A burning question many aspiring writers often torture themselves with is “Do I have the necessary talent required to be a writer?”
People often ask me how many talented writers come to our courses. I respond by saying I believe everyone who has a genuine desire to write has the raw ingredients to be a writer.
The truth is, everyone is a unique individual and has something worthwhile to say.
We see living proof of this all the time. Like any creative pursuit though, what the final results will be depends on how far you want to take it.
One of the real pleasures of running our 4-Week Unlocking Creativity course is witnessing the process of people recognising their own talent as well as their fellow writers.
Many people walk into the first session feeling anxious and doubting their ability. Some wonder whatever made them do the course in the first place.
In contrast, at the end of the three-hour session everyone is on a high. Recognising your own creative potential as well as that of fellow writers is an inspiring and uplifting experience.
To Kathleen and I, it always feels like a minor miracle. And is one of the many reasons we love what we do.
Natalie Goldberg, author of ‘Writing Down the Bones’, says, “I’m not saying that everyone is Shakespeare, but I am saying everyone has a genuine voice that can express his or her life with honesty, dignity and detail. There seems to be a gap between the greatness we are all capable of and the way we see ourselves and, therefore, see our work.”
Following are seven important elements to realising your talent as a writer:
1. Accessing the power of your imagination
This is a vital ingredient to anyone’s creative process.
The first session of our 4-Week Unlocking Creativity course is dedicated to giving writers tools to enable them to access their imagination – which we believe is the true source of creativity.
When you learn to do that, you can write in a way that will make other people want to read what you have written.
You discover you have an authentic voice and realise how much untapped creative potential you have. As one writer said at the end of a recent class, “I can’t believe how talented everyone is.”
We always quote Henry Miller in making this point. He said, “Every man (or woman), when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.”
2. Writing is an art and a craft
Once you’ve learned how to access the power of your imagination, you need to learn how to make the stories and images in your mind come alive on the page so they connect with your readers.
This doesn’t happen by accident. Writing is an art and a craft that takes time to master. By learning the tools and techniques of fiction, you make your words come alive on the page for your readers.
John Tullius, author and founder of the Maui Writers’ Conference said, “I don’t care how talented you are. It’s not about contacting your muse. Success comes from taking the time to learn the craft.”
3. Talent equals hard work
It is relatively easy to become a writer, the trick is staying a writer.
The more you write, the better your writing will be. The secret is to steal back the time and make writing part of your life.
When Erina Reddan, author of Lilia’s Secret, did Unlocking Creativity and said she was astounded by how talented everyone was. She determined that what would make her successful was that she was going to work hard and do whatever it took to publish her book.
As Gordon Lish said, “I don’t think that talent or gift, if such things exist, has anything to do with what the final receipts will be. My notion is that anyone who speaks, by reason of that speech, has prospects of achieving important imaginative writing.”
“I see the notion of talent as quite irrelevant. I see instead old-fashioned notions of perseverance, application and industry…It comes down in every instance to this dualism between what one wants and what one may be afraid to have.”
On our whiteboard at the Writers’ Studio we have the following quote: Everything you want in life is on the other side of fear and discipline.
Discipline being the ability to give yourself instructions and carry them out.
By putting in the work your talent becomes ability.
4. The craft of story telling
You have to learn to structure the outpourings of your imagination into a form that works for the reader.
Classic story structure is what gives a story shape and meaning. Poor structure is why 90 per cent of novels and screenplays are rejected.
Story structure is what connects your readers with your characters, takes them on a profound journey and has them wanting to keep turning the pages. If you want to write a novel or screenplay, good structure makes a huge difference.
Robert McKee, the American scriptwriting teacher writes in Story, “You might have the insights of Buddha, but if you can’t tell a story, your ideas will be as dry as dust. Craft is the sum total of all means used to draw the audience into deep involvement, to hold that involvement and ultimately reward it with a moving and meaningful experience.”
“There are no undiscovered geniuses. For a writer who can tell a quality story, it is a seller’s market. Always has been, always will be.”
5. Overcoming what’s stopping/blocking you
Barry Green, the author of the Inner Game of Music said, “The opponent in this game is inside us. It is that part of our psychological make up that creates imagined limitations, passes destructive judgments, and whittles away at our self confidence – sometimes with an axe.”
The same principles apply to writing. Many writers stifle their creativity because they set themselves impossible standards. They feel they have to be perfect immediately and unless they judge themselves hopeless losers.
Anne Lamott said in her inspiring book Bird by Bird, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
“I think perfectionism is based on the insane belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die and a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness, playfulness and life force.”
6. Writing a story is a process
According to Dwight Swain, who wrote Techniques of Selling Writer, all writers need a process. This is the key to combining both parts of your brain and making your story come alive on the page.
“As Pasteur once observed, chance favours the trained mind,” Swain said. “Feelings tell you what to say. Technique gives you tools with which to say it. Faculty lies in knowing what to do next.”
“To know what to do next, you must master process … an ordered step-by-step presentation of materials that presses emotional buttons in your reader, so he feels the way you want him to feel.”
To write to your potential, you have to understand that writing is a four-part process – planning, writing, re-writing and editing. Mix them at your peril.
We are often reminding people in our 10-Month Novel & Script Course that they can’t judge their story until they reach the end of the process. They are always amazed how much their stories and their understanding of storytelling develops over the duration of the course.
It makes no sense to judge your first draft as if it were a finished, edited book. You cannot judge your work until you have finished each step of the process and put in the work required.
7. Never give up
Bobby Moresco, the screenwriter who co-wrote the Academy-Awarding winning Crash and Million Dollar Baby, was asked if there were any talented screenwriters who didn’t make it in Hollywood. He said “no, just the ones who quit.”
If talent isn’t had work, it is the best substitute for it.
And finally, just remember that a professional writer is just an amateur who didn’t quit.