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Publishing Fears/Thoughts

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Mar 5, 2011.

  1. No, what I mean is, without working your ass off to produce something, you can't tell whether what you have is real talent or not. Imagine two writers starting out, A and B. A's very first paragraph is beautifully written; B's very first paragraph is crap.

    Now they both write novels. A's output is consistently as good as the first paragraph, but it turns out he doesn't really have a good grasp of long-term character development. The prose is great but the characters just aren't that interesting.

    B, meanwhile, has crappy prose at first, but as he writes he improves, he gets feedback, eventually his prose is as good as A's. And he has a better grasp of character development, how to make characters seem real and interesting.

    In the long run, B turns out to be a better writer than A, even though on a first gloss, A seemed like he had more "talent."
  2. What poor writers have succeeded in sales? What "junk" sells thousands of copies?

    I see plenty of writers whose work *I* don't happen to enjoy reading, who have made large numbers of sales.

    The fact that a writer has made large numbers of sales pretty much means the writer is not poor at their craft. I might not like a given writer's work. You might not. But lots and lots and lots of other people clearly have. ;)

    Art is subjective. Don't fall into the trap of assuming any one point of view is correct when it comes to what defines good writing. Calling a work "junk" because *you* didn't happen to like it is a little silly, if many thousands of other people obviously did like it. ;)
  3. But Clayborne, in your example both writers obviously have talent.

    One is more talented at certain things; the other more talented at other things. Their eventual skill level will depend upon how much they are able to work at and improve their weak spots.

    To add to your example: writer C, who is born without a shred of writing talent, tries to write anyway. He produces buckets of terrible prose. He goes to school, gets an English major, but his writing is still universally considered bad. He goes to workshops. He takes classes from masters in his field. He reads over fifty books a year to learn from other writers' work. He writes five thousand words a day, every single day, for ten years, producing scores of books and hundreds of short stories.

    But since he has no talent, *because he was not born with it*, none of his writing will ever or can ever be good, regardless how much time he spends.

    THAT is what the talent myth means.

    If talent is inborn, then someone without that "writing gene" is doomed to fail at writing, no matter how hard he tries.

    And frankly, I just don't buy it. ;) I especially hate it, because in our culture we use the Talent Myth as an excuse for failure, or worse yet as an excuse to never try.

    We all learned to write somewhere. We learned first to love stories. Then, we learned to love pulling apart stories and learning what made them tick. That love - that PASSION - fired us to continuously work at learning from each bit of fiction we devoured, and to hone our minds in ways that help us develop our own fiction.

    I think it's possible for someone to come to that astonishingly early. I think it's also possible for someone to come to that astonishingly late. My own feeling - my hunch, my gut - says that what is primarily involved is passion and love for what you are doing. You have to love stories to write stories. You have to love the guts of them, love what makes them tick, love them the way a five year old loves putting together with Legos things pulled from their imagination. That love, if encourages and allowed to bloom, can lead to the passion and fire which spurs one to write long enough, hard enough, and with enough attention to learning one's craft to build skills as a writer.

    Maybe there are some people who have some special level of talent above and beyond the scope of most mere mortals. ;) I don't know. But almost everyone can learn to love telling stories, and almost everyone can learn the skills to tell them well.
  4. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Sage

    i too have that problem everytime i want to focus on my main story something new pops in
  5. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    If we are talking about something that has been published by a third-party (i.e. not self-published) then I'm not sure you can call it "junk". The term "gatekeepers" exists for a very real reason. Now it may be that some things seem "too comercial" for your tastes (i.e. a celebrity tell-all) or you may lean toward a higher end prose than something like, say, Twilight. But in order to make it to market many people have had to annoint it as "worthy".

    But to me, the true "gatekeeper" is the readers and if it has sold "many thousands" than the market has spoken. It can't be junk and well-read simultaneously. Sure it might fit your tastes...I personally despised The Road by Cormac McCarthy but it has won the Pulizer, was an Oprah Book Club Pick, and has sold millions of copies. That's a primary example of the "subjectivity" of art.

    I personally believe that the talent is something that some people have 'naturally'. Its in their nature, and nurture can play a part in bringing it out and helping it blossom.[/QUOTE]

    You hear a lot about the "lucky break" and I won't deny that being in the right place at the right time is crucial. My success to date is directly related to being one of the indie authors who made it big at Xmas last year. But to me luck is made by constantly putting your stuff out there until the spark finally cathes to a flame. The first two books of my Riryia Revelations have only been on the market for a few weeks, but already it's showing a bit of smoke rising from the tinder (Library Journal named it to one of their Top 10 Best Books of 2011 lists and both books have gone into a second printing - Even though the release of the second wasn't even scheuduled for another 4 days). So if it does indeed "catch" was it a lucky break...or the fact that I kept going and refused to surrender for the twenty-one years that it took for the series to become an 'overnight' success?

