Monday, August 1, 2011

Talent Versus Work

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.

33 comments:

Lissa said...

This is a good post. it takes hard work to produce something of substance. How many drafts did Paranormalcy and Supernaturally go through?

Suz Korb said...

Hopefully my already thrice drafted manuscript will one day reflect my hard work and talent. I haven't even drafted it enough times to send it to lit agents yet!

And you're right, I never imagine published authors have to put so much work into their perfectly talented looking books.

Luisa Perkins said...

Excellent post! A thought-provoking kick in the pants, very much needed today.

Samantha said...

I'm new to your blog and I must say that I really love it! Your humor is amazing and what you have to say is spot on. I don't like it when I see a review of a book and it says something like "the next James Patterson," because honestly, no two authors write exactly the same. We all have our own style and that's what is so beautiful about reading.

Great post!

Brenna Braaten said...

I think people always forget how much time and energy goes into writing. I have been lamenting for a while over my manuscript, and you reminded me that everyone else goes through that too. This was a beautiful post for Monday.

And yeah, hard to touch a guy like Gaiman.

Laura Ann Swanson said...

I spend a year letting it ruminate, a year world building and obsessive outline making, and a year writing the rough draft numero uno BEFORE erasing everything and starting again at least 10 times...
So yeah. Growing new people is easier than new stories.

Red Boot Pearl said...

So true--and good thing I don't write like any of them or I'd never think my work was good enough to send in...

prerna pickett said...

Thank you for this post. I have a hard time not complaining about how my writing will never as good as _____(fill in the blank). And yes, it takes a while to get to that finished product, but it's worth the hard work (and I'm hoping I have the talent for it, too). I've lost count on how many revisions I've done thus far.

Red Boot Pearl said...

haha, that came out totally weird... I meant if I had a similar style and measured myself next to their work I would crawl in a cave and die...

I still don't know if i'm getting my point across

Dara said...

Excellent and thought provoking post. I went and counted the draft of my last WiP and I had a good 7 versions. And it's still no where close to being done!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

I strongly believe that a talented author or musician can bring something to their piece that no one else can.

This is what has kept me going over the years!

Steph Sinkhorn said...

That online "Who Do You Write Like?" test tells me that I write like Neil Gaiman, and you can imagine how thrilled that makes me even though I know it's probably totally bogus. But sometimes you take what you can get.

I read somewhere once that having your art recognized means you must have at least two of these three things: talent, luck, or persistence. Hopefully you have all three, but you need at least two. I find that pretty fitting.

rockinlibrarian said...

This is a lovely lovely post in every way, and I thank you for it. I ought to print it out for inspiration on occasion.

Juliemybird said...

I don't have a lot of beautiful words with which to respond to this post, because I'm pretty sure it left me speechless. Speechless, and profoundly encouraged. All the best things.

Also, Red Boot Pearl, I totally get where you're coming from.

Alex (A Girl, Books, OtherThings) said...

I've always been of the opinion that, whatever the field, an artist is nothing without talent, but talent is nothing without hard work.

Every skill, as natural as it comes to you, needs work to be something truly good.

Bryan Russell said...

I don't trust a man who wears black all the time. Very suspicious, Mr. Gaiman, very suspicious.

Stay away from my story. I know how you love to write fluffy bunny stories, but this one's mine.

Lo said...

How can you be so awesome and so adorable at once? NO REALLY I WANT TO KNOW. This was such a great post. I think I'll read it about 500 times today.

xo
Lo

Suzie F. said...

Great post!

And, really. Who can touch a man who has been on an episode of Arthur? It doesn't get much better than that.

kllamp said...

I absolutely agree, we all have gifts/talents of many kinds, but if we don't work at them or do anything with them, they are not going to improve, in fact we will probably lose the gifts we orginally had.

Great post!

Melissa x

Michelle said...

Draft 18? Ok, now I feel better about my draft 5. Thanks, Kiersten!

Unknown said...

