Talent and hard work

I kind of love this post at narrowcrookedlanes. The author has titled it "The badger rampant" in reference to the Hufflepuff division of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. Each of the four Hogwarts houses has its own value that it holds higher than any other: Gryffindor’s is bravery, Ravenclaw’s is intelligence, and Slytherin’s is cunning. Hufflepuff’s is dedication; the belief that if you put in enough hard work in an area you can excel in anything.

While I happened to be placed in Ravenclaw on JK Rowling’s Pottermore, I’m probably more suited to Hufflepuff. I have many talents (nearly all of us do, even if we don’t recognize them), but I believe that talent can only get your foot in the door; to actually be invited in to stay you have to work hard. You have to take that talent and sculpt it and refine it and polish it until it shines.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, watching the Olympics on TV. Those athletes are undeniably talented in their respective sports; some clearly more than others. But even the extremely gifted ones didn’t make it to the Games on their talent alone. Each of them put in hours and hours and years and years of time and sweat and learning and repetitive practice to get to where they are today.

The flip side of the same coin is that anyone can "make it" if they put in the time and effort (especially in an area where they have, as Robert J Sawyer says, a modicum of talent). It may take months, it may take years. But, as our parents used to tell us when we were growing up, you can be anything you want – all it takes is a bit of hard work and patience. (And, perhaps, a tiny bit of luck; but Lady Luck has a habit of calling on those who are already working.)


2 responses to “Talent and hard work

  1. Such a good post. I think I’m worried because for me talent = 0
    So, I’m trying to put more into this. But it doesn’t seem to be “enough” . Particularly when working 8-10 hour days. And being such a beginner. I’m technically working on my first novel (this is what I consider the “real” first one anyway). But I work on it for maybe an hour a day. Or there is SO much to learn about writing and the industry that I’m so behind (i.e. the craft of writing itself, finding CP’s, interacting with other writers in order to find someone suitable as CP, trying to decide on what idea to pursue when have many, possible contest entries or this and that…I know none of these things and I feel overwhelmed on where to start ).
    It’s so great that you discovered your passion again in 2009. I fell in and out of it around that time also. But its really only been this summer that I’m become more serious about it. So I feel kind of old (already in early 30”s) and feel there is a lot to learn! Right now, I guess I need to just focus on writing every day and not get too caught up in everything else.
    I think eventually I might like to start a blog, but I don’t know when. I think I feel still very fresh to this kind of territory that blogging about it makes me nervous , if that makes sense!!

    Wow: 5 manuscripts is amazing. I’d love to know if you felt your very first was absoltely horrid (like I currently am feeling) or how far into writnig and getting FB did you start a blog? When did you start hunting for CP’s, etc? Any inspiration for people like me doing the 10-hour work days at mind-numbing jobs? :)

    Also, I live in Ontario. So ironic! (found your blog through NB). Any thoughts on the best places in Ontario to live? I’m considering a move maybe in another 2-3 years time and I’d like to see if I can actually live somewhere I’ll like for a change!! I like quiet, calm, but something with libraries, nice bookstores, maybe some university feel, or not…not too much traffic, easy-to-access scenic trails and peaceful areas, and affordable but safe and clean housing (rentals)…I’m curious about places like Oakville and all those. I have no idea what is out there.

    Anyway, great blog. Sorry for such a novel of a comment. But I’ve suddenly hit a “oh my god” moment with writing where I feel I’m not doing enough but am trying to be okay with what I do at the same time. Maybe I’m jumping too far ahead. Maybe I need to get this first full novel done, left for a while, revised a few times, then hunt out some FB, and THEN start to feel more “like I belong or legit”…sorry, I make no sense :)

    • Hi Drew – thanks so much for your comment! Sorry it’s taken me a little while to reply, but I wanted to mull over my response (lots to say!) and then got busy for a stretch.

      First of all, fun to meet another Ontarian! Especially through a non-regional website like that. I’m not really sure what you have in mind for places to live – how far are you willing to move from the GTA, for instance? But I always recommend Guelph, Kingston and Peterborough to people who’re looking for smaller cities to settle down in. A good balance of urban convenience and lower population. I personally wouldn’t bother with any GTA cities anymore – too crowded! There’re some really lovely small towns, too, but I get the impression you’re looking for someplace larger.

