Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is talent. Specifically, writing talent (obvs). A lot of this comes down to my specific version of impostor syndrome, which says, “Yeah, you’re good, but you’re not good enough.” Impostor syndrome is a real asshole, huh? Still this belief that I have talent, just not enough of it persists. So when I find myself pondering this awful conundrum, there are two quotes by Stephen King I like to think about. To me, they handily sum up the “good” and the “good enough”.
Quote 1: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” – Stephen King
King’s formula for talent is pretty simple. If someone is willing to pay you for something you wrote, you probably have talent. I’ll add on to this and say, if multiple someones are willing to pay you to write things, you probably have enough talent to piece together something resembling a career in writing. This covers the good part. People who get paid to write, even a little, are probably good at it. (Of course, money is not the only measure of talent, but it’s an easy one to identify.) Still, having talent is not what I worry about. The second quote covers that.
Quote Two: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” – Stephen King
There it is. The good enough part. When I say good enough, what I mean is good enough to land that dream agent, publish my novels, be recognized as a writer of note. You know, the big dreams, and, dare I say it, the improbable ones. I think what King is saying here is that talent is the baseline, the starting point for most of us. It’s not what makes us successful (whatever your definition of success might be). No, what we need to do is focus on that second part. The hard work part. Why? Because it’s the only part of the process we control. You can’t control whether an agent or publisher is gonna like your story or book or whatever. You can’t control if readers are going to love your work, hate it, or simply ignore it. What you can control is putting words on the page, making those word the best you can possibly make them, and then putting those words in front of as many agents, and editors, and readers as possible as many times as it takes. If you do that, and you have that little bit of talent, I like your chances.
Okay, let’s get to work. 🙂
So, this is how I think about talent lately…It’s starts with … a story…(Damn writers!)…
I saw this local band on Frenchmen St. in New Orleans once. (I’ll hold back the band name for privacy). It was a tiny, hole-in-the-wall club. And I thought to myself,
“What the hell are these guys doing here?”
That is, I thought, “These guys are WAY too good to be playing this small club. Why are they playing here when they should be signed with a major label and touring the world?” Now, that might be subjective and a mistake. But I still love this band and buy all their stuff when it comes out.
I ruminated on this. Why hadn’t they made it BIG? They had the songwriting chops, the charisma, and they sure as hell could perform. What was holding them back? I guess it could only come down to agents, promoters and others who just hadn’t found them or, if they did, decided to pass.
It’s the same thing in the literary arts. Sometimes, I read something and I’m like “DAMN! Who is this again?” But they’re just some independent writer in some small magazine.
What can we conclude from all this:
1. Life is shitty and often unfair. 🙂
2. Yes, there is a certain minimum of talent you need to create anything. You can work on your craft, but you do need at least some innate talent. (See Point 1 above!)
3. Those who “make it big” are not always those who have the most talent, but who are lucky. Who hit the market at the right time or an agent/editor/AR rep on the right day.
4. Editors/Agents/Promo people are people. They tend to act on instinct, on hunches, on a feel. And unlike mere mortals, they don’t have masses who have already given their stamp of approval guiding them to a right decision. They’re seeing art/writing/music often for the first time in a ‘small club.’
So, what are creators to do? Like you said, Aeryn, get your work to a polished, finished state and then pitch it to as many readers, agents, editors, etc. that you can find. You never know when it will find the right editor on the right day in the right mood. And also, cross your fingers for good luck!
That’s how I’m thinking about talent, Aeryn.
PS: Please forgive me for hijacking your blog! Darius out!
No forgiveness necessary. I agree with everything you said.
I think luck is a factor, but I also think you can make your own luck to some degree. If you have that kernel of talent, and you keep working to perfect your craft, and you keep putting it out there, your odds of hitting it at the right time only go up.