Monday, March 21, 2011

Hardworking vs. Talented

L'éducation de la Vierge - after Georges de La Tour (1593 - 1652)]Recently, I spoke to an acquaintance of mine. She asked about my upcoming books, and I told her about the upcoming releases in June and November.

“I’m both pleased for you and jealous of you,” she said to me. “You’re doing exactly what I’d have liked to have done, but didn’t do.”

I’ve heard that kind of statement before, and I’m always taken aback by it. If we’re alive and kicking, it’s never too late. It’s not. I always remember everyone reading And Ladies of the Club in the 1980s. It became a best-selling novel—50 years in the making. The book’s author, Helen Hoover Santmyer, was 88 years old at the time of the release.

I did mention that it was never too late, but she told me that, for her, it was. I told the lady I was speaking with what I usually say in this situation: “Getting published is a combination of persistence, hard work, talent, and luck. The most important things are hard work and persistence.”

It made me wonder what made her stop writing. Why had she given up on her dream of publishing a book?

There was an interesting study that I recently read about, involving children and their success with different tasks. The title for the study findings, released by two authors from Columbia University, is: Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Motivation and Performance.”

The study found that a group of children that had excelled at an activity and then been told they’d done well because they were smart had frequently done poorly the next time they’d been tested. They had no control over being smart—and being told they were smart, the children were concerned that the next test would show they were less-competent than they’d been told. The study stated:

They are also afraid of effort because effort makes them feel dumb. They believe that if you have the ability, you shouldn't need effort (Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007), that ability should bring success all by itself.

The children who'd been praised for being hardworking, performed even better on the next test, determined to show again how industrious they were.

It makes me wonder if some writers give up on writing, thinking it’s necessary to have a tremendous writing gift. And, if they run into a wall with their writing, they’re quick to assume they don’t have the gift and shouldn’t waste their time.

I think, clearly, there’s got to be some talent there to write a publishable book. But I also feel that you can learn writing —and vastly improve your ability and potential for being published by reading novels in your area of interest and by learning writing skills via writing blogs or classes.

This is where I think the hard work and persistence comes in. Yes, there needs to be some talent there. Not everyone is going to be picked up by a traditional publisher. But I do feel like everyone can improve, and that many writers can improve enough to be publishable.

Adding an element of determination and hard work (and, in this business, patience) and I feel like it’s a combination that can serve to get a writer published.

Being told it’s talent only (the equivalent of the children being told they were successful because they were smart)? I don’t think that’s true.

Clearly there are many different reasons why some writers give up writing. Sometimes they might be overwhelmed with other things in their life, sometimes they just don’t prioritize writing high enough on the list to finish a book. But I hate to think that there might be writers out there who think that they just haven’t ‘got it.’ Because I really believe it’s possible to vastly improve, whether you’ve ‘got it’ or not.

What do you think? For the majority of writers on the shelves today—was it pure talent? Was it mainly hard work and persistence? It was probably both—but was it 50-50 talent/hard work? Or did it weigh more on one side than the other?