What is more important than talent?

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

~ Calvin Coolidge ~

So, how do we get ourselves to the place where we rise above our limitations of talent, education, and genius? How do we instill persistence in our writing and other pursuits.

In three words made popular by Nike, “Just do it.”

I think we often talk ourselves out of more things than we talk ourselves into. Negative self-talk is a huge demotivator because it lowers our resolve in the face of obstacles. I don’t have the numbers so I’ll let you imagine the ratios in my next example:

Imagine how many people in the world want to write. Of that group, how many actually make an attempt? Of the percentage that attempt to write, how many of them actually finish a story or novel? What percentage of those who complete a story actually revise and perfect that story? From there, what fraction of writers then find a market for their completed work? I think we can all agree that the percentages drop drastically with each step we get away from wanting to write and actually completing a work for which a market exists.

What is the difference in each of the stages of the example above? Do some have more writing talent? Have some attended more creative writing classes or workshops?

From my perspective, the only difference is in determined effort to move through each stage of the process from idea to completion. The writers that completed and found a market for their work “just did it”.

Is persevering in the face of self-doubt, rejection, or critiques from instructors and peers easy to do? Of course not. But the decision to proceed despite whatever may come is often the real difference between success and regret.

In my own writing, I spent fifteen years in the part-time pursuit of what I thought was a great script idea that I developed back in 1994. I knew nothing of script format and structure, the market, or the craft. So, rather than stop at those limitations, I went to two workshops, bought or borrowed from the library every book on the subject I could find and then just wrote. The first years and drafts were written with a good friend of mine and we registered a final draft with the Writer’s Guild and began submitting to Hollywood and some of our network connections. The feedback came back that the script was 90% there and had good writing style, but the plot was too episodic. In other words, that version of the script wasn’t yet marketable.

I could have given up there and began telling myself that I didn’t have the talent or skill or connections to write scripts. I could have quit. I wanted to return to writing fiction and I had some new ideas for an epic fantasy series. I also knew that the script idea was good but not yet fully realized. I told myself I would not begin another writing project until the script was finished to my standards. So, after moving and working on the script here and there by myself. I partnered with my wife to strengthen the female characters and ended up making significant corrections to many story flaws. Several years of occasional pursuit, edits, and my wife’s encouragement ensued and a final draft was again reached. This was a 100% better version of the story kernel I’d had over a decade earlier. I re-registered and submitted this version in 2009 to several script contests. Alas, the script neither won nor placed. But, for me it was completed. I executed the story idea to the best of my ability with the knowledge, talent and resources I had, with two different writing partners and I’m satisfied that it is a complete story. As of today, it has garnered neither awards nor a sale, but I consider the completed work a success and a valuable lesson. My only regret is that it took me fifteen years to finish.

So, I now know within myself that I have the capacity to finish a project. I have the patience and determination to stick with a story idea for fifteen years. I now apply that precedent to my current epic fantasy novel. In many ways writing a 200,000 word novel is more difficult than a 110 page script, but I have survived the first year of research, world-building and first draft writing and I still write on average five days a week on my story.

My only hope is that this project doesn’t take me fifteen years to finish. Realistically, I intend to finish early next year. Check in periodically to this blog and we’ll all see how and when that happens.

What are your strategies for overcoming obstacles and completing tasks or goals, especially big ones like writing a novel, learning to surf, or returning to school for an advanced degree?

What is it that you’ve always wanted to accomplish but haven’t yet started? What is it that you’ve started but haven’t finished?

Just do it.

–Mark

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4 responses to “What is more important than talent?

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