The Talent Myth

I love a good story. I love them so much I am always on the lookout for more. A good story reminds me why life is worth living. If I look at life the wrong way, it can seem like just a bunch of crap I have to endure until I die. A good story always involves some of what in my darker moments I call crap and shows how there is something valuable waiting on the other side of it. Now the crap isn’t crap at all, but a portal into life and myself. As much as I love good stories, I dislike and am wary of bad stories. A bad story has the exact opposite effect on me as a good story. After hearing it, I am not quite sure why life is worth living if it is so unfair, or unkind, or meaningless. Most bad stories point to all the crap and say, “There is absolutely nothing waiting on the other side of this but more crap. Deal with it.” When I hear stories like this, I must remind myself that it is just a story, and like a book, I can put it down and find a better one.

There is a very popular story going around the writing world about something called talent. Perhaps you’ve heard the story. It goes like this: Some have it, and some don’t. If you have it, then you might know success. If you don’t – too bad. That’s life. Usually I hear a shortened version of this story, which goes like this: My God, she’s a talented writer! Or: The problem is, he just hasn’t got any talent.

To me, the story of talent is a horror story. Since I’m a writer, and since I very much want to know success, want to share my work with as many people as possible, then I absolutely must be one those people with talent. But how do I know if I’ve got it? Usually, you discover you’re talented when someone else tells you so. If this is true, I must trust others more than myself, for they are the ones who will tell me if the path I’ve chosen is worth walking. Why follow some path if it will only lead to failure and despair?

I fully understand why this story is told so often. There are writers whose work excites me and inspires me and surprises me, and there are writers whose work does none of these for me. Anyone who has ever read has experienced this difference. In fact, that this difference in experience exists is universally agreed upon. What is not universally agreed upon is which books are exciting, inspiring, and surprising, and which are not.

I would never look to another person to tell me which books I am to be excited or inspired or surprised by. Another person couldn’t possibly know as well as I do what I am most interested in. Likewise, I cannot look to anyone else to tell me which path I must follow. Only my curiosity can guide me there.

All the authors I know who’ve been called talented – and I know many – have one thing in common: they are authentically interested in the path of writing. Not just the results of writing, but the path itself. The effortlessness they appear to exhibit is merely an expression of moving with the current of their curiosity rather than striving against it. If you are curious, you have talent. It is truly that simple. You can choose to follow that curiosity as you would choose your favorite stories, a path so interesting you hope it never ends.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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