Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Does Talent Matter?

I saw one of my fellow students from my MA yesterday. I could remember her writing vividly, even though it was more than ten years ago.  It was confident, imaginative, polished. I was all too aware how far behind my work was compared to hers when we had to read out in class.  I was also aware that my talent, such as it was, was pretty meagre next to hers.

I had similar feelings with the first creative writing class I went to. One student shone, her work far better than any one else's. I struggled with the exercises, especially free writing - there's something about being told to write now this minute that freezes my brain - but this student was brilliant. The words flowed, her imagination apparently boundless, flair and intelligence combined into delightful prose.

Two writers with immense talent. And yet, and yet.... 

And yet I am published, and they aren't. I remember my fellow MA student when we graduated, how she announced that she'd finish her novel if an agent or publisher was interested, but wouldn't waste her time otherwise. I don't know what happened, but she told me yesterday she never bothered finishing the novel. 

I remember the other student I was so overawed by, and know that she - despite interested enquiries from agents and publishers - refused point blank to even consider changing a single word of her novel.  She was desperately disappointed not to be published, but couldn't see that her attitude was holding her back. 

I remember them, and realise that sheer natural talent on its own isn't enough to make a writer. Of course some talent is needed, and that's something you can't teach.  But to be published a whole raft of abilities are needed and close to the top of the list are the ability to finish work, and the ability to work with others. 

Which I find pretty comforting, speaking as a person with a small amount of natural talent, because those are things we can all learn to do.


JO said...

This gives all us sloggers hope - thanks, Sarah!

Dan Purdue said...

To be honest, I think "talent" is too loaded a term, considering it's also quite a nebulous one. The talent you talk about at the beginning of your post refers to the quality of your fellow students' writing, and that's very subjective. Others in the group may well have thought the same writing was overworked and unrealistic (for example). It's unlikely everybody thought it was perfect.

The 'abilities' you mention towards the end of your post could equally well be considered talents - working with others, not being too precious about your manuscript when changes are suggested, doggedly seeing projects through to the end, writing effective and accessible, rather than "beautiful" prose - all of these might be innate or learned over time, like any other talent.

The ability to write stylishly may be impressive, but (as you say) it's only part of the package necessary to get into print and reach your audience.

Diandra said...

Talent is never enough. Take all the comic superheroes, for example... it's not their superpowers, but how they train to use them that makes them invincible. (Writers as superheroes, I like that... )

Sarah Duncan said...

JO - The hares may be glam, but the tortoises tend to win the race long term.

Dan, the point I was making was that a new writer shouldn't be overawed and/or depressed by the talents of others (as I was) but concentrate on their own abilities, especially as there are many elements that can be developed and learned. And that all the natural talent in the world won't get you published without a good dollop of some less glamorous ones like perseverance and a willingness to learn.

Diandra - writers as superheroes, I like that too!

Sally Zigmond said...

I totally agree with the comments above, especially Dan who has expressed my incoherent thoughts clearly and succinctly.

womagwriter said...

I find it comforting too.