Mr. Chuck Wendig recently wrote another impassioned post (his second on the subject), spurred by an essay written by a former college professor who taught a course as part of a certain university’s MFA writing program.
The professor in question didn’t mince words: in his opinion, most of his former students were not writers and would never succeed as writers, because they lacked writing talent.( http://www.thestranger.com/books/features/2015/02/27/21792750/things-i-can-say-about-mfa-writing-programs-now-that-i-no-longer-teach-in-one )
Mr. Wendig, emphatically, did not agree.
( http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/03/02/the-toxicity-of-talent-or-did-you-roll-a-natural-20-at-birth/ ). To paraphrase, he said talent doesn’t guarantee success. What matters most is hard work and perseverance. In fact, he said talent is overrated, to wit:
. . .for authors, it’s a very, very bad thing on which to focus. In fact, I’d argue you shouldn’t care about it.
That got me thinking. I’m a writer. Unpublished as of now, but hopeful. I’ve completed five novels to date, the last two of which–CHERRY and EFFIN’ ALBERT–are decent; even good, or so I’ve been told. To what do I owe this consensus: talent, or hard work?
Certainly, doing the work was critical. Just finishing a novel is an accomplishment in itself; a lot of aspiring novelists never get that far. But writing a publishable novel requires more than getting that first draft down. Revising and revising and revising some more is what makes a decent novel good; a good novel, great. But revising requires effort and dediction. For me, buckets of blood, sweat and tears were spilled in the process of writing and revising my novels, especially those last two.
I think because, as I learned more about writing–about the craft of writing, what makes a good story; as I became more aware of what good writing looked like–I began to hold myself to those higher standards, and I worked that much harder to reach them. Perseverance was paramount, especially on those dark days when I found myself supremely frustrated or worse, stuck. But, without talent, I doubt those novels would exist today. I may have known the stories, but writing them well enough to be worthy of being read demanded more than a modicum of talent.
I’ve always been a shy person, easily befuddled when I try to communicate something verbally, especially when that something is important to me. But writing is different. I feel more confident when I communicate in writing. My thoughts are more cohesive, my voice isn’t as tentative when I write. I’m able to string words together in meaningful ways; even eloquently on occasion. I enjoy writing, perhaps because it comes easily to me, just as drawing comes easily. I suspect I have a talent for both. And yet, without doing the work, learning the craft, taking the risks, putting myself out there, there is no doubt in my mind that my stories would remain closeted; my dreams of publication, unfulfilled.
I know how fickle the business of writing can be. Success isn’t promised to any writer, hard-working or not, talented or not. But to have any kind of shot of seeing my stuff published one day, I have to believe that talent and hard work will have gotten me there. Together, and in equal measure.