The word talent has always put me off. It grates a little because when people say someone is talented at something, whether that something is writing, painting, singing or playing tiddlywinks, it sounds to me like they’re implying that the person was born with some innate genetic or God-given ability that the average schmuck doesn’t have. Well, as an average schmuck who’s working toward becoming a good fiction writer, I say pththththththt to that!
I don’t believe it takes talent to become a good writer (or tiddlywinkist). I believe it takes passion, hard work and courage (and perhaps, strong thumbs).
If I didn’t love books and really, really want to become good at writing them—want it badly enough to put in years learning and practicing in order to improve—then the odds of me sticking with it long enough to become consistently good would be down right anorexic.
Though writing and working on a novel is a lot of fun, with plenty of high moments that keep me addicted and coming back for more, there are a lot of lows. The times when the plot crumbles in the middle and bad faith days when I think that everything I’ve ever written sounds like pretentious garbage. Without passion pushing me through those struggles—and I think everyone who tries to write seriously faces struggles—I’d give up long before I learned enough to become any good.
Hard Work (and lots of it):
I think all good writers learn to become good writers, and learning anything is hard work. Not everybody learns by studying books on writing and taking classes and seminars. Some people learn subliminally by reading lots, and lots of books, both good and bad, and picking up little bits here and there over the years. I’m sure that, as an avid reader, I’ve done some of that subliminal learning. But in general, more directed study—as opposed to mental osmosis—works better for me. I need to consciously focus, analyze, study and practice in order to improve at anything (even tiddlywinks).
It is difficult and painful to look at my work honestly and face the flaws. But I want to learn and grow as a writer, and to do that I have to improve my writing in the areas where my work still sputters and fizzles. I can’t fix a problem that I don’t know exists or one that I refuse to acknowledge.
Facing their own writing flaws may not take much courage for other people, but I have fought against an unhealthy fear of failure most of my life. Just putting words down on paper, let alone giving them to someone else to read, can be really scary. OMG, what if they are stupid words? What if my story premise, my plot, my writing—everything—just plain stinks? Will the skies fall, the seas boil, and that extinction inducing asteroid smack into the planet? Probably not. But knowing that doesn’t make the anxiety go away. Neither does telling myself to just get over it, that no one will care, or that it simply doesn’t matter.
Of course it matters! It matters because I want to write good books, not mediocre ones that no one will ever publish or read. If it didn’t matter to me I’d never put in the effort to get any better. (Which is exactly why I’ll never be a world class tiddlywinkist.)
The good news is that the more I learn, the more I practice and put my work out there, the more confident I become, and the easier it is to deal with my fears.
I am not a talented writer, and that doesn’t bother me one bit because it doesn’t mean I can’t become a really good one. I have everything it takes: the passion to push through, the work ethic to keep at it, and the courage to be honest with myself so that I can learn and grow.
That’s all anybody really needs. That, and knowing that you write better than you play tiddlywinks.