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5 Things More Important Than Talent

Photobucket [1]In the current issue of Writer’s Digest magazine (July/August 2011 [2]), I have a featured article, “Revising Your Path to Publication.”

If you’re aiming for traditional publication, and you’re wondering how close you might be to reaching your goral, I highly recommend picking up the issue and reading my article to evaluate where you are on the path.

Most writers I know, at some point, feel like they’re making no progress—or that it’s just not worth the effort any longer. It’s difficult to keep trying especially when you’re not getting any professional, actionable feedback on how you can get closer to your goal.

Let me tell you a little story about my own writing life.

I have a BFA in creative writing, and when I was in college, I desperately wanted the professors to tell me if I had talent. I was never brave enough to directly ask the question, but I hoped they might take me by the shoulders one day, look me in the eye, and say: “Jane, you can’t waste this gift, you must write!”

Now that I’m a professor, I realize just how irrelevant that question is. I see both talented and untalented students, but the ones who impress me are the ones who are motivated and driven to work—the ones who push hard despite obstacles. I also clearly see who has a positive attitude, and who is apathetic.

So far, these other qualities have mattered more than talent.

Outside of the classroom, when I’m in my Writer’s Digest role, many writers ask me: “Should I keep going? Do I have any talent at this?”

Boy how have I come to hate that question!

Let me tell you the five questions I find more relevant and meaningful.

1. What makes you remarkable?

Each of us are remarkable. We each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. For some of us, it takes a while before we realize what it is we really want to do, what we’re doing here, and what we have to contribute in this world.

But each of us does have something remarkable to contribute, and I hope you’re gifted with the knowledge of what that is. If not, keep asking the question. The answer will appear.

2. What’s your community?

Your environment, and the people who surround you, are vitally important. Relationships matter. So what I want to know is: Who is your support network? Who is encouraging you? If you don’t have anyone positive around you, you need to change that.

3. What risks are you taking?

It’s the old cliché: Nothing risked, nothing gained. Playing it safe as a writer will lead to mediocre writing at best. If you’re not failing, you’re not shooting high enough. Which leads me to the question below.

4. What do you do after you fail?

Everyone fails. That’s not the important part. What’s important is what you do next. Are you learning? Are you growing? Is your experience making your heart bigger? Or is it shrinking you down, making you small? Beware of cynicism and bitterness, because if these emotions stick around too long, they will poison your efforts.

5. How do you deal with change?

The only thing I know for sure is that publishing will change. Are you going to tighten up and resist, or will you look for the opportunities?

With those of you frustrated with where the industry is headed, or how you are being treated by this editor or that agent, consider these words from Joseph Campbell:

Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity … or are you going to be able to make use of the system for uplifting and positive purposes?

Every problem we face only appears unsolvable inside a particular point of view. Take a fresh perspective and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.

Photo courtesy Flickr’s John-Morgan [3]

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About Jane Friedman [4]

Jane Friedman [5] has more than 20 years in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She's the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet [6], the essential industry newsletter for authors. You can find out more about her consulting services and online classes at her website, JaneFriedman.com [5].