In his 2000 craft book On Writing, Stephen King says,
“When you find something at which you’re talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head”
So my fingers have never bled from writing, and my eyes have never fallen out of my head from it either, but I’ve definitely been writing long and hard enough for either of the two to happen, probably around the time I turn forty.
What does a writer need to be successful?
Here’s the thing: I’ve been writing my whole life. Elementary school, middle school, high school, college, graduate school. I’ve been writing fiction for nearly three decades now, and I’ve always felt I had a talent for it. Not everything I’ve written has been great, or even good. I just finished the first draft of my nineteenth novel earlier this month, and I think it’s solid, definitely one of my better manuscripts I’ve penned as of late. I’ve improved as a writer over the years for sure, since I wrote my first novel in early 2010, and a lot of that improvement has to do with my undying determination to be successful.
A lot goes into the career of a fiction writer. Years of hard work. An understanding of the publishing industry. Friends and teachers that give valuable feedback. An MFA program in creative writing (if you think it will help). Lots and lots of luck. And yes, talent.
Yes, some talent is necessary.
Talent is important if you want to be a writer, but sometimes it’s hard to diagnose if you yourself actually have any talent. I, for example, do think I’m talented at a few key things in writing. I’m talented at coming up with high-concept ideas that lend themselves to film and television adaptations. I’m talented at setting deadlines for myself and sticking to a schedule, whether I’m writing the first draft or revising later drafts. And I’m usually talented at recognizing what’s working in those subsequent drafts and what isn’t.
But would I consider myself a talented writer? I think I have some talent. Enough talent to continue, to keep trying. Because at the end of the day, talent itself will only get you so far. You can be the most talented writer in the universe, but if you don’t work hard at it, if you don’t plant your butt in the chair every day and spend a few hours writing a new scene, a new chapter, then where does that talent get you?
Is talent all you need?
I believe to be a writer talent is important, but it’s only part of the game. Writing and reading every single day will get you a long, long way, even if you only have a smidgen of talent. I’ve written nineteen novels, by God. Nineteen novels in nine years. I try to read a book a week, or at least every two weeks. Last year I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing. I’ve written a dozen short stories since the beginning of graduate school, plus three feature-length screenplays. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint, whether you have a lot of talent or whether you only have a little talent.
If you do have loads of talent for writing, and you work hard, you will be at the top of the heap for sure. You should, as King says, write until your fingers bleed. Many people love to write, but only a few have any significant talent for it. If you do have it, congrats, and hopefully you take advantage of that blessing.
But what if you don’t think you’re talented?
If you don’t believe you have a ton of talent, don’t fret. Write and read every day, and you will get better. Don’t give up ever. I’ve been at this seriously almost every day for nine years and don’t have a traditionally published novel in the world yet. But I have an agent, I have more opportunities, I’m getting closer to the dream, and it’s not because of my talent, of which I may or may not have a lot of.
It’s because of years of hard work. And the determination to never give up.