A Few Words About Talent

I hate it when Chuck Wendig says smart things that I ought to be thinking about. Most recently, he’s written a blog post called The Toxicity of Talent, which makes the argument that talent isn’t even a real thing. Or, if it is, that it matters damn little for most creative people.

And the more I think about it, the more I think he’s right. Talent matters damned little, if at all.

Oh sure, for some people—Mozart, Hemingway, Michelangelo—talent is there. It’s off the charts. But they backed that talent up by working their asses off, too. Yes, they viewed the world in a special, artistic way. They had a natural inclination toward whatever art they gravitated toward. But take Michelangelo for example. He didn’t just carve David the first time he held a hammer and chisel in his hands. He didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel in a day (took him four years!), and he certainly didn’t tackle it the first time he picked up a paintbrush.

I believe in talent.

I believe I’m talented.

I also believe that it doesn’t matter. Or rather, I believe that it hasn’t mattered yet because I haven’t put my ass in the chair and written enough. I. Have. Not. Written. Enough. I haven’t finished the shit that I need to finish in order to be a successful novelist. That’s the bottom line, frankly. It’s one I hate to admit. I’m supposed to be talented, dammit! This shit is supposed to be easier for me. Because talent makes me special! Right?

Right …

Wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?

When I was younger, everyone who saw my writing told me how talented I was. I had a reputation, even as a teenager, as a pretty good wordsmith. When you get chosen for “young author’s conferences” and competition English teams, it’s easy to believe you have talent—and that it matters. When you get out in the real world and your professional writing appears on page 1A of newspapers with circulations between 10,000 and 75,000, it’s easy to believe you’re talented—that the world is at your feet as a writer, and that you’re just waiting for your big break.

So you write a shitty novel. And another one. And another. None of them sell. Only one attracts interest from an agent. Maybe you were about to “break through” as you think of it. But you haven’t had to go through the hard times a less “talented” writer has experienced. You get discouraged. You quit writing fiction for years. You think about it. You talk about it. You dream about it.

But thinking about it and talking about it and dreaming about it are not the same things as DOING IT. But it’s easier. It’s safer. Because you don’t have to look at yourself and realize that talent alone is not enough.

I’ve seen writers with less talent than me—writers I’m friends with—get agents and book deals and hit multiple “best of” lists. Those writers weren’t born with some of the natural wordsmithy that I seem to possess, but they have surpassed everything I’ve ever done, because they faced the reality of writing:

The talent that lies in your soul and your head and your heart does not matter if you don’t sit your ass down and WRITE. Talent does not matter unless you finish your shit. Talent erodes like cheap gold filigree if you don’t use it.

I haven’t been using mine. I have to own up to that. But I can change it.

So can you. Sit your ass down in that chair and write, goddamn it. Write.

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One thought on “A Few Words About Talent

  1. Such a good observation. Talent is like the gasoline in your engine. Whether it’s premium or regular doesn’t matter if you never start the engine and drive.

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