Is Talent Overrated?

I’ve been studying various philosophies of success and mastery lately, in an attempt to better understand how to help writers reach their goals. I came across this idea that Talent is Overrated and that, in fact, it is hard work that leads people to master a skill or profession, not any kind of inborn ability.

I’ve mentioned many times on this blog that there may be a degree of innate talent or aptitude for writing a good book that contributes to a writer’s chances of success. But perhaps I’ve been wrong all this time? I find Geoff Colvin’s theories and his analysis of the research compelling.

He says that it’s not just hard work that makes the difference and leads to greatness. It’s a specific kind of hard work: a regimented and completely consistent practice schedule; tracking and analyzing your performance; and making adjustments as you learn what works and what doesn’t. I admit, it seems hard to apply this kind of structure to writing!

Colvin further asserts (and I first heard this from Tony Schwartz) that if you’re not actively trying to get better, you are probably getting worse.

He uses the analogy of a golfer going out to hit a bucket of balls. That activity in itself is not, apparently, hard enough work to contribute to improvement, success, and greatness. But the golfer who hits the balls, measures the distance and trajectory of each one, and records information about his swing, his stance, his hand positioning (etc.), analyzing which changes to led to a better result… that golfer is more likely to find success.

Over time, if people are not actively improving, actively incorporating new information and new skills, they will lose ability rather than gain or stay the same.


How does this strike you as a writer? Is there any way to incorporate this information into your own journey? And do you think it’s true that talent is over-rated and hard work is the only thing that matters?


  1. Nordlys says:

    Unfortunately, is hard work that is overrated. Hard work is nothing without talent.

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  4. Joanne Kraft says:

    After spending years in a critique group I can say wholeheartedly that talent does NOT always mean success.

    As a published author, I’ve been able to stick my big toe in the waters of success a bit and rub shoulders with a few who are quite successful. I’ve been surprised by two things:

    Writers who succeed aren’t always the best at writing…they ROCK at marketing and fine tuning their audience.


    Great writers don’t always have what it takes to launch their message. Many who I’ve come in contact with should have been published years ago, BUT they either don’t put themselves out there, or they sometimes feel their “too good” to swim around in the social marketing waters.

    Either way, I’m intrigued now to read this book. Thanks alot, Rachelle. Looks like I’m adding another book to my Nook tonight.

  5. Hard work alone is never enough in any enterprise. Granted it may not take talent, or perhaps talent can be cultivated.

    Working smart is what is important. But with so many voices out there, what is an entrepreneur to do? How do we sort through all the instructors for the truth that works for us?

  6. Lanny says:

    Good post!

  7. Dave Morris says:

    Graham Greene said that a writer is “one who knows the long despair of doing nothing well.” As long as you’re attempting something new with each book (and if you’re not, why write?) I think the best you can hope for is that something of what you’ve learned on previous books will give you a pointer, or at least confidence that fresh problems can be solved. In short, you can hone the part of your writing ability that is a craft, but it is dangerous to rely only on craft – that way lies hackwork – and the rest, being art, is an ever-changing country.

  8. I think my talent is UN-rated.

    Seriously, I believe success is based on myriad factors: talent, luck & persistence, to distill it.

    Were the Beatles untalented? No, they were great musicians. But they were persistent, slaving away in the bars of Hamburg to hone their craft.

    In contrast, are the Kardashians talented? (Or persistent, for that matter?) No, they’re lucky, because they live in an era (and place) where one can become famous by being famous.

  9. Kerry Gans says:

    I do believe that writers are born with an innate desire to write. And I do believe that some people have a greater natural facility with words than others, just as some people can do complicated math in their heads while others can’t. But as with any natural gift, if you do not work to hone it, someone with a greater work ethic may surpass the one with the talent.

    There is a great deal in writing that can be analyzed and objectively rated, so there is room even in the creative arena for some sort of analyzing and adjustment. You can analyze your story structure, for instance, or over-used words, or any number of other things. We let beta readers and crit partners give us feedback on what works and what doesn’t and adjust accordingly. We send out queries and tweak them as the results come in.

