When it comes to the debate among writers about whether talent or hard work is more important, most people will say at first that there’s no substitute for work ethic. But after that initial comment, you’ll hear some conflicting views. Deep down, many of us are still biased toward the idea that raw talent — something you’re born with — is really what matters. Talent, the innate ability or proclivity toward doing something well, has a powerful draw for us as artists. We want to feel that we’re special, that we have some birthright that makes us naturally entitled to be artists. That’s why writers are often the people who end up defending the idea of talent the most.
But how much does talent matter? Are we writers born and not made? We hear stories about people like Keats composing some of the greatest works in the English language in his early twenties, and we begin to wonder if we can learn to be great, or if it can only be encoded in our genes. We can certainly improve our writing through hard work and thought, but is there a glass ceiling, an innate limit to how high we can go?
After the jump: my take on talent.
Talent is overrated. But dedication isn’t.
In my opinion, we do over-emphasize talent because we like the idea of great writers being destined for the pen. When it comes to our own futures, however, we prefer to imagine ourselves not bound to a certain path, but free to choose where we’ll go and what we’ll make of ourselves. We have to be fair to others when we imagine talent — they struggled as much as we did to improve, even if it seemed easy.
I do believe that we might have early interests and tendencies, things that we’re inclined to do well at and that we’d be best suited developing. That potential will make the difference between a kid who reads insatiably and a kid who can’t leave his or her telescope alone. But there’s a whole world of possibility about what we’ll do with those interests. We might exploit them to their fullest potential, or we might not. Talent, ultimately, is a nice leg up — but it simply won’t end up mattering that much after the first ride on the horse. There’s simply too much to learn, too much discipline that is needed, whether you’re talented or not.
So where does that leave the people who never felt innately good at writing who want to be writers now? There are plenty of acclaimed writers out there who stumbled into the profession late in life, and no one can really tell the difference between the early bloomers and the late bloomers. What really matters is dedication; talented or not, you’re just not going to get anywhere without it. So we worry and fret about whether we’re meant to be writers — but we really should be worrying about how we can take the stories and words we have and make them the best they can be.