Sometimes, when I read authors I really admire, like Neil Gaiman or Laini Taylor or Sara Zarr or Shannon Hale or...well, you get the idea. Authors I admire? Pretty much legion.
But when I read them, I'm a bit overwhelmed. I think, "THEY ARE SO TALENTED!"
At which point my husband's voice pops into my head (as it often does, though usually it is saying things like, "Please remember to recycle that," or, "Another Dr Pepper?" or, "I hope you understand how beautiful you are,") saying, "I hate it when people dismiss someone who is very good at something as being talented. That isn't talent you are reading or seeing or hearing. That is WORK."
And he's right.
But he's also wrong.
(Sorry, Hot Stuff. I'll explain.)
He's definitely right. When you listen to someone play an instrument like they were born with it in their hands, that is not talent. That is hours and hours and years of practice. They didn't pick up the violin and play like that naturally. They worked to get there. They sacrificed to get there. Getting there was not easy, and staying there isn't, either.
When you read a book that is truly crafted, engaging, wonderful, etc, it didn't just flow out of the writer's brain and onto the page like that. That book is a reflection of a lifetime of reading and paying attention, years of practicing their own writing skills, and odds are draft after draft after draft (after draft after draft after draft after draft) of editing and polishing.
At my launch party signing, someone was saying to Stephanie Perkins that every word in her book is perfect. I laughed and said, "Yes, that's because she agonizes over EVERY SINGLE ONE." I was looking through my downloads folder recently and saw a document titled "LOLA DRAFT 18." And giggled over the people who think writing for teens is easy. LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR? Not easy in any way for Steph to write. But when you read it, you won't see the eighteen + drafts' worth of work and sweat and tears and agony. You will only see the finished product, which is amazing.
So, in a way, there is no such thing as talent when it comes to that skill level. There is only work.
But...that's not quite accurate, is it? Because even if I put in the same amount of work and time and effort into my writing, I will never write with the startling humor and perfect wordsmithing of Neil Gaiman. Plain and simple. I will never capture the beauty and hope in pain like Sara Zarr, I will never write with the grace and charm of Shannon Hale, I will never weave magic into the simplest description like Laini Taylor, I will never write the ABSOLUTE OH MY GOSH CUTEST BOYS IN THE WHOLE WORLD like Stephanie Perkins.
No matter how hard I try.
And this is where talent comes in (although I think that might be not quite the right word). Because not everyone starts on the same level, and not everyone ends up on the same level either. And that's okay. I can't write like those authors, but you know what?
They can't write like me, either.
(Oh, gosh, wouldn't it be scary if they were like, "Actually..." and then sent me something so perfectly imitating my writing that it rendered me completely obsolete and then I'd just go down into my parent's basement and never leave again and go ahead and drink all of that Dr Pepper and not recycle the cans and get adult onset diabetes and prove my husband right and yeah, let's just stop this line of thinking immediately. Let's prove my husband right on the beautiful part, instead.)
Because while dismissing someone's work as something natural like talent is wrong, I strongly believe that a talented author or musician can bring something to their piece that no one else can. I also strongly believe that everyone has talent. It might not express in the same way as someone else, or even the way you want it to, but it's there. I've said this before and I've said it again: You have stories to bring to the world that no one else can. Maybe it's through writing. Maybe it's through something else. Regardless, it takes work to get there, and it's not easy, and oftentimes it's not fun, either, but if you have stories to tell, tell them. No one else can tell it like you can.
Except Neil Gaiman, but let's face it: if he wants to tell your story, you're going to let him.