    I've said it elsewher but repeate it again for context what every writer nees is:
    1. Talent
    2. Skill
    3. Willingness to work hard
    4. Perseverance

    The more of each you have the better you make your odds. I think some writers will "succeed" without all of the ingriedients. Heck some catch fire right away and so don't need #4 but if you want to better you "odds" at "getting lucky" then hope for a good dose of #1 (which you may or may not have control over) and fully dedicate ourself to #2 - #4 (which you have complete control over) and then you'll be in good shape.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2011
  6. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester


    If your born with talent - your life (if you are choosing a career that requires that partiuclar talent) is easier...without question. But are you doomed to "never making it". I don't think so...it just means that you'll have to work harder at it. Someone with talent (defined by me as an innate ability to spin stories from nothingess) needs to work hard at the skill portion (how to transpose that idea well). If the "lack of innate talent" can't be changed then you really can't "work on it" but with enough hard work, persevernce, willingness to improve those things you can change you'll proably "make it". It might take longer...because it will be a harder road...but because art is subjective it doesn't have to be "great" it has to be "good enough".

    One of the great things about being human...and for those of us who live in societies that embrace freedom...is that your only limitations are self-imposed. Sure you may never be "the star" but you can revel in any level of success you achieve. When I started The Riyria Revelations I told my wife, "If I sell 50 books to people who I don't know I'll be happy." and I was and if that's as far as it ever went - I'd have been okay with that. We are each in control of our fates. If we fail, or give up, we have no one to blame but the man in the mirror.
  7. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Here is part of the reason I believe in the "innate talent". Kevin, I belive you are aware of my wife, Robin Sullivan. You'll be hard pressed to find anyone on this planet who is more passionate. She loves writers; she loves books. She runs a small press and is a fantastic developmental editor. She's taken stories and torn them down to their studs and helped the author build them from the ground up. She has been a tremendous contributor to my works and they are all so much better for them. But she is the BASF of writing...she doesn't make the products...she makes the products "better".

    For all her love of writing, and skill at editing, Robin freely admits that she can't create something out of nothingness. Believe me I've seen her try. We were on vacation at a beach once and while floating around one of our children asked her to tell them a story - and she quite literally floundered. She will always be a "contributor" to books and a valuable addition to any project. But I don't think she'll ever be able to write fiction.
  8. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester


    Really? That's my favorite part. I don't think that talent is the only thing that matters, but I am insisting that it is part of the equation. Now, I understand that I can't argue with science and that my opinion doesn't really matter (no, I'm not being sarcastic don't take that as me being upset) but I really do believe that talent exists. My brother and I grew up the exact same way. I love him to death, but he isn't very smart. On the other hand, he is much more athletic than me. And we worked the same amount at the same sports, he probably worked just a little harder than me in school, and we were basically the same people if you think about what we did.

    I know a bunch of people who started playing basketball at the same age as me. I was better than most and some were better than me. If talent doesn't exist, we would start with the same skills. The exact same skills. So I can't buy that.

    That being said, I have enjoyed this thread, and your posts have been really interesting and thought-provoking Kevin. Also, I think talent plays a slightly lesser role in writing, so I agree with your examples to an extent.
  9. Not at the beginning. My point was that you can't tell whether someone has talent until they spend a long time writing. At the beginning, A appears to have "talent" and B appears to have no talent. (And neither does C, your example guy.) And it turns out that B has more "talent" than A does.

    But is it something that was inborn? Or is it due to their upbringing? Imagine this:

    A grew up in an intellectual environment, the only child of parents who were a lawyer and a professor. He read a lot of books of all kinds as a young child, all the way through college; he spent a lot of time writing stories, though he never really showed them to anyone or got any feedback on them (his parents assumed he'd become a doctor or lawyer and never made an effort to encourage his writing). But he read so much good prose that he was able to mimic it and learn come up with his own good prose. However good character development/story progression is a lot harder than pretty prose, and he never really studied that per se before he started writing seriously.

    B, on the other hand, grew up the son of a truck driver and a housekeeper, with five siblings. He never had time to read as a kid, nor did the family have a lot of books around. He'd go to the library occasionally and read something, but it wasn't a consistent part of his lifestyle. But he worked hard in school and got a scholarship and so was able to go to a decent college. While there, he met people who introduced him to various authors and genres he'd never been aware of, and he read a couple of good novels. And he was thrilled. He started reading as much as he could. Then one day someone asked if he'd ever written anything. He'd never even thought about writing himself, and had never written anything beyond what was needed for schoolwork before he started writing seriously.

    In a physical sense, what would "talent" even mean? Presumably it would be neurological structures that make someone's creative output better (although since "better" is entirely subjective, it's still troublesome to quantify). But we are so far from being able to measure that, let alone quantify it, right now there's no point in even discussing whether someone in particular person has it. The laws of physics certainly don't prevent someone from having neurological structures better-suited toward storytelling, and I would be amazed to find out that there really is no way for the underlying hardware to make any difference in creative output.

    But for any particular person starting out writing, the question of talent is utterly irrelevant. Until you put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into writing, there's no way to know whether or not you will have any success. Success is not a measure of talent; I don't think Stephenie Meyer writes well at all, but she's undeniably successful. Is it because of hard work? (Some, no doubt.) Inborn talent? Or, as in my opinion, luck that she wrote a story that happened to resonate with a large audience? A lot of people think her writing is crap, but whether someone has talent cannot be subjective, if it's an inborn quantity.

    Anyway, enough rambling. My point is that new writers need to not worry about or even think about whether talent exists, because the goal isn't to find out if you're talented, it's to find out if you can be successful, and the only way to find out is to put in the time.

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