Thursday, April 8, 2010

America's Got Talent. Or...something.

Before I launch into what promises to be a lengthy rant, just a few housekeeping things:

The Next Move is now available on My Bookstore and More. The print version should be released soon, and I will post here as soon as it is. Also, I now have cover art for Nine Tenths of the Law, and I'm loving it! Can't post it until I get the green light from my editor, but it will be up soon.


A discussion on a message board last night caused a few synapses to fire, and I need to rant accordingly. The conversation related to one's ability to make a living at writing, the probability of the same, and how much talent plays into those odds. This isn't to address that conversation per se, just some general thoughts about success and talent.

Now, there are factors involved in this business that are out of a writer's hands. We can influence supply, not much we can do about demand. Editors, agents, and readers are individuals with individual tastes. Publishers, agents, and booksellers come and go. Awards and editorial decisions are made by people other than ourselves. Sometimes the deck seems to be stacked against us.

In spite of those odds and factors, success is not impossible.

That said, what really, really grates my nerves is when a writer does succeed and the bulk of his success is chalked up to luck, chance, or...worse...talent. What's wrong with having talent? Nothing. Nothing at all. What bothers me is when someone succeeds, and the rest of the world gestures dismissively and says, "Oh, well, clearly this individual has loads of talent."

Out onto the table comes The Talent Card.
Yes. That's it. That's the card that earned him his success. Without it, he'd be nothing.

To that I say...bullshit.

Why the hell would you assume the winner of the game had that card when he actually played this hand:
I'm not saying talent is irrelevant. There are some who have a gift for writing or whatever they do. However, just as it is for the rest of us lesser mortals, the only way to win this game is with that royal flush.

Without those five cards, talent is nothing. Talent doesn't drive someone to spend years learning their craft. Desire does. Talent doesn't keep someone in the game when the rejections start piling up. A thick skin does. Talent doesn't make someone work their fingers to the bone, day in and day out. Discipline does. Talent doesn't make someone receptive to criticism and open to improving their work. Humility does. Talent doesn't earn the success that comes after hundreds of rejections, years of failure, and reams of trunked novels. Perseverance does.

It's not that it bothers me when someone says "you're talented" and means it as a compliment. What bothers me is when the card is played as a way of explaining someone's success. When it's less of a compliment and more of an explanation for the other person's lack of success.

"Well, you're obviously very talented, then."
"I wish I had that kind of talent, then I could do that, too."
"Well, it's easy for you because you have talent."

Who ever said it was easy? And who ever said you couldn't do it?

I'm not exactly a New York Times bestseller, but I've managed to reach some moderate levels of success as a writer. To me, telling me it all comes down to talent negates the 20+ years I've put into learning this craft. It blows off the hours on end I spend at my computer, the indescribable frustration along the way, and the many, many beatings my ego has had to take to get me to this point. I didn't get to where I am, nor will I get to wherever it is I'm going, because of "talent". I got here because I worked my ass off. I've always had the desire to be a writer, and I have poured my heart and soul into becoming that writer. I wanted it, and I was going to make it happen or die trying.

As we discussed this subject last night, Scarlett said that people who scoff at positive thinking seem to say "that's not enough." Well, no, it isn't. You have to do something about it. But if you say to yourself "no" right at the beginning, you won't even try. I suppose you technically don't fail if you never start, but nor do you have any chance at all of success. Personally, I'd rather increase my odds of failure than kill any chance at all of success. And what bugs me to no end is when someone - through excuses and negative thinking - sabotages their own success, then turns around and chalks someone else's success up to luck or talent.

Scarlett is a fan of Napoleon Hill and his simple but profound wisdom about success. One particular quote that we both like:

"Success requires no apologies,
failure permits no alibis."

While he was being all wise and quotable, Mr. Hill said:

"Whatever the mind of man
can conceive and believe,
it can achieve."

What goes without saying is that before conceiving and believing become achieving, you have to get off your ass and work for it. Not sit back and wait for the muse to strike. Not wish for some deity-granted gift of natural talent. Not make excuses for why you haven't done it yet. Take responsibility for your own success or failure. Put your nose to the grindstone and make it happen. If you choose not to, then don't downplay the hard work put in by those who do make it happen. If you want it, go get it.

Or, as another wise man once said...
Let's look at it another way.

Say you've run a marathon. You trained. You ran. You endured aching muscles and the threat of shin splints, ran even when you didn't feel like it, kept running when you hurt in places you didn't know you had, and on the day of the marathon, you crossed the finish line.

And while you're pouring ice cold water over your sweaty hair and catching your breath, still dizzy from endorphins while the reality that you did it hasn't even sunk in yet, I come sauntering up to you. Hands in my pockets, not a single ache or twinge because all I've done is sit on the sidelines, and I say to you...

"Wow, you must have a lot of talent."

I wouldn't blame you, in that moment, if you hurled that half-empty water bottle at my head.

Again, it's not that talent doesn't exist. Some people are gifted athletes, painters, writers, or what have you. But talent is only the tip of the iceberg. Without perseverance, humility, a thick skin, desire, and discipline, talent is meaningless and useless.

So there's my rant. If you wish to succeed...then succeed.


  1. That whole attitude of "It's all right for you because..." irks me no end and it's one of my biggest challenges, not letting my anger boil over so much that it cuts into my writing time.

    There will always be people who make excuses though, and it's damn hard not to let such a patronising attitude keep me awake at night.

    I've had minor success in the past few months, and I'll keep climbing, but when someone comes along and says, "You have a gift," I want to bean them in the face.

    Fuck that attitude to hell.

    No-one handed me my life on a plate. I worked damn hard for it and anyone who says differently might be jealous of my success, but more than that - they're in denial about what it takes to get where I am. They don't want to admit that it's not down to my natural talent, ergo it was easy for me.

    I wasn't born talented. I was born desirous. And I - I - did something about it. The one who created me was me, not some nebulous, capricious talent-fairy, dishing out spoonfuls of Golden Prose.

    I resent people who put the emphasis on natural talent rather than sheer hard work. One who makes such an allegation insults every minute I've spent on the craft, every penny I've spent on books, classes, computer equipment, stationery...every rejection, every bruise inflicted on my ego.

    They also diminish the credit I deserve for that glorious moment when I read "We would like to offer you a contract..."

    That wasn't down to a 'gift'.

    A gift is something you're given. Skill is something you work for. Publication contracts are rewards you earn.

    Fuck anyone who says different. Fuck them to a lifetime in Unpublished Hell, with demons of insecurity to haunt their every waking moment.

    And I will not hear their screams of torment, for my laughter as I dance along my own path will drown them out.

  2. yeah, I've always really disliked the idea that talent is the deciding factor. I'm not even certain "talent" really exists. I'm pretty sure it's all desire and drive to improve yourself.