The issue of talent

Before I start, I’d just like to say that I still find it fascinating the search terms that supposedly lead people to my blog.  And I haven’t decided yet whether the search engines are really bad at matching up people with what they’re looking for or if there just aren’t articles out there on certain topics.

Or maybe the search engines are really, really good at what they do.  Yesterday I had a hit from someone who had searched for “what is unbridled arrogance”?  Perhaps this whole blog is an example?

Just kidding.  I hope.

I mean, really, it’s probably only every third entry that’s a good example…

Ok.  Anyway.  (Oh, and since I posted that link to Dr. Doyle discussing the consistent use of ok, I figured out that I use the version she doesn’t like.  And that I also seem to think there may be two types of ok out there…ok and OK.  Hmm.)

So, let’s talk talent.

PCW had a great post that I think ties into the Chuck Wendig posts from yesterday.

Too Much Talent

A few quotes:

“‘talent’ is as common as mud; what’s rare is the motivation to sit down and actually do something with one’s talent, the discipline to do it regularly, and the persistence to stick with it until it’s finished.”

“What isn’t quite so obvious is that having too much talent can be a drawback. I’ve seen far too many new and would-be writers who’ve written amazing first novels or parts of novels…and then died on the vine when writing suddenly got hard.”

“All too often, though, the writers who’ve been admired early on for their talent do not recognize any flaws in their work, and thus see no reason to try to get better…”

“There’s a difference, however, between thinking that a particular story is as good as one can presently make it, and thinking that anything and everything one writes is brilliant and not to be improved upon.”

Read the whole thing.  It’s worth it.  And I think she absolutely has a point.

I’ve seen this more with sports.  I played sports in middle school and high school and ever once in a while you’d have someone who was just a natural talent.  They were amazing and started varsity freshman year.  But come senior year they weren’t always the best player on the team (or even playing anymore).  Often the best player was the one who had committed themselves to being the best day after day and, over the course of four years, had worked their way to a level above the natural.

Talent too early can be deadly.  Especially when the people around you think you’re great and keep telling you so.  Where’s the motivation to improve when people keep telling you that you’re already one of the best?  And where’s the challenge?  What is there to aim for?

If you succeed too easily it doesn’t feel rewarding.  It doesn’t feel like an accomplishment no matter what other people tell you.  And you don’t develop that fear that keeps you trying to improve year after year.  When it seems like your position is assured, you don’t feel the uncertainty and need that drive many truly successful people.

So, sometimes the plugger is the guy who actually takes it the distance.

My dad used to tell me the story of a guy he played basketball with in high school.  Freshman year the guy tried out for the team and didn’t even make it onto junior varsity.  He sucked.  But he wanted it so bad that he spent the entire summer wearing ankle weights and working on his hook shot and three pointers.  Next year he came back and started varsity.  And went on to play pro.

(My dad’s role was to foul the hell out of him so he’d get used to aggressive play.  Or so my dad said…)

That guy knew what it was like to fail, to have your dream denied.  But the guy who is 6’4″ (and coordinated enough to use it) freshman year?  That guy isn’t going to feel the need or the drive he’s going to need to turn pro.

Not to say that natural talents don’t make it.  Or that they don’t have staying power.  They do.  But I think most that make it and stay have something else driving them.  Maybe they were poor or ostracized in some way.  But somewhere inside there is a little voice insisting they need to be just a little bit better, a little bit more than they are right now.  Something deep down that says if they don’t keep working at it, they’re going to lose it.

Without that voice, I personally think it’s almost impossible to stay on top (assuming you ever get there in the first place).


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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2 Responses to The issue of talent

  1. dana mentink says:

    Good post. In my view, talent gets you started and hard work gets the book into the world and the next one after that, etc., etc. 🙂

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