Sunday, September 23, 2012

Talent Has Nothing To Do With It!

Every author I know has had this experience. You do a signing, a talk, or some other event, and a person comes up and says that they would love to write if only they had the talent. Every time it happens there is a little voice in the back of our minds that wants to cry out, “Talent has nothing to do with it! Whatever writing skill I have is the result of years and years of hard work.”
The ability to write doesn't go to some luck of birth. Yes, we are born with more native skills in some areas than in others. Just as with athletes, good writers need certain body parts to function well. In the case of writers, it is our brains that must have at least several neurons firing in the correct order.
But in general, natural talent has nothing to do with how well we write. The difference between a good writer and a not-so-good writer is almost always a matter of how much the writer has practiced.
There are amazingly few writers who were able to write well at a very young age. (Truman Capote comes to mind.) 
The vast majority of good writers got good at it only because they ran a lot of words through the old Underwood. I was a lousy writer in the beginning. But my practice produced four completed novels that lie in a drawer and a half-dozen more novels that made it to the quarter point, the halfway point, and even further. I had practiced for twenty years before my “first” novel (the fifth I'd written) got a great review in Kirkus Reviews, a nice mention in Publishers Weekly, won Best Thriller of the Year award from the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association, and made the Cincinnati Library's Best New Fiction list.
If any person who wished they had the talent to write practiced enough that he or she also had an equivalent amount of writing in storage, you can expect that they would develop some writing skills as well.
I often tell people that learning to write is like learning to be a figure skater or a juggler on a unicycle. You can study it at length, take a multitude of classes, watch videos about it, join a support group, drink coffee with other wannabes and discuss the process forever. But none of that will teach you how to do it. To become professionals, most of us have to practice an enormous amount. The writer Malcom Gladwell has written about the ten thousand hours of practice necessary to get to a professional level of ability in any skill.
You have to go out on the ice or climb onto that unicycle and work at the process over and over. You have to fall on your butt a thousand times. Five thousand times.
 Hemingway =
 Kyle Petersen =

There is the old joke about the neurosurgeon who comes up to a writer at a book signing. The surgeon says, “You know, when I retire, I think I'll write a novel.” The writer says, “Really? When I retire, I think I'll try brain surgery.”
You don't expect to become a skillful neurosurgeon without an enormous amount of practice. You aren't born with a talent for brain surgery. You have to learn the skill.
Same with writing.

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