    Talent helps, but someone with a strong work ethic and the willingness to analyze and adjust their work can surpass someone who relies on natural ability alone.


  10. I wouldn’t say talent is overrated, but I would say hard work is underrated.

    Rachelle, I really like your point that not improving is actually getting worse. I think that’s brilliant.

    Now my question is, how do writers who are turning out books every six months able to actually learn something to make them better writers? Don’t we learn by reading, studying, getting feedback, taking classes?

    I subscribe to John Wooden’s philosophy here–it isn’t practice that makes perfect; it’s perfect practice that makes perfect. So writing in the same style and with no input doesn’t seem to me to naturally lend itself to improvement.


  11. Mandi Lynn says:

    I think the book has it spot on. My aunt told me that the difference between being an unpublished author and a published author is working hard to reach your goal even after your work keeps getting rejected.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I think that sometimes talent can also be overlooked in favor of following “rules,” “craft,” and conventional “techniques” (Whatever label you want to put on it). I’ve seen it in certain environments and certainly with some of the stuff that gets traditionally published vs. authors that self-publish.

    Some people prefer to write almost 100% intuitively–and that’s what works for them. Others, it takes study and more ‘work.’ Either way you’ve got to be persistent, but I still feel that it’s so subjective and like pop music it has turned into cookie-cutter models for making money (by manipulating talent).

  13. JoAnn says:

    Look at 50 Shades of Grey. Watch my glass drain to half empty. Hope fades, brow furrows, and who cares about commas anymore?
    I’m not even sure it has to be HARD work anymore. Just shiny, loud, or flashy work.

  14. One of my college coaches once told me that the old saying “practice makes perfect” was nonsense.
    “Practice makes Permanent,” he said. His point was that if you are practicing the wrong technique, you’re just learning bad habits that you will eventually have to overcome later. I think this philosophy applies to writing as well.
    So I agree with Mr. Colvin to a point. On the other hand, I’ve read some rather dry, uninspired works that were perfectly written, just boring as heck. This reminds me of a joke.
    Two inmates are having lunch in prison. One of them shouts out “Thirteen!” and the whole cafeteria bursts into laughter. The second inmate says “What gives?”
    “Well we’ve been here so long we don’t bother telling the whole joke anymore, we’ve got them all memorized.”
    “Cool. Let me try one.”
    “Okay, number seven always gets them rolling.”
    “Seven!” –
    “I thought you said seven was a good one.”
    “Some people just can’t tell a joke.”
    Some people are good story tellers and some aren’t. I think you first need some raw talent, but that alone is not nearly enough. Still, just being a hard worker won’t cut it either.

  15. Karen Ranney says:

    The longer I’ve been writing, the more I study. I read a book on writing, craft or creativity, about once every two weeks. I always learn something new. Same thing when I get copy edits. I incorporate the corrections into my “check each manuscript” manual.

  16. Hard work is important, but talent is also very important. I’ve read books where it was clear that the authors worked hard on them, but the writing wasn’t as good as it could have been. I have to give props to them for making the effort, though.

  17. I wonder if there is some latent Darwinism is Mr. Colvin’s thesis?

    In the Bible, he story of the rich man who leaves his servants in charge of varying amount of his fortune can be taken as an allegory of the ‘talents’ God has given us – to wit, we’re expected to develop that which we have been given to the best of our ability.

    The idea that hard work can ensure success is wonderfully egalitarian, but it feels rather like a politically correct effort. No ‘natural’ elite.

  18. Hmmm… this is challenging my thinking a bit. I always assumed that success involved a combo of talent and hard work. Interesting perspective.

  19. Josh C. says:

    Hard work is essential, but I wouldn’t discount talent. That said, how do we define talent? More specifically, how do we define talent in the context of writing? It has been my experience that those who tell/write good stories also enjoy hearing/reading good stories. By reading, writers study the craft and what makes a good story. Words are our artillery, and we build our arsenals by reading. I’ve yet to meet a person who uses advanced language naturally. However, I have met people who seem to enjoy reading more naturally than others. So, I think that the “talent” we talk about is not so much a natural propensity to use language, but something hardwired in the brain that drives one to work at using language. Some say Success=Hard Work + Talent. I submit that in this venture, Hard Work = Talent, Talent = Hard Work.

