.

That's right, you heard me. There's actually a lot more that goes into successful writing than talent alone. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that talent means absolute squat if you're thinking of making it in this business.

But listen to me rattle! As if I'm an expert or anything. :)

No, sadly I have a TON to learn still. But it's funny how much my perception of the trade has already changed (for the better!) since I began taking things seriously two years ago. I was just thinking about it today while working out. Here's what I've learned:

A writer with virtually NO imagination but buckets of determination and work ethic will still make it in this field. He might have written only one or two real novels, and have almost no readership, but he's published. He got to where he was by sheer determination despite his shortcomings.

Then there is the writer with gobs of natural-born creativity--and who knows it to boot!--but is too lazy to put in the hours, months, YEARS it takes to really get noticed. To him, he feels his god-given talent is obvious for all to see, and that publishers should be beating down his door to sign him to a multi-book, multi-MILLION dollar contract. This type of writer is the writer that never publishes anything. His precious ego gets crushed the first time he turns in a failed manuscript due to shoddy mechanics, or gets reamed-in by his crit group. This is the guy who decides after just a few years that the world is simply not ready to receive his brilliance, and mopes around the Starbucks hoping the chick behind the counter will have pity on his sob story and sleep with him.

Point is, talent means zero. Or, rather, very little. All of the professional writers who's life stories I've read have all mentioned one thing in common: and that is that it took real suffering and slaving away at the keyboard for YEARS before they were even slightly competent enough to be taken seriously by editors. These people are the stubborn bastards of their gene pools -- they refuse to listen to good reason when that reason is telling them to pack it up and leave the game to more talented folks. These are the people who willingly descend into madness, locking themselves up in their basements and refusing sunlight or the succor of family and friends. These are the people who bleed their frustrations, hopes, tears, and joys onto the very pages they type. All for maybe some day attaining that dream.

The talented slob is a nobody. The determined hack is king compared to this fool.

Now, I'm not trying to say I fit into either of these archetypes. *grins* In this one endeavor, I happily steer towards the middle. Halfway between burning talent and mediocre tenacity, I aim to be neither one nor the other, but maybe just a little of both. :)

And yes: I'd rather be called a hack and have published a few books, than to be called potentially brilliant but a wasted talent who never took off.

Not that I've been called either. Not yet, anyway. But I'm just saying . . .


  1. Have to say I disagree - I think it takes determination and talent ;-)

  2. Well, that's what I was hinting at. I don't think either type is desireable. I'm just saying that even a talentless hack can get somewhere in this business if he has a tireless work ethic and professional demeanor. There's a LOT such writers out there in the field, who are not particularly brilliant or even close, but who churn out book after book regardless.

    I'd rather not be that writer, but those people *do* exist.

    To me, hard work and discipline is far more important to a developing writer than talent is. Talent is easy; discipline is HARD! :)

    To me, a successful writer is 20% talent and 80% blood, sweat and tears.

    But we can agree to disagree. (haha)

  3. Interesting. Steven Barnes pretty much says the same EXACT thing on his blog!

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