Writer A, is unbelievably talented. She writes prose so gorgeous and true and deeply felt it makes your hear break. Not only that, she has that ineffable trait called a voice. You'd recognize her writing anywhere and drop everything to read it. In short, Writer A has talent. Scads of it. But Writer A also has a little problem. She doesn't write much. Once every month or so, if the spirit moves her, she picks up her pen and scrawls another page of beautiful prose. And then she lets other things get in the way. You know. Important things like watching TV, and cleaning the sink, and thinking profound thoughts about how wonderful life is going to be once she has finished that novel.
Writer B, is just an old workhorse. Every word he puts on the page he has earned. This writer doesn't have a lot of natural talent. His writing is pedestrian at best. But our Writer B works hard. He writes every day and reads and reads and reads. Whenever he has a spare moment, he's working on improving his writing. He immerses himself in words, whether writing or reading. He's obsessed. Sometimes he misses dinner, and often he doesn't turn his TV on for weeks on end.
So who do you think is going to be the most successful writer?
I'm betting on Writer B. Why? Because Writer B is doing the work, sitting at his desk, writing. You learn writing by writing. You learn fluency and ease and flow by writing every day, which is why I'm always harping on it. You figure out how the plot of your novel is going to work by actually working on the novel, or you learn more about your characters by writing more about them.
Talent will get you started, but it is the actual work that will allow you to succeed.
There's an old debate in the writing world: can writing be taught? Do you have to have talent to succeed? I think that writing can be taught, and the teaching occurs in every word that you put on the page. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Outliers, says that mastery comes after you have spent 10,000 hours on something. Yep. It will probably take you 10,000 hours of writing to master the craft, though many people believe that writing takes a lifetime to master–which is why it never gets boring. This 10,000 hour rule is why the brief-residency MFA programs or certificate writing programs are so great–because writers should be writing, not sitting in class talking about writing, fun as that is. Writers learn to write by writing, natural talent or no.
And those with natural talent who write all the time will see their talent come to fruition. But those with natural talent who don't write will never succeed. Persistence will always prevail.
The moral of the story? Just keep writing. It is all you need to do.
**This post came about as a result of a question asked in the comment sections on my post, Burning Questions. Thanks, Walter, and I hope this helps. Meanwhile, if any of you have any burning questions, hope on over to that post and ask away.
And feel free to weigh in here on the topic of talent versus persistence.