  20. Melissa Tagg says:

    Anybody who knows me is going to tease me about quoting this guy, but I can’t help it. This post reminded me of a quote I read in Tim Tebow’s book:

    “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work as hard.”

    Like so many have said, I think talent is often a starting point. But without hard work, talent can get awfully aimless…

  21. Timothy Fish says:

    As I began to read these comments I began to think. Where does God fit in all of this? Whether it is talent one is born with or a willingness to put in the work required, it is often the case that success comes because God has decided that is the way it will be. And sometimes, no matter how talented or hardworking we are, we don’t acheive the success we would like because God has other plans.

  22. I disagree – I think we are all born with specific talents and gifts. I’ve always believed that everyone who wants to be a writer can practice and practice, but those with the talent for it will be the ones to rise to the top.
    The golfer can record his distance and position all he wants, but if he was not born with the talent for it – hand/eye coordination, physical build, etc. – he’ll never be a good golfer.
    Likewise, someone who is tone deaf, with all the practice in the world, will never be a great singer.
    Talent may not be everything, but it counts for a LOT.

    • I definitely agree with this! Your analogies are the ones I would have used.

      I can’t draw or sing well. I could take art or voice lessons, but the physical elements within me aren’t aligned properly to make me great at either. My lines might get smoother and perhaps I’ll gain a better understanding of space, etc., but there’s a disconnect between my brain and my hand that will probably prevent me from ever physically replicating any beautiful picture I can form in my mind. And with singing, the configuration of my throat just isn’t all that great. Even if I learn to breathe properly, sing from my diaphragm, etc., I’ll probably never be capable of a soaring aria.

      With writing, talent often seems tied to creativity for me. Some people simply aren’t innovative enough to come up with good stories, and creativity is a hard thing to foster. Even with classes, mental exercises, etc., those people might never be able to do more than come up with passable story ideas. All the technique in the world won’t change that. It’s just how life is. Talent and skill and discipline are needed to truly succeed in anything.

  23. Ted Cross says:

    Of course hard work is necessary to reach true mastery of any field, but I disagree that talent is overrated. I’ve met a few true prodigies, such as the day I first met Tal Shaked when he was eight and was just beginning to play chess. He was a complete beginner, yet he had everyone in the room whispering to each other that he was going to be a grandmaster someday. It was THAT obvious just from the aura he projected. And of course, he later went on to become world junior champion and a grandmaster. I just think that too few people have met enough natural-born prodigies to understand what innate talent really is. There’s no way it can be overrated. It’s true, though, that even a natural talent can make little progress if they do no hard work with their talent.

  24. We learned the truth of this as parents watching our children play sports. We saw talented athletes fall by the wayside because they didn’t want to work hard. Our own children–who used hard work to complement their modest abilities–were often held up as role models for their tenacity.

    We also learned the truth of this as parents watching our children in the classroom. Though intellectually gifted, they consistently lagged behind students with a ferocious work ethic.

    We’re just glad they merged these attitudes once they hit college. Whew!

  25. Roger Floyd says:

    I disagree with Mr. Schwartz. If hard work were all that was required, then any weekend golfer could become Tiger Woods just by concentrating on golf. I seriously doubt it, though. Tiger Woods is who he is because he has a whopping dose of talent. He works hard, harder than anyone else in golf. But it takes both to make a person good at what he does. Does this mean that, say, John Updike could have been a great golfer had he concentrated on golfing instead of writing? Not very likely. John Updike had a phenomenal talent for writing; he might have been a lousy golfer.

  26. Chris Yokel says:

    I agree with the commenters that have pointed out that without some base level of talent, no amount of hard work will help you achieve proficiency in an area. Besides, if you had no passion for learning some skill, I think you’d have to have some inhuman iron will to learn it by pure hard work.

