Thursday, 10 February 2011

You need More than Talent to Succeed as a Writer

We assume that talent, or natural ability, is a given for any creative person, but as far as I can see, talent is low on the list of desirable qualities.

I'd put persistence top. Talent may get you noticed at first, but persistence keeps you going. You need persistence to write a novel full stop, and doubly so when you have a full time job doing something else. And then persistence to keep going when you have set backs.

But dogged persistence isn't enough when you're banging your head against a brick wall. You need to have the ability to adapt as well. Perhaps there's another way round that wall, a different route that could be taken. An adaptable person will try many ways to achieve their ends.

Along with persistence and adaptability, I'd cite willingness to learn. From classes, from reading, from other writers, from feedback - it doesn't matter where the information is coming from, but a writer needs to be open to all learning opportunities.

But not necessarily to take on board every scrap of feedback, because a writer also needs to have self-belief and the confidence to reject feedback if they think it is wrong. Self-belief and confidence also provide the fuel for persistence and openness.

So, can you teach talent? No more than you can teach persistence, or adaptability, or openness, or confidence. But surely these qualities are innate in all of us. If we're lucky our childhoods will have equipped us with these qualities. If we're unlucky then we have to do what we can to develop what we've got. Can you teach these qualities? No. Can you nurture them? Yes.

Discover the best ways that nurture your writing qualities - it might be a support group, it might be a writing class, it might be uninterrupted writing time away from home, it might be all (or none) of them. Discover what works for you. And then do it.


Rebecca Bradley said...

I definitely agree that persistence is important as I'm finding out. I'm in the scenario of working full time and trying to write a novel and it is hard work and there are days I'm too tired to work on it, but I'm definitely persisting. I know the book, I know the characters, now I just have to complete it.

I am also doing a lot of reading, both books in the same genre and writing blogs with tidbits of advice. Talking to other writers through the use of social media is also a great help. It's so much easier to connect nowadays then for writers 20 years ago I imagine.

I'm loving my novel and it will be written!

badas2010 said...

Thank you Ma'am for another thought provoking post.
Applying these thoughts to me, I had a cocked up childhood and as a teenager I don't think I had any of those qualities. I then left home to make a fresh start in life and I consciously taught myself to be confident, open, adaptable and persistent; all the qualities you cite. I therefore disagree with only one thing you say, I think they can be taught.
And these days, having an office with a door that shuts, and time to shut myself in there, is key.
I read about women who manage to squeeze a quarter of an hour for writing into their busy lives and I marvel. I've always been a huge fan of women, but I know I couldn't do what they do.

Pauline Barclay said...

What an inspirational posting. Today I am having a terrible day, I have deleted more words than I care to admit, my files are closed for the moment. Reading your Blo has told me I am not alone. Thank you. x

Jim Murdoch said...

There are dozens of recordings of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and yet the one to own is Jacqueline du PrĂ©; her interpretation of that work has been described as "definitive" and "legendary". So, does that mean that all the rest are rubbish? No, far from it. All the right notes are played the right order by men and women who are making a decent living as soloists. Technical proficiency is one thing – natural ability is something else. There are hundreds of men and women making a living as writers but very few will be naturals. Being a natural does not mean of course that every time they put their pen to a piece of paper raw genius flows down their arm and onto the page – the pianist Lang Lang practiced for eight hours a day until he was fifteen and even now he’s ‘made it’ he still practices for three hours a day, every day – but the simple fact is that there are people out there where Nature has given them a leg up and the Picassos, the Mozarts and the Shakespeares of this world are what we all aim to be; they show us what Man is capable of but imagine a world where only the people with raw talent were allowed to create art. What a boring ol’ world that would be.

Sarah Duncan said...

Pauline, I'm so pleased to have helped, those bad days when nothing works are horrible. You have my utter sympathy.

Rebecca - Anyone who writes while working full time has my utmost respect; I know I couldn't do it. Glad you're loving the writing of your novel, because that's what it's really about.

Badas - I was thinking taught as in a classroom situation, but I accept utterly that you've taught yourself to have a more positive outlook. And I'm envious of that office with a door that shuts and the time in there.

Jim - if only those with raw talent were allowed to create, the world would be AWFUL! And I'd not be writing.... Picasso and Mozart put in the hours as children. We don't know about Shakespeare worse luck. (Wouldn't it be great if we discovered, say, Will's school report?)

Lizzie said...

Hi Sarah,

Two things.

First, all your posts have been, as usual, great and particularly pertinent to me. I especially liked the posts on The Other Man and Scene Lists. I'd never have thought of making a list for every scene, but it makes perfect sense.

Second, well done on being shortlisted for the RNA Awards! You must be thrilled.