Thursday, March 22, 2012

talent--who needs it?

Talent: How Important is it?

Let’s leave out the most important thing, far more important than talent, which is drive. Drive to actually write and drive to learn from mistakes and failures is far more important than talent. But I'll come back to that.

As far as talent goes in the great community of writers, if you take all the writers who are really writing and not just talking about writing, probably forms something like a bell curve. There are some who have very little talent with language. They’re tone deaf. They don’t have any stories to tell. They don’t really SEE and you have to be able to see to be a writer. If you’ve ever watched the first days of American Idol, you know these people. They think they’re great singers (why or how this is possible is another post) and they are truly terrible. Not just not good--terrible. There are a few would-be writers like this. On the other end, there are a few who have amazing talent. They can see. They can make language do amazing things. They have an immediate sense of story. They have amazing talent and a good education. They’re in a great position to write wonderful things. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t.

Beyond these extremes are most of us, the great middle. It has a range of course. Some are at the low end of middle and some at the high. It’s my contention that with perseverance, hard work, and determination most people in this middle will eventually be published—if they keep at it long enough.

If you have some talent, you have to turn that into more by struggling through the process of learning to write, learning the basics first and then the intricacies of plotting and character and language. Only through this lengthy struggle can you do more and more of what you want WITHOUT thinking about it when you’re doing it. That’s essential when writing. You have to do without thinking about it or you will freeze some part of you and your characters will act in untrue ways. You’re like the batter at bat. You can’t think, ah here comes the pitch and now I will swing and… If you do that, the ball is long gone. But to get to this point you have to have learned all the things that go into hitting the ball. Same with writing.

But my main point here is just this: most of the writers you read are from the great middle. Sometimes writers with great talent never go anywhere because they don’t have drive and a love for the process of making stories. A lot of writers in the middle have those things and they simply refuse to give up. They compensate for weaknesses. Maybe they can’t write really beautiful or strong or clever sentences but they can tell a story and they get better at their sentences and they really work on their story-telling ability. They become writers, writing pages upon pages every week. Like everyone they make the same mistakes over and over again, but they don’t allow themselves to be satisfied with merely turning out pages. They find ways to get around those mistakes.
It’s hard. It’s hard.

But I believe most writers who keep at it will be published and will write good work.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

doors and windows

It’s important to figure out your strengths as a writer.

It’s important to figure out what you do well in writing and what you don’t do well. You’re not going to do everything well. No one does. If you can discover some of your strengths and weaknesses, you can emphasize the former and minimize the later.

So how do you do that? By writing. By paying attention to what the people who read your writing say. Not everything, of course, and not from everyone. Some people just won’t “get” your writing. Some people will focus in on certain aspects of your writing and not be able to help you with others. But if you keep hearing, again and again, from critique group members or other readers that they need more description of physical details in a scene you might start looking and focusing on that weakness of your writing in revision. You might look for places to add details and adding those details might actually help you in other ways, help you focus a scene etc… Sometimes working out one problem will have a larger effect on a manuscript that just the one problem because you’ll see the work itself in a new way.

I know one of my problems is not enough physical details in scenes. In revision I always look for places--I think of them as doors and windows--where I can add something that will bring a scene into focus.

Or so I think today