    Without some level of talent, passion, and desire, metrics is just cogs and wheels, a machine with no soul.

  27. Kevin Butler says:

    Great article. And I would agree 100% with this view. While I think certain writers have a natural ability to articulate their thoughts into written words, I also think it’s a skill which must be maintained and improved upon. There are very few adults who can pick up a football for the first time, step onto an NFL field, and play with the best. While this talent may have always been there, it still needs to be developed and fine-tuned.

    What I find is: the more I write, the better I become at writing. Keeping a systematic writing routine helps me to keep my writing skills sharp. As a pastor, I write my sermons out word-for-word. I preach three times a week. This equals to about 5,000 words per week which I must write. I’m also a freelance writer which requires writing on the spot. Add in my current writing project of my first book, and I have a good routine of daily writing. This has grown my skills tremendously. Therefore, I would wholeheartedly agree with this article.

  28. Mr. Colvin’s wrong.

    The exception that proves the rule is EOD. NO amount of hard work or practice will make it possible for most people to walk up to a live bomb that is designed to kill unexpectedly. A device that may have been specifically placed with anti-handling devices, expressly set to kill the EOD operator.

    Add the potential for a sniper, observing the long walk, to the mix, along with having to wear a suit that cruelly hampers movement and visibility.

    Only a few people can do this. Anyone in reasonable condition can be trained in the mechanics, but no one can be fully trained in the mindset needed.

    I understand that Mr. Colvin wants to make success accessible to those who do the right kind of hard work, but in a lot of fields it simply isn’t possible. You need something more.

    Life is not a level playing field.

    • Elissa says:

      My brother recently retired from Navy EOD, so I know exactly what you’re saying here.

      I don’t know whose research or idea it was originally, but I have heard the term “different intelligences”, and that’s what I think “talent” actually is. Some people are good at math. Some language. Still others have a kinetic intelligence, or an observational intelligence, or an aural intelligence, or some other sort of intelligence. Schools only typically teach and measure mathematical and language intelligences, with a nod toward those with the specific kinetic intelligence required to excel in sports.

      Some skills, such as EOD, require a number of intelligences. As you know, the exacting nature of EOD training not only teaches the various necessary skills for the job, it also weeds out those who simply don’t possess the talent (or what I would call the proper intelligences) to survive in real world situations.

      My point here is, I do believe proper practice at a skill will help anyone improve that skill. BUT– practice cannot replace the lack of a specific intelligence needed for a skill.

  29. I think the initial talent leads the writer to pursue the dream and the dream leads the writer to learn and grow. Talent, in and of itself, won’t go anywhere. Hard work, determination and focus brings the talent into play. No matter how much talent a writer has, unless they understand the principles and “rules” behind writing, their work will be flat. It’s when you put talent to use, with hard work, that you achieve something worth reading.

  30. Sundi Jo says:

    Having a consistent practice schedule. Need to get better at that.

  31. Sarah Thomas says:

    I think a talented person can have initial success but won’t last over the long haul without doing the hard work. And a hard worker can have success over time but probably won’t reach the pinnacle without talent.

    When I took cello lessons it quickly became clear that I could develop a skill if I committed to tons of practice. I seriously doubt, however, that I would ever have become great.

    Maybe it’s that seed of talent that gives people the encouragement they need to persist.

  32. I take from this the idea that I will grow a lot faster as a writer if I don’t just write, but if I actively seek feedback as a means to improve my writing.

    As for the idea of talent – I believe that some people start at a higher level than others, but nobody reaches the highest levels without hard work.

  33. Amanda says:

    I’m going to have to disagree. You cannot convince me that that with hard work, I could be the golfer that Tiger Woods is. You cannot convince me that I could be a painter on par with Freida Khalo if I paint color wheels all day. Of course it is true that Woods practiced and that Khalo got better the more she painted but there are people with inate talent.

    Likewise there are people without it. Those people without the in-born talent can obviously improve, but I think that in every field there are people who are truly special.

