I’m hardly an old hand at writing, but I’ve picked up a few things nonetheless. What I’m about to do now may get me kicked out of the Secret Society of Artist-Types before I even join. I’m going to reveal a secret to the trade, one of the first ones I ever learned. It’s a secret that applies across the board, to writing, drawing, music, acting, and even to non-artistic pursuits, like sports, engineering, and even business. It is one of the secrets to success, and I will give it away for free (thereby violating another of the secrets to success).
Are you ready? Here it is:
Talent means nothing.
If you're a creative type at all, you've probably had people tell you that you're quite talented. Friends, family, teachers, mentors, etc. If you're extremely lucky, they may have even been right. But unless you have talent that makes Mozart look like a slow learner*, it won't matter one whit to how well you succeed. Talent might get your foot in the door; success, in anything, lies in skill
I say this from personal experience. I have talent. I'm good with words. But that certainly wasn't enough to make me a good writer, or even a decent one. I look at stuff I wrote ten, even five years ago, and I see that it was utter crap. I've posted some of it here as a warning. Since then, I've gotten better (I hope). I haven't gotten any more talented; talent is a finite resource, fixed at birth. If I've improved at all, it's because I've gotten more skilled. I've learned about the basic tools and tricks of the trade, and put them to practice. I've also ripped off devices from writers I've liked, like I did with the introduction to this entry**. There's othing like swinging someone else's bat to make you evaluate your stance.
He's the perennial Internet whipping boy, but let's take a look at Rob Liefeld. Clearly some talent there; in his mid-20s, he formed his own company and was cashing million-dollar checks. But when people slowly realized his talent wasn't matched with an equivalent level of skill (or even a level which showed the potential to reach equivalency), he quickly fell from prominence. Nowadays he bounces back and forth between Marvel and DC on what are, frankly, charity projects. Lack of skill, perhaps lack of interest in skill, prevented him from reaching his full potential.
And then there are people with no discernable talent at all who manage to develop their skills enough to fake talent. I'll leave you to name them yourselves, but a cursory visit to your local Barnes & Noble or Virgin Megastore should give you plenty of food for thought. Skillful tripe sells.
This probably sounds rather mercenary to the more romantic among my readers, but the thing you have to remember about the Romantics is that most of them died young and in poverty. Artistic genius is all well and good, but so is putting that genius to good work. As long as you've got the talent, why not do what it takes to ensure that that talent can support you? Especially when all "what it takes" means is getting better at the thing you're talented at?
So, that's the secret. It may seem small, it may even seem wrong, but it's important. No one who's failed to learn this lesson has ever gone on to . Even Mozart took lessons.
*And if you have that much talent, you probably aren't reading this.
** First person to tell me whom, and from where, wins something. It may not be something good, or even something tangible, but it'll certainly exist.