Many new writers tell me they’ve been told they have talent for writing – perhaps by former teachers who read their compositions for years, or friends who have received their letters, or colleagues who’ve found their emails entertaining, even when concerning mundane office and business matters. Some tell me they believe themselves to be talented. This is all good.
But is such talent enough for success in the business of writing?
No. It’s a mistake to assume that it is, or that other skills aren’t also required. The ability to generate saleable ideas, for instance, is one such skill – one that is rarely instinctive, and which needs to be and can be learned. The danger here is of writers believing they can be carried towards success on the back of their talent alone, when the truth is other aspects of this business must be worked on in order to achieve publication – especially the regular publication needed in order to make a living. Please don’t be complacent, new and talented writers!
And what about talent as a requirement? Is it a prerequisite for success?
Actually – I think not. I’ve been in the business long enough to have come across a number of writers whose writing talents were at best … questionable. I can call to mind a showbiz writer, a music columnist (and averagely well-known DJ) and a familiar broadcaster – all of whom required extensive rewriting when their copy materialised in the various offices at which I temped as a sub-editor many moons ago. They got by, I can speculate, by knowing the right people – showbiz writing requires getting pally with doormen, insiders and celebrities – or by simply knowing their subjects intimately.
I think some established and successful writers like to cultivate the notion that talent is required – that talent is rare, special and therefore grants them membership to an exclusive club where darned illiterates are only permitted if there to serve drinks – arguments I put forward in Mistake No. 71.
Do not buy it. If you’ve been told you’ve no talent, don’t despair. Firstly, you may have been misinformed – let’s face it, nobody has no talent anyway. Secondly, even if natural writing talent is not your forte, you can cultivate other skills – steely determination, a specialism in a niche area (always in demand, if original), an ability to come up with saleable ideas, second-to-none research skills – which can compensate for shortcomings in other areas.
Of course, you can resolve to learn to become a more talented writer too … It can be done!
Alex, I agree absolutely. I think many successful and published writers aren't necessarily the 'best' or most talented writers but they're often the ones who've worked hard, cultivated contacts and made the absolute best of what they've got. And worked hard – did I say that? I'll say it again: they've worked hard!
Exactly, Helen – making the best of what you've got, and working hard – both in pushing forward your strengths, and polishing up any weaknesses!
Or as someone once said, "Hard work always beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard".
Ha, that's a great quote … !