It's kind of like when you see models who look really stunning because they have "no makeup on." And then you find out how much product and hours of work it took to make that person look like they aren't wearing makeup. (Uh, yes. This is a very shallow and somewhat shoddy comparison). Your books, Kiersten, feel so effortless and fun. At the same time, I feel like part of why they feel that way to the reader is because you have worked so hard to build a believable world and allow Evie & Co. to really tell the story and shine, which takes a lot of hard work. By the way, I finished Supernaturally today and am so impatient for Endlessly!! My only complaint is I WANT MORE RETH! Excuse the Kanye caps. I just wanted to get that out there. I don't know what it is about Reth and his cray-cray ways, but they are so much fun to read. He is fascinating, though I wouldn't want him stalking me.

Becka-la said...

Talking of awesome authors that have a fantastic and unique way of writing *cough* *Kiersten* *cough*...

I was wondering if you liked Harry Potter cause if so did you know that JKRowling has got an early entry to Pottermore going on at the moment?

In the morning (in england) each day from the 31st July to the 6th August she's posting a question to do with each of the books successively which if you answer and put at the end of a website thing you can find the magic quill and gain early access to the all-about-harry-potter website that only opens completely to the public in October!

P.s. Jus tgot Supernaturally in the post yesterday! AWESOME!!!!

LinWash said...

This is a lovely post. And who knows? Maybe Neil (one of my favorite authors too) is geeking out ovr Evie and her Tasey. If so, he can join the rest of us.

Krystal said...

I dont know abOut the cute boys thing, Ettiene and Lend are neck and neck in my mind. Ettiene is British but Lend is made of water. Oh, and by the way I stayed up all last night reading Supernaturally and you got me to cry. Twice. I loved it and personally, this book beet all the Neil Gaiman ones in my favorites!

Shallee said...

I love this! I've heard the argument that "everything is work" in writing, and I've never really agreed with it. Yes, it's true that the harder you work and the more you learn, the better the end product will be. But it's also true, like you said, that everyone has talents. Different writers have different natural abilities-- and that's why we have so many wonderful different books!

One thing I love about having critique groups is that not only are they good to point out the spots that can get better with more work, but they can also point out the spots that shine-- the spots that show where your personal writing talents are.

Thanks for this thoughtful post. :)

Becci said...

This stayed with my all through yesterday and into today. When you find out someone shares your fears, it's like HOLY CHEESE, I'm not alone!

So well said, and... yeah, just thanks for this.

justshireen said...

Lovely, lovely post. The magic is somewhere in between the hard work and the natural talent, I think.

Your post reminded me of something I heard Neil Gaiman say in an interview recently. Something along the lines of, "No one is going to be a better Neil Gaiman than me. No one is going to write American Gods better than I can. No one is a better you, than you are. No one can do your work better than you."

I'm sure I've butchered it a bit, but the sentiment is the same and what I think you're saying as well.

Whirlochre said...

Too true. A surfeit of brain cells is definitely a genetic advantage, but once the die has been cast, the ability to (wish to) rub synapses together till they chafe into flames is what counts.

Melanie Jacobson said...

I am insanely in love with this post. It's so true. To say it's just talent actually is pretty dismissive. I believe in my talent but I'm having to face how incredibly undisciplined I can be and it's really, really uncomfortable because the work is SO HARD.

Laini Taylor said...

Wonderful post, Kiersten! Our expression are all unique to our own brains and experience -- it's the coolest thing ever. And draft 18! Ha ha ha! So not funny. Why am I laughing. I feeeeeel that pain.

lotusgirl said...

Marvelous post! Well stated.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

This is so encouraging! Shared it! Thanks so much for giving aspiring writers like me hope that we can become masters of the written word, too. Some days we read Paranormalcy or The Maze Runner and go, Gah! I'll never get there!

This post rocks.

Christina Farley said...

Yes, yes and yes! Writing is so hard and yet sometimes I wonder if the talent is more in the sheer perseverance of it all. And chocolate. There's that too.