We hear it all the time: “She’s such a talented writer.” “He’s got a real natural gift for writing.”
Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you have just as much talent as they do. The bad news is, you have no talent whatsoever. But then, that’s not really bad news, because talent doesn’t exist.
I remember being told over and over again in primary school that I was a talented writer. Praise is always nice, and I was delighted to think that I was special in some way. Had I thought about it, though, I’d have realised that I didn’t have a talent for writing at all, I just wrote lots. I wrote a story a day, often many more. I had no natural gift for writing, I just had lots more practice than everyone else in my class. The more I wrote, the better I got, the more my ‘talent’ was noticed, and the more encouraged I became to keep writing.
To call someone talented is, I think, to do them an injustice. How many hours of writing ‘practice’ did I put in during my school years? Hundreds, certainly. Possibly thousands. I’d spend hours some days just weaving tales and spinning stories – not honing any magical special talent, but learning through trial and error which words worked together to best convey the pictures in my head.
I backed all that writing up by reading lots – discovering how other writers established their characters, described the scenes, and set their moods. Pay attention to a few hundred books and you instinctively begin to know the shape a plot should be. Now I know which plot points need to happen when in the story, not because of some innate gift for story outlining, but because I read lots and wrote lots.
I’ve never met a writer who, with no practice, has sat down and written a masterpiece. I’ve met plenty of authors who’ve written what I would consider to be masterpieces after years of reading and writing, though.
I’ve long believed that talent doesn’t exist, and this year I’ve been running a test to try to prove it. I’m not a ‘talented’ artist by any stretch of the imagination. This time last year, I attempted to draw Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. This is how it came out:
This wasn’t just a quick sketch, either. I set aside several hours to work on the drawing, and – damn it – I did my best. As a drawing, it’s not terrible. It doesn’t really bear any resemblance to Harrison Ford, but it at least looks like a human being.
Since then, I’ve practiced. I haven’t practiced nearly as much as I would have liked, but I’ve put in the hours at the sketch pad, done a lot of reading on techniques, and invested in some drawing pencils. A couple of days ago, I sat down to draw Harrison Ford again. This was the result:
Is it perfect? Far from it. Is it better? Much. For 36 years I’ve considered myself to be below average at art, and I’m in no way artistically gifted or talented. And yet, with maybe 20-30 hours of practice over the course of a year, I’ve become much better than I ever thought possible.
So what does that mean to you? It means there’s NOTHING holding you back from becoming as successful as any other author out there. They have no genetic writing advantage over you, they’ve just probably put in more hours reading, writing and studying the craft. Commit to writing every day and I guarantee you’ll end 2016 a far better writer than you started it, regardless of what level you are currently at.
And, in the future, if anyone suggests you’re a talented writer, you be sure to set them straight. You’re not talented, you’ve just worked damn hard at it.
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