  34. Like most things in life, this is a balancing act. Craft can be taught. Creativity cannot. Creativity can be developed and nurtured, but if you don’t have that creative gift to develop, it’s like trying to teach a walrus ballet.

    One of the most valuable things we can learn in life is what we’re NOT cut out to do or be (an education that frequently accompanies discovering our talents). For example, I know for certain that I’m not cut out to be an accountant. Oh, I could learn all about accounting. I could even collect certificates, diplomas, and all the right letters after my name–but if forced to BE an accountant, I’d stab myself through the heart with a number two pencil before my second day on the job.


  35. Jerry Eckert says:

    My take is this: Just as advertisers are finding that a slight British or Canadian accent sells better than an accent from, say, Ohio, so also patterns of speech and expression one is given at home and in early school constitute an endowment for a writer, a cultural endowment if you will. After that, genius is 99% perspiration, to quote Edison.

  36. I play guitar. I have limited ability on the instrument. Practice does help me, but I am at best adequate. When I hear some one like Eric Clapton play, I know he has a God given talent for the guitar. I’m going to say there are a lot of adequate writers out there and I may be one of them. I have not reached my ability’s full potential yet. I feel I have improved the more I delve into it. I know I can work harder. I also know that talent makes the difference.

  37. Chris Lunda says:

    The writing process certainly requires commitment. The unfinished books that litter the junk rooms of suburbia are proof alone. Practice also has its place. That is undeniable.

    However hard work does not drive a story line; it is not a synonym for artistry and work alone just might with a little luck produce a decent cookbook. My problem with the general ‘hard work’ theory is the use of the word ‘work’ at all.

    I submit to you that it is a world of ‘hard play’ that an artist lives in because we love what we do. Frequent are the times that I draw upon the muse of my inner adolescence and return to a day when ambiguity ruled my world and work never entered my mind.

    The weaving of words seems to me to be more a practice of patience. Waiting for the right ones is not really work at all.

  38. A few years ago I went back to school to obtain a second degree in music. Now I am not naturally exceptional musician, but I had PASSION. That passion led me to work extra hard to achieve my goals. I worked hard. It was frustrating watching others who had to put in only one hour to my four, but it was well worth the extra work. I think it is very helpful to know where you are on the talent continuum. Knowing that helps to know how much work you have to put in on a daily basis.

  39. Cathy says:

    Success in sports and success in the arts are very different, as sports results are not subjective. Only people who are preternaturally talented AND work like mad will get to the top of the sports world.

    In the arts, your performance can be crappy but you can still be successful. And your performance can be stunning but you can still labor in relative obscurity (as did the late, great William Gay.)

    But oh, when talent and mastery unite…what a heavenly thing.

  40. I’m going to throw out a few points including some concrete examples that will probably spark discussion. 🙂

    Here’s the sentence that caught my eye:

    “…It’s not just hard work that makes the difference and leads to greatness. It’s a specific kind of hard work.”

    It’s interesting that there’s a sculpture of a discus athlete on the front of Colvin’s book. I could practice discus for twenty hours a day for the rest of my life and never, ever win even a regional meet for women, let alone go to the Olympics. It’s simple. I have a naturally small and weak upper body, and though I’ve strengthened it, I’ll never be *good* at discus. It’s easier to fake writing a novel than it is to fake winning a track meet, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are basic mental abilities that determine whether an author can write a good novel without extensive assistance.

    Hard work and humility are indispensable, but just because some novels can be popular through hard work alone does not mean that they will be *great.* There are some objective standards by which we can assess whether a novel is unusually good or great. One of them is originality, and the other is craft. By those standards, The Hunger Games (the first book) is an unusually good popular novel. (Some might quibble about its originality, but let’s just ignore the question of plagiarism for now. 🙂 By the same standards, Twilight is *not* a good novel, but it’s a very successful novel. Is Fifty Shades of Grey a great novel? Does it ‘deserve’ its success because of the hard work of its author? Novels can be successful for many reasons, some of which have little to do with quality. Sometimes they’re even successful depending on an author’s willingness to serve up certain attractive but morally controversial enticements. With a little hard work, I could probably write erotica that sold pretty darn well, but I won’t. The publishing industry’s subjective definition of success vs. quality or goodness is completely different from the objective competition of the Olympics.

