When I was little, I thought a lot about the talent argument; about whether or not it really, really mattered. I’m not what you call a genius – nope, you don’t want to see me grocery shopping. That said, I grasped things faster than some – at school, my grades were good, I was pleasantly athletic, remembered details better and could study less than some classmates with better results. At the same time, I was never the #1 student, the best at any sport or the most effective at studying (pfffftttt! Don’t get me started!). Still, I admit people mostly saw me as ‘smart’. I used to think the talent goddess had shined quite nicely on me.
At those introduce yourself group activities, they tend to ask about something you’re good at – a talent. I usually say that I can juggle just to make myself look a tad less geeky. Then when people ask me how I do it, I tell them “I had no life as a kid and spent a lot of hours chucking hacky sacks at my face.” Seriously, how many hours did I spend trying to keep two balls in the air with one hand? How many days did I kill trying to do three with two hands? It was a lot of hard work, you know!
Oh wait, then I guess that’s not a pure talent that I was born with… writing then? I’m pretty good at writing! Well, not brilliant but it’s my greatest hobby and I’ve been writing since I was just a wee little-
Hang on. I wasn’t born a good writer either (evidence). Does such a thing exist in the first place? I clearly remember writing tragically bad not so long ago, and hey, I actually had the most fun then! I loved tripping over my own amateur feet and climbing back up standing a little taller than I had before. It was a lot of hard work. And you know what? I don’t think – actually, I know – that I’m not the only one who had to put in the effort.
We’ve all heard it before: talent is useless if you don’t use or practice it. I agree! But what is talent anyway? In the same vein, what’s ‘writing’? What’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? You may have an easier time with a task than some others – is that talent, experience, luck or just individual differences? My boyfriend is terrible with theory but he can reverse park a bulky 4WD into a tight spot with one sweeping movement – and one hand.
But then there are some geniuses out there. Plenty, actually! Geniuses at the big things; the scientists, the artists, the inventors. Then there are geniuses at small things; haggling for a good price, coffee art, juggling. There was a guy on TV years ago who could sculpt an elephant out of chewing gum in his mouth without looking.
Is it talent? Sometimes! But not always. Why am I being such a rookie philosopher about an age old topic?
Because writing is often such a personal and solitary experience, it’s hard to imagine how the successful authors did it. This insecurity is everywhere. Of course, we know they had their share of hard times. Many well-known authors were penniless – some say they still are. So I’m not trying to say anything new. We know this stuff. But it doesn’t hurt to remember it, over and over again:
The authors we look up to are normal people, just like us. Writers. They’ve just been where many of us want to be, that’s all. And is it talent?
Sometimes – but not always :)
Have a look at this nice post by Emily Temple at Flavorwire of Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. It was actually the whole reason behind this post but I got sidetracked as I always do (sorry you had to dig through so much babble to find the good stuff, haha). See JK Rowling’s outline? What about Joseph Heller’s for Catch-22? Lots of work involved – that said, the outline is a metaphor for effort here. I’m aware that pantsers work just as hard with great accomplishments!
Good results don’t just fall from the sky – you have to climb up and fetch them yourselves. Some people are born closer to the clouds than others. But if you build your ladder carefully, with good foundations, you can be right up beside them just the same.
So keep writing! Keep chasing those dreams step by step, and remember to love what you do!