Talent is Overrated

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army on Flickr (Creative Commons)
I made a statement in my last post that raised a few eyebrows, so I’d like to expand on it. When talking about whether or not you can lose the ability to write (in case you missed it, you can’t), I said this:

Don’t have the talent? Talent is overrated. You don’t need talent; you need practice.

First and foremost, I’m not denying the existence of talent. Certainly some people are blessed with an advantage that starts them further off than their peers. But talent alone doesn’t get you anywhere—you need hard work, perseverance and patience. Talent without the work is a missed opportunity. Wasted potential.

But that’s what talent is—potential. It’s a starting point that says, “Hey, you’ve got something here. Imagine how much better you could be with some practice.” But without the practice, guess what? You’re no better than anyone else.

The problem I have with talent is that people use the perceived lack of it as an excuse to give up. They look at others in their field who’ve taken the time to refine their skill and say, “Look at all that talent. I will never have that.”

What they don’t realize is that what they’re looking at isn’t talent at all—it’s determination. Its years of rejection and work and more work until they too can claim success. Then people look at them and call them talented.

Here’s a little secret: J.K. Rowling and Stephen King weren’t born with the ability to write great novels any more than gold medalists are born knowing how to win at the Olympics. They worked hard for years refining their skills before they made it big and people put them on a pedestal.

There is no shortcut to success and talent is no exception. Hard work, guys. That’s what talent is.

So next time you’re tempted to chalk someone’s success up to talent, take a moment to learn about who they were before they were discovered. I’m willing to bet there’s years of work, years of failures and doubts and fears that were overcome with pure determination.

And if they can do it without natural-born talent, why can’t you?

What do you think? Is talent overrated or is it more necessary than I think it is? 


Steven Belanger said...

Talent is necessary, but just to a point.  You don't need to be Nabokov or Shakespeare; you just need to put your butt in the chair.  Talent's necessary because if you put your butt in the chair, but your writing's terrible, it won't matter.  (I know a guy who writes thousands of words per day, and each and every one is terrible.)  But the ability to consistently write, and work at it, is much more rare than having the talent to write.

Ava Jae said...

I think most of us start off at a point where we write and the writing is less than stellar. The difference between the ones who write well and those who don't--in my opinion--comes down to mostly practice. As I said, some of us have a head start, but in the end if you read up on craft and make a point to improve and practice...you'll get there. 

Of course, you're right--finding a writer with the determination to consistently write and work at it, for years even, isn't an easy thing. 

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