by Daphne Gray-Grant
"I don't have talent" is just an excuse.
Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” Hard work is what I want to talk about today. Many people seem to think that writers are always "born" rather than "made."
Instead, I think writing is a bit like running. If you're willing to do the hard work -- you know, lace up your shoes at 6 am and hit the streets every day, rain or shine, then you'll improve. You might not make the Olympics, but you'll get to the Boston Marathon. Or at least you'll get healthier and faster and not wheeze your way through the local 10-K race.
Similarly, as a writer, you might never win a Booker Prize, a Clio award or even make your local newspaper -- but, if you work at it, you can produce writing that others will read and enjoy and that you'll be proud of.
Good writing looks easy, but it's not. And it usually takes more hard work than talent. Too many people use the "I don't have the talent" line as an excuse not to do the hard work.
So what does this work hard look like? I think there are three main steps:
1) You need to write every working day.
And set yourself a specific goal – either time (“I will write for 30 minutes”) or number of words (“I will produce 500 words”). NB: My numbers here are arbitrary; use figures that will work for you. And I mention the concept of doing this on “working days only” for a specific reason – taking breaks is just as important as the writing. First, you don’t want to burn out. Second, you need time to collect the raw material (the books you read, the movies you see, the walks you take, the coffees you have with friends) to inspire your writing. Inspiration is just as essential for non-fiction as it is for novels. But it doesn’t come from staring off into space in front of your computer – it comes from living your life and thinking about it.
2) Chart your writing habits.
It’s all very well to set yourself some goals but unless you track them, you’ll never know for sure what you’ve achieved. So do this now: Create a spreadsheet (you can use Excel if you like or simply make a table in Word) and include columns for dates, your daily goal (time or number of words) and a space for a brief note about how you felt that day. This kind of record will help teach you that we all have good and bad writing days – but the important thing is to keep working.
3) Don’t edit while you write.
Do not allow that relentless voice inside your head to talk at you while you’re trying to write. You know the one I mean. It’s the voice that says: “This isn’t good enough.” Or, “I’m so dull and boring.” Or, “This could be so much better if I worked a little harder.” Remember: Editing is always a separate job and it can be done only after you’ve produced a first draft.
Bottom line? Writing is work. But it’s not hard physical labor like building a brick wall. Nor is it smelly, like removing garbage. It’s simply work that requires focus and discipline. Not everyone will be brilliant at it, but everyone can be good, and can do a credible job. And doesn’t that sound better than whining about talent?
A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8 1⁄2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. It's brief. It's smart. And it's free.