Natural Talent is a Myth

Part 1 of my editing series

If experience leads to expertise, I should be rolling into Expert at the next exit. With all the time I’ve spent editing my (formerly) 90,000-word manuscript, I am now a maestro using my red pen as a baton. I’ve learned a lot, and I want to pass it on to you.

That experience drives this belief: Natural talent is a big, fat, not-necessarily-Greek myth.

Sure, there are exceptions. Always are. You can squawk about Mozart composing his first symphony at four. Or Bobby Fischer as a chess grandmaster at fifteen. I’m talking about the other 99.9999% of us.

Talent starts your engine. But it won’t take you to the Promised Land. Only work makes that trip. Because you must go the extra mile to reach the Promised Land, and now that I’ve traveled that extra mile, I have good news to report: There ain’t much traffic on this part of the journey.

einsteinThink of the superstars from any field you want to name. LeBron James, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett. Pick the skill, from astronomy to zoology, and study the experts. The people who stand out are the people who put the work in. Maybe Einstein said it best: “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.” That extra mile again.

I can look at my manuscript today versus a year ago, and it’s like daylight versus a total solar eclipse. I’m no more talented than I was a year ago. But I’m learning to harness that talent into something much bigger and better.

So Rule #1 for you: Embrace editing. It’s a daily workout for your writing muscles, and you’ll emerge as a stronger writer. It’s hard work though, so don’t kid yourself before starting the trip. Arrive mentally prepared, and you’ll preserver through the difficult parts.

Come back soon for Rule #2–they get more hands-on as we move forward. 




18 thoughts on “Natural Talent is a Myth

  1. Hang in there, John. Talent does not spare us the long road of revisions. And they take as long as they take. My beta readers are clamouring for me to give them the book, but it’s just not there there yet.

    And yeah, talent may not grow but experience does make us better at our craft. Can’t wait to see your finished product.

    You definitely have talent, John. No worries there.


    1. Elise,
      What wonderful beta readers you must have. Clamoring for the manuscript. I wonder, do they rent themselves out? Are you posting about NYC on your blog? I’m sooooo curious. I’ll stop by to check.


    1. It is finished (if that’s the proper word) at a touch over 80,000. In a drawer for a couple weeks, then I’ll pull it out to make sure there are no typos before sending it along. And then, of course, the dreaded query letter. Ugh.


  2. And here I am, in the editing stage! I agree. You do have to have some modicum of talent, and every single talented writer has a crappy first draft, (and likely several more after) before anyone gets to view the “masterpiece.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Donna,
      Did you listen to Lee Child speaking to the Crime Writers Academy? He talked about almost slitting his wrist because he deleted 14 words from his prior day’s work. Blew me away. Is that because he’s been writing Jack Reacher so long he gets it 99% correct on first pass? No idea, but it sure is different than Hemingway rewriting his final page 39 times.

      Four months till your next masterpiece!


  3. OK, so your title was click bait… ooo, you sly thing, John! As you acknowledge, there *is* such a thing as natural talent. However, the point you make (with which I agree as totally as Bonnie Tyler’s heart-eclipse), is that talent alone is not enough. Hard work is a must. Talent has to be honed and polished. Talent may give you an ear for dialog, or a sense of poetic rhythm, or a feel for a great line. But it won’t write and edit that novel for you. That takes some good ole butt-in-chair hard graft. Interestingly enough, I find that those who are gifted at something also tend to love that thing, and are prepared to put in hours of “work” (I put in quotes because, to them, it doesn’t seem like work) to get it right and make those dreams happen.

    Anyway, there’s my tuppence-worth of thinking. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll agree to a point about gifted folks putting in the “work.” But I think those are the people you hear about. The road to success is littered with people who were talented but didn’t put in the work. Sometimes talented people have an easy time rising to a certain level, but the work required to rise higher is something they’re not used to performing. And thus, they fail before they reach their ultimate goal. So in that sense, failing might be a key to succeeding. (Or is that just wishful thinking?!)


  4. Nah, I disagree with you, in part, John. I reckon you still have to have a modicum of talent to survive this business and see your manuscript to publication. It’s just a big sliding scale from protege to me (I’m pretty sure you fall higher on the scale). I reckon all that writing and editing (and blood, sweat and tears) are spent honing that talent. For some it beams from them (the proteges) but for others it needs to be discovered and nurtured.

    I’m in complete agreement about the work that has to go into it regardless of how much innate talent you might wear, though. After all, even the “overnight successes”, a la JK Rowling, slogged it out first.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we’re pretty much in agreement, AJ. (I try not to disagree with someone as smart as you when I can help it.) My point is that natural talent isn’t enough to get you to your goal. It requires a fair amount of hard work, and if you don’t put the time in, your talent isn’t going to carry you far enough.

      The proteges might have a head start, but their talent isn’t enough without putting in the effort. And it’s a HUGE effort. Keep writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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