I used to believe that some people were born to be writers. Some people just had the talent and some people didn’t. I’d read people’s manuscripts and decide for myself if I thought they had the talent, and then I’d respond with that in mind. I regret to say that I mocked some people for not being good enough. I may have even encouraged some people to quit writing. But I’ve repented from this attitude. And do you know why?
Because I’ve watched over the years and I’ve seen people succeed at writing whom I never thought could succeed. I’ve watched writers I’ve worked with make improvements in leaps and bounds, making a second draft better than I’d thought possible in several lifetimes of revisions. Over and over again, I’ve watched talented people quit writing and never get published and people become talented as they kept at it, writing day after day, listening to criticism, taking chances, throwing out long chunks of words that weren’t working, letting go of an old book that they’ve grown past, and simply doggedly persevering. I’ve seen determination to become a writer win out every single time.
So I’m a recovering snob. I’ve learned better than to make assumptions based on looking at a first draft. I believe in the magic of trying. I believe in the magic of people listening and learning. The talented writers who give up are often the writers who thought they were too good to learn and throw things out and start over again. And the writers who were humble and had no pretentions just kept working.
I wanted to be a writer desperately when I was a kid. I wrote five or six novels before I graduated from high school. They were terrible. But I believed in myself and I kept going. I wrote twenty novels as an adult before I got my first novel accepted for publication. I don’t think anyone who saw that first novel thought I’d be a national bestseller today. But I kept learning. I kept taking chances. I kept making a daily commitment to get some words down. And I listened to criticism. So, I got that first book published without any connections in the industry, sending it in cold to “Dear Acquisitions Editor” at a small, but well-respected house. Then I finally got an agent, and slowly–very slowly–began to move up the ranks in publishing.
I don’t believe in talent much anymore. Or rather, I’m not at all convinced that having talent makes much difference in success. Talent without determination is the hare and determination without talent is the tortoise. Give it a few years, and the tortoise will win every race. If you’re a tortoise and you need someone to help guide you forward, I’m that person. If you’re a hare who needs someone to really tell you the truth, well, I can do that, too.