Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writer Wednesdays: Craft vs. Talent

I have always considered writing as a craft--something that if worked hard enough at, someone would have to eventually succeed...

But I also believe writing is a talent.

To be successful (in the Mommy's-Always-Write-rulebook-of-success (it's only sold one copy (like the parenthesis within a parenthesis within a parenthesis?))) I would estimate a writer should combine about 90 percent hard work at learning the craft and 10 percent talent.

Some people disagree with me. Some people think you can succeed at ANYTHING if you try hard enough--even if you have zero natural talent. I disagree. I simply wasn't built (physically or emotionally) for women's boxing. I simply am too nervous to sing solo in front of people. And let's face it, without some major plastic surgery, I'm never going to walk the runway.

Others think success in something (including writing) is based largely upon your natural talents. In Stephen King's book On Writing, he says that someone can improve themselves from the status of bad writer to mediocre writer by sheer willpower and tenacity but moving one's self from mediocre writer to great writer is impossible without inborn talent. I disagree on this point as well.

I guess what is bringing this post up right now are a couple factors:
1. I know so many of you writer friends who HAVE worked your butts off. You've put in long days, long weeks, and long years behind the keyboard. You've been to writer's conferences. You've learned from the web. You've read and bookmarked many craft books on writing. And you've written. You've written novels, and short stories, and blog posts, and many, many more novels. You've edited. You've critiqued. You've worked and worked and worked....
Yet your successes (in the landing-an-agent/signing-a-book-deal arena) have been small.
2. On the flip side, many of you ARE finding success. And in big ways. It seems that every month or so another writing blogger is publishing her "GOOD NEWS!" post where she signed a contract with an agent or landed a big book deal.

So where do the rest of us fit in in the scheme of things?

Personally, I know my time hasn't come yet because I'm not putting in the hard work. I do feel I have at least 10 percent writing talent. (Yahoo for 10 percent!) I do feel I have worked very hard, but it always comes in short spurts for me. At this point in my writing career I am not putting in the day after day after day strict writing regiment that I was doing when my first novel was published.

And you know what? It kind of sucks. Because working hard for something just isn't fun!

And of course there are all those other factors such as right place/right time. Sheer luck and yada yada yada. But I'm skipping over those for today.

The good news is, I feel I CAN make it. Just not right now.
The bad news is, I feel I CAN make it. Just not right now.

So now I want to hear from you. Where do you stand on the craft vs. talent school of thought? Also, if you have "made it" to what do you attribute your success? And if you haven't "made it" what do you think is holding you back?


Bonnie R. Paulson said...

I'm a little different believing in the percentage range - more like 75% craft and 25% talent. Maybe that's why I haven't "made it".

Also, at what point does perseverence just become bullheadedness?

Great post and I love what you've done with the blog colors!

Kasey @ Mormon Mommy Writers said...

Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I love that quotation because I think everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and if all we do is focus on the things we can't do (or don't have the talent for) then we are wasting our time (and our actual talents).

So I guess for me, I think a lot of it is talent. I haven't "made it" yet, but I have experienced some small successes that indicate to me that have the talent to make it. But, like you, I'm not so good at the hard work part (you should read my post from Monday @ Mormon Mommy Writers- I talked about my fabulous work ethic). For example, I would probably benefit from reading a book or two about writing. Which I've never done. But I do still manage to write stories and other prose and poetry that people really seem to enjoy (actual people, not just my friends and family- LOL).

So I believe my success will be about 50/50. There's a chance I could be successful without working super hard at becoming a better writer, but a much better chance if I put a lot more work into it. And that's not counting the OTHER work- the editing and querying and submitting. That's a whole other beast.

K, done rambling. ;-)

Angela Cothran said...

This is a great post Maggie! I find that my favorite writers are hard workers. I think being able to work hard is a talent in and of itself. There is also this elusive 5% of success that seems to be timing or a convergence of the universe :)

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

Interesting post, Maggie. I feel the same way. I've always thought of myself as kind of an imposter because I have to work so hard to get something that's good. The novel I just published took me six years from start to publication. I took some time off during those years because I've been super busy with kids etc. But I look at other writers who can finish a whole novel in one month and think, "What is wrong with me?" I suppose my positive spin is that even though I'm slow, I am accomplishing something. It may not be the best writing ever, but it's clean, and I'm sharing it.

Patti said...

I've been thinking a lot about this lately. What percentage is it in those who are really successful and maybe the more books you write the more the scale tips toward natural talent.

Great post.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I've been thinking about this off and on lately. I read a lot of work from writers that if I had to guess, just aren't going to make it. They've moved from bad to mediocre. Mediocre is still better than what a lot of people will ever do. And yet I truly feel like they're never going to shift past that into great. Or even good enough for publication. That sounds harsh, I know. But I wonder why these people are so driven to do something that demands so much time when they don't have the chops. In fact, I wonder this about any field. Singing for example. What if you teach someone to sing on key. Their voice is pleasant but undistinguished. But that person works, and works, and works to make it in the music industry. No one gives them their break but they don't quit. I'm not sure that makes sense to me. Why are they driven to do what they're only okay at?

Is it okay to do something because you just have a passion for it? Does everyone have to be on American Idol or it's all for nothing?

I don't know. I guess I think about this because if I hadn't had some validating moments along the way, I think I would have quit. This is a hard thing to do without seeing some kind of success.

All in all, I'd say I definitely agree with the second part of Stephen King's quote about never moving to the next level without in-born talent.

Interesting post.

Emily R. King said...

I think where there's a will there's a way. If you want it bad enough, you'll get it.
Still, timing is a huge part of success. It's nearly as important as your will.

Anna said...

I think I could have written this post. I do think there is somewhat of a talent/desire built into ourselves. Some people want to tell stories, but just can't write. So they do ghostwriting. To write, I think it takes time and practice to become good enough that mainstream would want to read your work.

I'm like you: I could never do certain jobs/careers because I just don't have the nerves, skills, etc to do certain jobs. Like handywork. Seriously, I measured a certain rod to make sure it was even and at the right height. It was crooked after I put it in. I just can't do technical precise stuff. But let me be creative and I can come up with some fun stuff.