    Hard work can definitely lead to success, and no author succeeds without it, but, unless an author’s editor actually writes large portions of her novel for her, hard work by itself can’t produce a truly good novel…only a successful novel. Novel-writing requires high-level ability in language, analysis, and synthesis, and those abilities are to a certain extent hard-wired into each human being. Most of the rest of brain development in language takes place in the first few years of life. Most of us have met children who are prodigiously gifted in language. It’s as unmistakable as a gift in sports. Can people write successful novels without some level of gifting? Yes, but not truly good novels. (And by the label ‘good’ I don’t mean literary fiction novels.) The storytelling ability is also a product of innate talent because it involves intuiting patterns, though it can be learned (and is often heavily assisted by editors as well.) The storytelling in The Hunger Games is simply better than the storytelling in Twilight.

    OK, have I said enough? 🙂

    • Gwen Stewart says:

      What an excellent response, Rosslyn, and so apt. I wonder: does part of the writer’s practice include honing the long antennae necessary to observe and record humans and their oddities and particulars? I would say yes…and that would seemingly include time spent away from the keyboard.

      Just my two cents….take it to the bank and you’ll get a ha’penny. 😉

  41. Colin Smith says:

    If the author is suggesting there’s no such thing as “talent,” or innate ability, I have to wholeheartedly disagree. Too often I’ve seen people that find it easy to do things that others struggle with (whether it’s learning, music, writing, acting, crafts, etc.). Anyone can learn a skill, and with disciplined practice can become adept at the skill. But there’s a difference between someone who has learned how to form sentences and utilize good grammar, and a naturally-gifted writer. And I think you can tell the difference when you read the two.

    Yes, practice will make the gifted better. Those with talent shouldn’t squander that talent by not honing it and practicing it. But I think there is a correlation between being gifted at something, and putting in the necessary hard work to become highly skilled at it. I’ve not read this book, but it sounds as if the author is suggesting that “talent” is nothing more than the fruit of disciplined practice. I would rather suggest that disciplined practice is the fruit of talent. In my experience, those that are gifted in an area love to do that which they are naturally good at, so practice for them is not drudgery. It’s just doing what they love to do.

    There are my scrambled thoughts for what they’re worth! 🙂

  42. Hard work is the determining factor but you’ve got to have the talent too–because that implies interest and passion in what you are pursuing.

    My only passion for math is that I hate it with a passion, so you’ll never see me investing myself into further studies. I’m sure I COULD learn to do better, but the motivation isn’t there. Nor the talent.

  43. CG Blake says:

    Great post. I love the golf analogy. I lean toward hard work as the most important factor in success, though it must be coupled with a commitment to lifelong learning about the craft and the ability to self-critique your work, as illustrated in the golf analogy.

  44. The golf analogy is a good one, and can be expressed another way: Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.
    You can either get better with every swing (or book or whatever), or can learn to groove and reproduce a bad swing (or book or whatever). A writer (or golfer or whatever) never stops learning and trying to improve.
    Thanks for sharing.

  45. R.A.Savary says:

    I knew I was going to reply on this topic as soon as I read the question. I read all the comments, arguing and making points of my own as I did. When I got to the comment block at the end, I positioned my keyboard, ready to type, then stared out the window. Thoughts came and a sentence would begin to formulate, then I would dismiss that thread, knowing it was the beginning of something too long for a mere blog-comment. With a finished novel that I have been querying for since October, no finacial resources and only a teenie-weenie publishing history, this is all “at the core” stuff for me at this time. The words I was about to type are important and apply to me; they are my truth. I tried again; with the same result, so I stared out the window some more. Then I knew what to write. This, is what makes me a good writer. This, is what will make me a better writer. This, is what makes me successful.

  46. Talent’s an absolute requisite…plus a talent for being able to be effective while working hard.

    You can’t differentiate them. The talent that makes a good storyteller isn’t really raw – it’s focused and honed through use and observation.

