Thursday, August 09, 2007

Talent, Tenacity, and the Achievement of Dreams

Elizabeth Joy Arnold gave some sage advice for writers on perseverance and talent over at BookEnds Blog recently. Ms. Arnold's first novel, which looks fantastic by the way, was released in July. I highly recommend checking out the blog and this author's perspective because it's well worth the time and a great little infusion of morale boosting to boot.

Which brings me to the topic of today's blog:

Talent vs. Perseverance

I think a lot of writers like to believe that it is a God given talent that makes them writers. Do I believe in talent? Abso-friggin-lutely. I do. I think every person has their own set of strengths and obstacles - we all get gifts through no effort of our own. I'll tell you what I tell my daughter - Being very smart isn't an accomplishment, it's whether or not you use that to your best ability. Having things come easily to you in any area of life is not a point of pride. You get no credit for being talented as far as I'm concerned - hard work and determination are more important... If you've put in the blood, sweat, and tears to become a better person and positively impact those around you or in the world at large, then you've earned my respect.

This doesn't mean you have to be a smashing success or best selling author - personal success, the way you impact those you touch, is more to me... but this particular blog takes the topic and puts it into writing as a field specifically.

I think talent is important in writing. I think some people are born with a better ear or more innate talent for writing. But they don't become brilliant without effort. The reason, I think, that it looks easy for them is because putting your heart and soul into an endeavor that you truly love is not a hardship. Success may not come quickly or easily, but the road there is enjoyable when you love it.

Perseverance, to me, is more important. Anyone can learn to write. Shall I say that again? (Check your ego's at the door, fellow fiction writers) ANYONE CAN LEARN TO WRITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have to say, I don't know why someone without a talent or love for writing would pick such a rough field.... but yes, they can learn to write. Can you tell the difference between brilliant writing and a writer who's become good at the mechanics? I think most of us would agree that you can tell the difference.... We've all read books with that tell tale lack... which means, what? I'd say it means that author's perseverance put them ahead of all of the talented writers out there who have a million excuses for why they're not published but, if they were honest, would admit that they haven't tried as hard. I'm not saying every non-published writer isn't trying. I'm saying anyone who keeps trying and learning and writing will eventually meet with success.

Do you feel that talent is all important? Or do you feel that perseverance and luck have more to do with success?


Mary Witzl said...

I think writers get published because of a combination of factors. Talent and a love of writing are certainly important, as is luck, but qualities such as being thick skinned, stubborn, and hell-bent on achieving success are absolutely more important. I've known a few people who were shocked and disappointed after their first rejection letter. They'd heard all about writers and rejection, but they just never thought it ought to happen to them. The people who get published seem to be the ones who can have their manuscripts returned time after time and still not become too disheartened to write.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

I tend to agree with you - though if I was going to compare the qualities, backbone and perseverance wins...

I would think most writers should expect rejection - if they've read anything about writing and publishing they should see article after article about the number of rejections and hard road to publication most authors face. Having the tenacity to follow through, to try again, and to step back and look at your work honestly is imperative.

What I tend to see that makes me shake my head are the writers who insist that their work is brilliant but they are not sell out enough to conform to marketability. If you want to write and reach any type of audience, shouldn't you try different approaches with your writing? You can always decide to scrap advice, but you'll never know if it's an improvement unless you give it an honest effort.

Thanks for stopping by. Nathan Bransford is also in my links on the side and he's been doing a series of posts that are of interest, too... the last one I read was on self publishing and both the post and discussion were more than interesting.

The Anti-Wife said...

I think you have to have talent, but perseverance and luck are equally as important. The publishing industry is a lot more complicated than it appears and it's easy to get discouraged. Having a really deep desire to write seems to be necessity.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Anti-Wife,

As Miss Snark always said, "Write Well!!!" Yes, I think good writing or talent is paramount, but without tenacity, no one will ever see the good work...

Rough business, writing is... I think the only reason to stick with this dream is that you're not happy without it.

thanks for stopping by.

night lightning woman said...

Beyond writing well, I think writing requires good ideas, some freshness, or something that reasonates with many. We all gravitate to different writers. There are some I just cannot read becsuse to me they seem convoluted or ponderous. Some of these are best-selling writers. I look for the melody or rhythm of the words. The talent LIFTS the writing. I was lucky to work for a newspaper, where I was simply published, didn't try to sell. Other reporters were already free-lancing some of their work. I say I'm not good at marketing, which is true, but I also am lazy. Publishing by now is a system I don't understand. It would take luck plus perserverance now, I think. But since I haven't yet tried, I don't know. A lot of hacks are making perfectly good livings writing all sorts of things, and I am grateful for the writers who write technical manuals or instructions and make them lucid and undetstandable. They usually like doing it, I notice....usually we know when we have heard music well performed. I'm not sure people are as cognizant when it is writing.
I like the way you get us thinking about the mechanics or craft of writing. But no, not everyone can write, if you mean coherantly. People whose talents are in other fields somethimes do painful, painful things to the written word.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Night Lightning Woman,

You bring up a good point: "Beyond writing well, I think writing requires good ideas, some freshness, or something that reasonates with many."

Even if the writing is fantabulous, if the plot is convoluted or too overdone it can have a hard time finding placement. Sometimes it's something as simple as a similiar piece being accepted first.

I do think that mechanics can be taught. It's voice you can't learn - that's the spark and it's different for every writer. The really good ones not only have their own voice but can bring out the distinct voice in each character.

Yes, I've met people who can't string two sentences together and are lost when it comes to basic English... but I don't think it's because they can't learn the mechanics of writing, I think it's because they have no interest in learning it.

Thanks for stopping in.

Anita Daher said...

Hi Merry,
Absolutely it is pig-headedness. Talent/skill can be developed, but the will to carry on is what makes you a writer until death do you part. The desire to express fuels the pig-headedness, and that desire may come from an abundance of thought. Success (in whatever manner the individual defines it) will come. You bang your head against a wall long enough and eventually you will make a hole.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Anita,

Thank you for chiming in. Hopefully, banging my head off the keyboard will eventually yield a good novel ;-)

I tend to agree with you, talent is great but it doesn't go very far without the will to see it through.

Travis Erwin said...

Jodi Thomas is my writing mentor. She is a best selling auhot of both historical romance and mainstream fiction and a hall of fame member of RWA.

Anyway I owe her for her generosity and ecouragement. I would not be writing if not for her and she says the average person needs two of three things to get published.


I think that asessment is dead on.

Or as she likes to joke you can be a white house intern caught doing the wrong thing with the wrong person and there will be dozens of people lining up to pay for your story.

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Travis,

You know, I like that theory, too... and if you can have any of the three, that means luck and perseverence beats out talent alone..

I ran into another writer on myspace, and from the description of his work in progress the story sounds pretty good. But there are obvious tells that he is not a professional writer, such as calling is work a fictional novel. There are other things on the site and description which let you know that, while he may be a talented writer he hasn't yet studied the craft. He is, however, a musician in a band with a huge following, so he already has a publishing deal.

I think it's fantastic that he's going after his writing dream, but it was off putting at first because so many of us put in years learning everything before finally getting anywhere professionally. At the same time, publishing is a business - and what publisher would pass up an author with such a huge ready made market of fans?