Doctor Mana’s Pocket Guide to Talent for Writers
Last night I got caught up in a discussion about talent.
I find the subject as fascinating as useless.
I usually tend to stay clear of people claiming to possess talent, or to be somehow indentured to it.
To me, talent is like Luminiferous ether.
Ether, or luminiferous Ether, was the hypothetical substance through which electromagnetic waves travel. It was proposed by the greek philosopher Aristotle and used by several optical theories as a way to allow propagation of light, which was believed to be impossible in “empty” space.
So here follows my own little collection of talent-related quotes.
“There was never talent, only hard work.”
“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.”
“When we set about accounting for a Napoleon or a Shakespeare or a Raphael or a Wagner or an Edison or other extraordinary person, we understand that the measure of his talent will not explain the whole result, nor even the largest part of it; no, it is the atmosphere in which the talent was cradled that explains; it is the training it received while it grew, the nurture it got from reading, study, example, the encouragement it gathered from self-recognition and recognition from the outside at each stage of its development: when we know all these details, then we know why the man was ready when his opportunity came.”
“The world loves talent but pays off on character.”
(John W. Gardner)
“Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.”
“You may be able to write a novel, you may not. You will never know until you have worked very hard indeed and written at least part of it. You will never really know until you have written the whole of it and submitted it for publication.”
“You can have tons of talent, but it won’t necessarily keep you fed. If you have sharp instincts, through, you’ll never go hungry.”
“Talent is extremely common. What is rare is the willingness to endure the life of the writer.”
(Kurt Vonnegut Jr.)
“Talent is a long patience, and originality an effort of will and intense observation.”
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
“In the last twenty years the colleges have been emphasizing creative writing to such an extent that you almost feel that any idiot with a nickel’s worth of talent can emerge from a writing class able to write a competent story. In fact, so many people can now write competent stories that the short story as a medium is in danger of dying of competence. We want competence, but competence by itself is deadly. What is needed is the vision to go with it, and you do not get this from a writing class.”
“I think that writers are made, not born or created out of dreams of childhood trauma—that becoming a writer (or a painter, actor, director, dancer, and so on) is a direct result of conscious will. Of course there has to be some talent involved, but talent is a dreadfully cheap commodity, cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work and study; a constant process of honing. Talent is a dull knife that will cut nothing unless it is wielded with great force—a force so great the knife is not really cutting at all but bludgeoning and breaking (and after two or three of these gargantuan swipes it may succeed in breaking itself…which may be what happened to such disparate writers as Ross Lockridge and Robert E. Howard). Discipline and constant work are the whetstones upon which the dull knife of talent is honed until it becomes sharp enough, hopefully, to cut through even the toughest meat and gristle. No writer, painter, or actor—no artist—is ever handed a sharp knife (although a few are handed almighty big ones; the name we give to the artist with the big knife is “genius”), and we hone with varying degrees of zeal and aptitude.”
“What’s talent but the ability to get away with something?”
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; un-rewarded genius is almost a proverb.”
“Remember – it’s a long race and you can always outwork talent in the end.”
“Don’t you know about the praying mantis that waved its arms angrily in front of an approaching carriage, unaware that they were incapable of stopping it? Such was the high opinion it had of its talents.”
“I think talent is like a water table under the earth—you tap it with your effort and it comes through you.”
“Write. Don’t talk about writing. Don’t tell me about your wonderful story ideas. Don’t give me a bunch of ‘somedays’. Plant your ass and scribble, type, keyboard. If you have any talent at all it will leak out despite your failure to pay attention in English.”