      I can really relate to feeling “old” and coming to the industry “late”. I’m also early-30s, and it seems like most new YA authors these days are in mid- to late 20s. Fortunately, age really has nothing to do with it. If you can write a good novel, people will read it. You just end up wishing you’d discovered it sooner to save yourself x years of non-writing employment. ;)

      You know, as I was writing my first novel I actually was quite pleased with it. I was having a lot of fun discovering the characters and finding out what was going to happen (I’ve been a pantser from the very start). I had big dreams of being the next Terry Brooks (the novel was similar in style to his). It was only when I got to the very end and had taken a few steps back that I realized it had some serious flaws. I think it could have been salvaged with some heavy revisions, but by that point I was well into novel #2 and had sort of mentally moved on. (Novel #2 was only marginally better than #1). The most important thing about novels #1 and #2 (both of which are permanently drawered) was simply that I finished. It was only in finishing the stories that I really could see and understand what it was about them that didn’t work – and then use that to grow and improve as I wrote my next story. Also, it showed me that I *could* finish a story. And finish more than one story! They made me fall in love with the whole storytelling thing. So I don’t regret writing those at all, even if no one will ever read them.

      Your own manuscript is probably not great, yes, but I think it’s the very rare author whose first manuscript is, especially on a first draft. (Most all first drafts need some level of work, often lots.) So don’t despair! Push through and finish it, then set it aside for a couple of weeks. When you come back to it you’ll have a better sense of how much work it will need and whether it’s worth investing the time into revisions, or if you’d be happier just moving on and starting your next novel. No writing, whether it amounts to anything professionally or not, is ever wasted – it’s all practice and learning.

      I came sort of late to blogging and critique partners. It’s probably never too early to start a blog – I’ve heard often enough that it helps to have an established online presence when you’re querying, and it often takes a year or two to build up any sort of a following. I only started writing this blog last summer, though, which was while I was working on revisions on novel #3 (I wrote novel #4 that fall, and #5 during the winter). It’s about a year old, and while I get daily hits, it’s still not anything near what I’d call popular. On the other hand, I don’t go out of my way to spread my name around by leaving comments on other peoples’ blogs, which you really need to do to build a following.

      Likewise, I only got my critique partners last summer, too. Novel #3 was the first one that I actually felt was good enough to put effort into revisions, and I did four passes of revisions on it before I started looking for critique partners. I found all of my current ones by putting a post up in the Critique Partner Matchup forums of Nathan Bransford’s site. I waited until I had a semi-polished manuscript that I could send to them, but you could still post something and start looking for critique partners now. Put up a query-type blurb of what you expect your book to be and indicate that it’s still in the drafting stages. Some critique partners are happy to have you bounce chunks of first-draft off them while you’re writing, to get a sense of whether it’s working. If this is something that would appeal to you you can indicate so in your posting. If you’d rather wait till you’ve got the whole thing done, you can still ask for critique partners and offer to read their manuscripts in the meantime while you’re finishing your own draft. Another place with a critique partner matchup is the WriteOnCon.com forums – basically the same as with NB’s forums.

      And as for the writing around 10-hour workdays, I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of personal advice for that. I’ve been freelance the last few years which has allowed me to write when I’ve been between contracts, or to adjust my schedule to accommodate my writing. The couple of times I’ve had jobs that have taken up a full workday I’ve gotten pretty much no writing done. So I’m not the best person to ask! However, most of the people on the Nathan Bransford forums have regular day jobs and would be really happy to weigh in with advice. They’re all really great people there, very friendly, so don’t be afraid to post (if you haven’t yet).

      I know how you’re feeling! It can really be overwhelming at first, trying to figure out this whole world of writing. Take it slow, don’t stress too much over stuff you don’t know yet. The main thing is just to write; the rest will come. Spend some time on the NB forums – as I said, they’re all lovely, helpful people there. Be open and polite and they’ll give you lots of friendly advice in return. Also, getting a writing friend who can either help you navigate these new waters, or who is also at the same stage you are and can share your experiences with you, is hugely helpful in making you feel less lost. Having that company makes a big difference.

      Something else that I highly recommend to help counter the feeling of being overwhelmed is starting up a Twitter account. This takes a little bit of getting used to if you’ve never used it before, but it sort of works like halfway between Facebook and a big chat room. The writing community is extremely social and friendly and you’ll meet a lot of new people through interacting with folks on Twitter. Many of the Nathan Bransford forum folks are there. Find a few of them you like and go through their follower lists and follow some of those people, too, to kickstart your own followers list. (My own is @SeabrookeN, for instance; there’s a link in my sidebar.) Other people will find you on their own, too.

      Good luck with it! Keep me posted how it’s going, and let me know if you decide to start a blog/Twitter or anything. :)

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