Monday, March 9, 2015

The question of talent - just don't ask...

Updated - cos I felt like it :-)

The interweb blew up a bit last week when this came out - a somewhat grumpy and cathartic outpouring from ex-MFA tutor Ryan Boudinot, to which our fave Terrible Mind Chuck Wendig nearly exploded when responding (here). He had obviously been doing some deep breathing before posting again here on the subject, although it is still fairly ranty and at times confused. More recently there was this from Laura Miller. At some point in all these articles they each make some good points. And they all get a little tetchy at others.

All this frothing and invective got me wondering about the issue of 'talent'. We wouldn't question that some natural ability lies behind the careers of people like Mozart, Johnny Cash, Picasso, Da Vinci, Jonah Lomu, or Roger Federer. These people had/have talent. Sure they all worked their butts off to perfect their skills but no amount of practice would ever push me up to their level of ability. They have something I don't have which cannot be obtained through effort. Yet somehow we can't so easily apply this same thinking to writers. Is writing different? And if so, why? All I'd like to say is Gaiman, Le Guin, Mahy - you get the idea. Folks, I believe the creative area of writing is not mutually exclusive of talent. But I also think there is no creative area more divided about what we believe is evidence of natural ability.

Here are some points about talent I believe are worth considering

1) Talent does not equal success
2) There is no simple measurement for talent in writing. It is not a publishing contract, book sales, awards, 5 star reviews, or most likes on your facebook fan page. 50 Shades of Grey has nearly 430,000 5 star reviews. I rest my case.
3) People can have talent and not use it or walk away from it, or squander it
4) People can have limited or no talent and achieve great results. See above
5) Ten people will say you are talented. The next ten will say you aren't. Who is right? Might they both be right? (or both wrong?)
6) Talent might not be evident at the start. Talent might be latent, needing passion and effort (or some other trigger) to allow it to manifest itself
7) Working hard at what you are passionate about will result in improvement
8) Persevering when the going gets tough may be the single most important predictor of success
9) If you are obsessing about whether you have talent or not you are not focusing on the right things (such as numbers 7 and 8 above).
10) The more passionate we are about what we love to do, the harder it is to be objective about it

I have some natural abilities. I can cook well. I can empathise. I am good at loving my family. Dancing. Spelling. Finding lost things. These are some things I am naturally good at. But I got better at all of them with practice and experience. Am I a talented writer? I don't know, and I don't want to ask the question cos my writing is important to me and I would care TOO MUCH about the answer. If talent is there, it will be there no matter what I do or think or say about it. And if it isn't, would I let that information stop me in my tracks? If the answer would derail me, I do not want to ask it, or dwell on it. Better to just get on with the writing.  The only way forward for me is to be passionate, practice lots, and persevere when the going gets tough. Is talent necessary? I think that's probably the wrong question.

1 comment:

Jane Bloomfield: truth is stranger than fiction said...

Talented maybe the wrong word for writers because without the whole package these days you're stuffed. Gifted. Prolific. Passionate. Hard working. Happy. Mmmm... ps. I have not seen you dance yet Ms Melinda?!