Writing talent need not dictate how your literary endeavors will work out. So how is a writer supposed to tap into their deepest and most powerful wells of creativity? How can they access talent, genius, and potential to make them into the successes they envision? Taking a writing class will tell a writer how to plot, structure, build characters, and create poetic images. However accessing excellence is a slippery and elusive one. We may find that looking outside will find us an answer.
Why you don’t need to dwell that you don’t have writing talent
We’ve all heard that age-old adage of “being born with talent.” It coldly suggests that some writers are simply “born” with it, while others are not. To be honest, there is some certain amount of truth in it. No one can deny the genius of Mozart or Shakespeare. But the argument of nature versus nurture is fascinating. It is, however, irrelevant, especially to the average person. After all, we can’t simply go back in time and choose our family. Do we then abandon our dreams simply because of not having writing talent?
There is something I often say to students. It is both deadly serious and slight (and deliberate) exaggeration. It is this: “I don’t believe in talent. Every time I’ve ever gotten close to an excellent performer in any discipline, all I’ve seen is a lifetime of hard, honest work.”
I say this not because of anything else except that it’s the way I truly feel. The fact remains that I’ve seen endless people fail in their craft due to lack of honest work. And within those years of dedicated work, I’ve seen few fail for lack of talent.
The truth is that if “writing talent” exists, it seems more of a capacity for long, concentrated periods of tunnel-vision focus. Combined with a unique capacity to dig into one’s self to find truths most are reluctant to reveal. These men and women sacrifice interests, relationships, health and even sanity to focus on their divine obsession. The primary gift of art is to spend your life in the act of creation. And to do that, you don’t need to be the best (whatever THAT means). Get into the top twenty percent of your field. Then you’ll be just fine. Writing talent, in this case, is immaterial.
Keep these two things in mind: FOCUS and HONESTY. Here’s what that means:
- Can you write 500 words a day for twenty years?
- Can you concentrate for an hour at a time without stopping for coffee, phone call, or bathroom breaks?
- Can you shut out the voices of doubt and failure? If you can, then you have a chance. If you put too much emphasis on writing talent, then you’re done for. For myself, writing was my only career goal. I would rather have failed in writing than have succeeded in anything else. I was willing to do ANYTHING ethical and healthy to reach that goal. I would ask myself questions on how I could do it, who I could ask, what I could read, what classes I might attend. Remember that just as writing talent is immaterial, expecting immediate reward also is. Be willing to postpone gratification. Efforts won’t pay off rapidly, unless you are incredibly lucky. And there is good news: even if you believe in talent, in the real world, dedication surpasses talent. Take an absolutely driven “B” or “C” student. They will definitely outperform a lazy “A” student almost every time.
This is where rubber meets the road. The diamond path to excellence.
- What is your actual current skill level? What is the skill level necessary to make it in your field? Writing is one of the most competitive fields in the world. EVERYONE can write. But to stand out, you will have to bring everything you’ve got.
- Who can help you bridge the gap between your current and desired skills levels? Consider those that have spent a lifetime gathering their knowledge. Having a writing talent, again, will not be as important as experience. But also ponder on what you can offer them (that is ethical and healthy for you) to gain help and support.
- What do you fear and love the most? What makes you angry or laugh? Memorable characters will be based on the depths of your self- understanding. You must be able to accurately observe the human condition. Dig deep enough and you’ll find an incredible wealth of subject matter. But you must be honest. Try and stimulate an emotion in your audience. Before you can do that, however, write something to trigger that feeling in yourself. Write for yourself, and for an audience you respect.
- What is your best effort? There’s this great scene in “Walk the Line” where a music producer tells Johnny Cash to imagine he’s dying in the street. He has one last song to sing to sum up his existence. What would that song be? It tells us to cut though the B.S. Don’t try to be clever, just tell the truth.
- What do you actually believe human beings are under all the pretenses and appearances? What are we? How do you explain the differences and conflicts: black and white, gay and straight, male and female? What is love? What causes war? Why do we dream? Your own unique answers will point you towards your personal “voice.”
- What is the nature of the universe? Of God? Is there anything out there? Are we alone? Dig deep. Anyone can write anything about a variety of philosophical perspectives. The writer who knows herself though, will outperform a brilliant writer who has nothing to say.
These two attributes, hard work and honesty, not writing talent, will keep you busy for a lifetime. It will take you to the very edge of your potential as a writer. After all, if you can’t even utilize the potential you were born with, you can hardly complain that you didn’t get more.