    It’s a bit more like marriage than golf – substituting ‘love’ for ‘talent’.

    In a marriage, love is NEVER enough. The only thing that will make a marriage work is love fused with the willingness and desire to work hard – and sacrifice, and make demands – for the good of the union. But the love has to be there to start with – otherwise it’s a partnership, not a marriage.

  47. Heather says:

    Offhand, having not read the book, I would agree with you that hard work is really the payoff. But I would also argue that passion is the key to that hard work. I find it difficult to pursue something that in depth unless I’m passionate about it to begin with.

  48. Jeanne says:

    Great thoughts today, Rachelle. It seems like talent is the first step toward writing successfully. Some people have it, and, with honing and hard work can use it effectively. But, it will do nothing worthwhile by itself. I know people who dread writing. They’re not comfortable with it, so they avoid it.

    I’ve put thoughts in a journal for most of my life, but I’ve only recently begun writing stories. I’m actively learning and applying what I’m learning to improve as a writer. Loved your golf analogy. A golfer can put in the time by practicing hitting balls for hours, but the best improvement comes when he evaluates his stroke and his progremakes necessary changes.

    Isn’t that what we need to do improve as writers?

    Thanks for the encouraging thoughts today.

  49. Hard work all the way.

  50. Jo mentions passion, Chudney says that talent gets us started. I agree with both of them that when combined with hard work (and Daniel’s point about “smart” hard work), these are the most successful people.

    As a current English teacher, I am among many that say “the best way to get better at reading is to read MORE” and “the best way to get better at writing is to write”. The two go hand in hand, in order to get better at writing, we must also read. Of course, we must continue to focus on the entire craft, and not just quantity of words.

    Hard work, yes, can get you somewhere as a writer, but not hard work alone. I think there must be that combination… but for each individual the amount of each ingredient might vary.

  51. bobbie says:

    The 10,000 hour rule can be found explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book ‘Outliers’.

  52. Very interesting thoughts, Rachelle. I think that people CAN learn to write better. However, obviously some people may have more of a bent toward or talent in writing that makes certain aspects of it easier for them. That may mean more hard work on the part of the person who isn’t as naturally bent toward writing. But writing, like any art, takes practice, and so I fully believe that if you want to be really good, talent isn’t enough. You have to hone that talent and ability.

    It’s just like singing (I’m a singer, so that’s why I use this analogy). Some people have a natural talent toward knowing pitch. Some even have perfect pitch. But until one takes voice lessons, is coached by someone who knows how to use the voice properly and take care of it, then the talent is raw. It’s there, but it hasn’t been nurtured to grow. The voice muscles haven’t been used enough to be mature and toned.

    • Jeanne says:

      Love your singing analogy, Lindsay! It creates a great word picture, and it’s so true!

    • Elissa says:

      I’m a musician, and I know when I’m on pitch. But I can’t sing for anything. I hear that I’m off; I just can’t make the notes come out where they should.

      Very clearly mine is a case where vocal lessons and tons of practice (i.e. hard work) would definitely make up for lack of “talent”. But… there are only so many hours in a day, and I choose to use my time to improve my skills in areas other than singing. Such as writing. 🙂

  53. For today’s writer, there’s no question about the benefit of studying metrics. It can shape your work with razor sharpness if you just “listen” to what you see.

  54. I think that talent is what gets you started. What you do to improve upon that talent deteremines whether or not you master your skill.

  55. I agree (that success isn’t created just from hard work but rather a specific kind of hard work). Lots of people work hard but don’t achieve the same success as others (who work hard and smart).

    I think this works for writers too.

    John Maxwell comes to mind as an example. He has a system, analyzes and modifies over time. His formula works for him. He just shared a lot of it at A Day About Books.

    Every successful author that I work with has a desire to not just work hard but to learn, improve and grow.

    • Jillian Kent says:

      There’s something to be said for working smarter. I think that’s key and takes time to determine what works well and what doesn’t. Those who keep working at this and continue to feed their passion will be more successful. Is passion more important?

