Monday, January 6, 2014

Talent Doesn't Matter

“Be too stupid to quit.”—Mike Krahulik, Penny Arcade
Talent doesn't matter. Forget about talent, it will only hold you back. No inborn gift will lift you from a meager scribbler to the high seat of a genuine author. What you need, all you need, is low-down ornery single-minded stubbornness. A method will also help.

Passion without direction won't amount to progress. You're writing will stagnate, even before you feel you've written much of anything, and you'll throw your hands up in despair, or more likely bang your head against your desk (hopefully it's your desk). You have to develop a method for improving yourself, however incrementally. Not only your writing, mind, but yourself. If you rarely write because your sleep schedule is a mess and you frequently have headaches, then you have to address your health. If you find it hard to focus when you sit down, then you have to learn to settle your mind. If you're lazy, and you are—I know I am. The only thing that keeps me active is the certainty that if I stop I will turn back into a slug and hate myself again. So if you're lazy, you have to decide to act, and make productivity a habit.

You have to be stubborn because whatever you need to improve, your progress will be gradual. Learning to write well is an awful lot of effort. There's no way around the work.

What does worrying about talent get you? Nothing. Wasted time, that's all. It's an excuse to stop working. “This is hard for me. I must not be talented. Pooh." Readers care about the finished product, not how much effort it took to produce. Finished products, well executed, always seem effortless. I always imagined my favorite authors were a breed of inspired madmen, their stories whirling through their heads before they ever sat down to write, and all their effort lay in snaring their visions and plunging them onto the page before they collapsed, exhausted from the marathon session.

Nonsense. A perverse fantasy. Artists aren't like that. The ones that think they are make crap, and only crap. They're tedious people. You won't be good at writing when you start, just like you aren't good at anything else right off unless you've had some relative experience, and you won't be good at it for a while. You'll have your share of bad writing all along the way. Even as a working author, you will never avoid the ghoulish lump of rambling, half formed ideas that is the first draft. Inure yourself to the revulsion of handling lifeless writing. Strap the corpse to your back and carry it home. You can stitch it up in time, and, smoothing its features, make your project a living thing.  Even a beautiful thing.

Of course you don't have a natural predisposition to be good at crafting stories. Look how ridiculous that sounds. The only predisposition you need is the desire to write, and you've already got that, or you wouldn't be here.

What you lack you can build. Be stubborn. Be thick-skinned. Be hard-headed. Write all the time, and be too stupid to quit.

Who are some of your favorite authors, and do you know how hard they had to work to be where they are now / write what they did? Let me know in the comments below.

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