Mary Laura Philpott suggests that if we have a talent for something, we enjoy doing it. She also wonders if we get good at it because we enjoy it and if “talent” is really a thing. But what does it mean to have a talent for something?
For our purposes, it means a natural ability or skill at something. It’s an interesting topic that scholars, psychologists, and philosophers often study and analyze.
My son has what I’ve told him is a “natural talent” for being fast. He’s always been a fast runner, and when we decided to start mountain bike racing, we discovered he was fast at that also.
In January of ’21, he raced one of his favorite trails. Because he was a nobody kid coming from Nowhere, Arizona, he started at the back of the pack. He proved to be a force, making his way up to 2nd, until a crash knocked him down to 5th in the last mile and a half.
Two weeks later, there was another race, this time on a course he was less familiar with. He knew he needed to pull back so he didn’t crash again and end up so wiped out at the finish line.
But instead of trying his hardest and pushing his limits, he took his sweet time and let racers with previously slower times out ahead of him. He made little effort to pass them. Of course, he fell short of his 2nd-place goal, landing in 4th.
We came to realize he was relying on his talent to carry him to the podium.
While that works in very few cases, it takes training, dedication, and teaching your body to ride fast and hard for most. It’s not just given to you.
You probably have a talent for writing if we’re going with Philpott’s definition. We all learn to read and write, most of us learn to ride bikes, cook (even if it’s only Ramen noodles), etc. Some have a natural ability: reading comes smoothly, cooking comes easily, riding comes fast.
But talent doesn’t trump hard work.
It’s most important that you continually work on your craft, no matter where you start. Consistency and habit build the writing and storytelling muscles needed to write compelling stories, just like training does for a mountain bike race.
My son gets instant feedback on his training during a race, he knows what place he’s in. Writing groups and story coaches can give you that same feedback. You will know what works and what doesn’t. When you find out what doesn’t work, you have the opportunity to try again by either reworking the piece or writing something new. And craft books, prolific reading, blogs, and vlogs, just like learning new drills or nutritional needs for an athlete, will help you hone new techniques.
But you can’t stop there. There must be critical reading involved when reading fiction in your genre. What does the author do that you feel works? How did they implement that technique? What do you feel doesn’t work? Make notes on how to avoid or improve upon that technique.
Then write, share, adjust, and repeat.
DOING is the best way to gain and grow any skill.
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