That’s right, I said it. And I’ll continue to say it. Any time someone has told me I have a talent for anything, from sketching to beading to writing to coding, I’ve been the first one to dismiss the claim, even if I only smiled and nodded to be polite.
I’m not going to get into all of my previous hobbies, because that would take forever, and this is a writing blog first and foremost. But there have been times in my life where I worked and struggled with something for years, and the second that the fruits started to present themselves, I was lauded with comments about my natural abilities, and how few people could do what I do. I was never really comfortable with that kind of talk, not because I was shy, but because I could see people around me building walls between themselves and their dreams, right before my eyes.
It’s easy to look at someone successful and assume that they have some kind of quality or inspiration they were born with. The idea that “if only I had that talent” becomes a self-inflicted barrier on someone’s creative process. It’s an excuse not to work at something because you believe that you will never be good enough.
Wow! This Sucks!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing or drawing something in my spare time. Occasionally, the two crafts complimented one another, but I never really took myself seriously as a writer, or an artist. By far my worst classes in school were the ones centered around reading and writing, a point I love making when new or young authors ask if I went to school for writing. When I see someone’s writing, professional or otherwise, criticized by someone else who obviously has some kind of advanced degree in the literary arts, I’ll often look them up to see how their book sales are doing. Most of the time when I do this, I have a little chuckle.
People spend so much of their time dedicated to the idea that writing in your native language takes some kind of special skill amuse me. You speak in this language every day. Look up some punctuation advice and start writing. As I’ve noted before, the day I decided to try my pen at a novel was the morning after I read a couple of typo-riddled, horrible unenergized pages from a professionally published author. I’m not talking about some tiny publishing house here, I mean one of the big ones. As I was falling asleep that night, one thought kept running through my mind: If he can get away with it…
Then I started writing. And even though nobody agreed with me at the time (of the few people I shared TSOV with) my writing was tragic. I mean, there I was. I put about 50 days into writing that first draft, scribbling new words every day, reading all the writing advice I could get my hands on, working toward making my words and story better, and then I went back to the beginning for the first editing round. Trash!
“Wow,” I thought. “Does this suck!?!”
I spent another year working with that damn book before I would show it to anybody, then another year off-and-on fixing it, then another wondering why I couldn’t come up with a pitch for it. Nobody would even look at it, and the advice on my query letter from the squirrels was, “maybe you don’t have a story.”
Let that sink in for a minute. I was working 13+ hour days at the time, using nearly every spare minute to write things, making up for my lack of formal writing education, and in the end I agreed with them. I didn’t have a story at all! I had a stack of paper consisting of thirty or forty sketchy chapters telling bits of story, and even after hundreds (possibly thousands) of hours editing it, the writing was still bad. I gave up. I quit. I took a couple years off of writing, and when I came back, it was with a new set of eyes, and a lot of experience.
Keep At It
I wrote three novels in a year, novels that still aren’t finished. I was still learning and growing with every word, and I still am to this day. Writing isn’t something you are gifted with. Hell, it isn’t even something that you can ever hope to master. All you can do is keep improving. If you work hard at it, eventually someone with money is going to decide that they like your words, and they’re going to buy them. Well, almost. You have to pitch your ideas and let people read your stuff sometimes too.
Naturally, on the rare occasion when someone tells me how talented I am (or more often assumes that I’m talented because I landed a publisher and a freelance gig), I have no choice but to deny it. The only way you improve as a writer is to keep doing it. Don’t ever give up. Ignore the people that say you aren’t good at it, learn from people who are trying to help, and hold on to those that enjoy your words. You won’t please everyone, no matter how good you are. If you’ve been writing for a year or two, it’s far too early to assume that you aren’t “good enough.” It’s WAY too early to quit. Just keep doing it. Write new stuff. Draft new books. Try different genres. Test the flash fiction waters in my Facebook group and see how people respond. We’re more than happy to have you. Put your stuff on Wattpad, send stories off to magazines, pitch your ideas to publishing agents.
Take the angry monkey approach, and keep throwing shit until something sticks. Try to pick up a couple of hours of freelancing work each week – there’s plenty of information on how to start as a freelancer online if you’re a little confused. You would be surprised how much nonfiction scribbling can make you a better writer. Have you ever tried to dress up something as bland as “How to Organize Your Closet?” The skills convert directly to storytelling.
Forget About Talent
The word “talent” has a singular use in modern society. It prevents people from trying something. It instills fear that if you weren’t born with a certain skill, then you will never be successful at it. It’s just like the whole right-brain/left-brain bullshit. I’m going to say this right now in complete honesty. If you really want to write, paint, ride motorcycles, get good at math, whatever. Forget the negative constraints that society uses to separate you from the pack. Any kind of natural “talent” applies only to the top 1% of any given field. Ability comes directly from lots of practice, the attitude that you are going to do it, and succeed at it, and if it takes the rest of your life, you will keep going until you “make it.”
“Making it” is another silly societal reference, but I’ll save that one for another post. In the meantime, keep writing, keep being awesome, and stop listening to outdated slogans about what it takes to live your dreams. You don’t need natural talent. All you need is to keep doing the thing you love, every single day, until you become the person that gets told how talented you are. Drive your own plot, and stop building walls between you and what you want.