  56. Sue Harrison says:

    My father always told us that no matter how good (or talented) we were, there would always be someone out there who is better. THEN he encouraged (and still encourages) his 5 kids to get out there and work as hard as we can.

    I don’t like to compete with other people. I feel sad if my accomplishments make someone else feel jealous or unworthy. But I LOVE to compete with myself and work hard to achieve a goal.

    My husband often wears a T shirt that reads, “Practice makes progress.” That’s my motto as I write my novels.

  57. Timothy Fish says:

    As the saying goes, it isn’t practice that makes perfect but perfect practice makes perfect. For the writer, it isn’t that they have spent thousands of hours pounding away at the keyboard that makes them a great writer. A great writer is one who has spent that time learning to recognize where their writing fails and how to correct what is wrong. In some cases, that may mean using a critique group or attending a conference, but ultimately, the writer must be able to improve their work while in the most lonely place on earth.

  58. Lee Thompson says:

    I think hard work is a cornerstone in improving. Focused and attentive practice create precision and control. I’ve always enjoyed hand copying favorite novels. And its fun to take notes and learn the structure of old Twilight Zone episodes, where the doorways are introduced, how they’re introduced, and what pivotal moments are life changing (or maybe only attitude/perception changing) for the characters.

  59. I think this is exactly what writers are doing when they rely on regular critique. After all, the only way to find out what isn’t working in your novel is to let others tell you.

    The more I’m critiqued, the better I get at identifying actionable comment / suggestion; the better my writing gets; the more I improve overall.

    • Sue Harrison says:

      I totally agree, Aimee! I owe so much to my agent, crit partner, husband, editors, reviewers – all who vet my work in one way or another and point out areas where I could improve.

  60. I had a lot of these same questions when I attended a writer conference where Deb Cooke was a keynote speaker. She gave me a whole new outlook on how to measure success, and who has the power to judge what we consider as success.

    Mastery and success are very different and how – and who – defines or judges that achievement is a personal choice.

  61. Brendan Podger says:

    I have seen a number of people quote the ‘10,000’ hour rule(the time you need to practice to become expert at something).

    • Sue Harrison says:

      I love the idea of the 10,000 rule, Brendan, because it allows me to achieve something even if I’m not talented in that area, just through sheer effort and force of will, but I think that a talented person who achieves the 10,000 is going to have a better “product” or end result than a person who isn’t talented but also achieves the 10,000. Count me as the latter, but very content with the achievement!

      • Paul says:

        I like the IDEA of the 10k rule, but I believe there’s a raw foundation of talent required. For instance, I put in 10k at judo and competed at a high level (even representing Canada at points), but wasn’t going to the Olympics. My body just didn’t suit it.

        Same for the brain. I believe you can become a good writer in 10k hours, but maybe not a good storyteller if the aptitude just isn’t there.

        Hopefully I’m wrong though!

  62. Hi Rachel,

    I’ve read the same book and also wondered if late bloomers were possible under his hypothesis.

    As to writing…I’ve found that the more I write, the more conscious I become of what I am writing. This may be similar to the golfer measuring the results of each swing. For instance, I’m currently going through the final revisions of my latest novel, and I find myself evaluating each sentence as I go along.Some get cut, while others become springboards for new scenes.

    I believe I have become a better writer over time.

    Interesting post!

    • I’d think this hypothesis would very much support the idea of late bloomers, simply because it seems to advocate hard work and the building of skill. A late bloomer would either have had a longer time to build such things or, if they started working later in life, might have a more mature mind to begin with and be better able to analyze the work and improve upon it.

  63. Jo Eberhardt says:

    I don’t think the only thing that matters is hard work, although I certainly agree that hard work is the make-or-break ingredient.

    However, I believe that people are really only going to have the focus, the determination and the PASSION to put that level of hard work into something with which they have a natural affinity.

    • SJOlson says:

      I think today we all read people who get published who we question their real talent..its the same in music etc. You do need hard work, but a truly talented writer who works hard is bound to be very successful.

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