How Important is Talent in Reaching Writing Success?

 By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

How important is talent to a writer? Is talent required in order to become successful? Is talent necessary to rise above the competition?

I'd be remiss to throw out talent altogether and say that it doesn't matter in the least. The truth is a bit of natural talent can probably help to a degree. Some people are born with wild imaginations. Some have the ability to embellish a story. Others have a smooth way of stringing words together. And all of that can certainly give a writer an advantage.

Sometimes when people ask me where I get my story ideas or how I come up with a great plot twist, I stumble to find an answer. There are just some writing nuances that I can't explain, that just flow, that seem to be hard-wired into my makeup. Dare I say that I have some giftedness without sounding conceited?

However, even when writers are born with certain proclivities, usually talent alone isn't enough to propel a writer to the NYT best-seller list. And yet, there's a widely-held misconception that those who make it big or land multiple book deals simply have more talent than the average writer.

In fact, I think it's all too common for many beginners to have an elevated perception of their writing skill. When I was just beginning, I know I did. I thought my first couple of manuscripts were pretty spectacular. I figured publishers would be knocking down my door to buy my books.

Like many newbies, I thought my talent was enough to make my books special and different from the masses of others out there, that perhaps my books had an almost magical quality that could propel them forward ahead of others.

Fortunately, rejection was the humbling reality check. Rejection from publishers and agents helped me realize I wasn't God's gift to the literary world and that I still had a lot to learn before my material was ready for readers. It wasn't until my fifth book that I finally reached a point where my writing was good enough to catch the attention of an editor. Even then that particular book was rejected. But the interest helped me see that my writing skill was improving.

Unfortunately today, with the ease of self-publishing, many newer writers have lost the humbling reality check that was once a part of the process. Too many beginners with an elevated perception of writing talent (like I had!) toss aside the cautions about rushing to publish the first book or two they've ever written. They overlook advice about getting professional editing. Sometimes they ignore writing advice altogether.

It's all too easy nowadays with social media to see what everyone else is doing, to hear the success stories and to think that "easy" is the norm and that talent alone is enough.

But what we don't see is just how hard each of those successful writers had to work to reach the point where their writing was finally ready for readers to enjoy. We don't see the years and years of writing with no return. We don't see the hours of learning basic writing mechanics. We don't see the multiple rejections. We don't see the money spent on editing or critiques.

Yes, having some talent can give a writer a slight edge. But talent alone is not enough to become a good writer. Each step forward I've taken in my writing career has been hard-earned. I've had to scrape, claw, and fight for every inch of success. Nothing has come easy. Even after six published books and eight more coming down the publication pipeline, I continue to sweat and fight hard for every small victory.

My advice for beginners? Don't assume your talent is enough. Talk to successful authors and get a behind-the-scenes look at the amount of work they've put in. Look for ways to get "reality checks" to find out how you're really doing. Be patient with yourself. And most of all keep learning and writing because eventually with enough hard work, your stories will be ready for readers.

So what about you? How important do you think talent is in reaching writing success?


  1. In my opinion, it's a crapshoot. I've seen bestselling writers who use the same phrases to distraction, whose works are loaded with passive terms like "there was," "it was," who noticeably go out of their way not to use the dialog tag "said," use unnatural-sounding dialog, tell rather than show, and other writing no-no's. I've also seen writers who write lyrically, with metaphors and sensory details, who don't make gas money. It's the arts, and there's no guarantee. As the Hyman Roth character said in The Godfather Part II: "This is the business we've chosen."

  2. Thanks for the much needed perspective!! It definitely helps to hear that today's authors went through multiple rejections!!

  3. I think that one reason some writers have an inflated view of their talent is that it's a result of the "everybody gets a trophy" culture. As a teacher, I occasionally get criticized if I provide constructive criticism to my students, and often it's their parents who criticize me.

  4. I think some talent--coupled with desire to write--definitely help. The rest can be learned.

  5. Absolut Hammer Comment, das wollte ich selbst schon Mal ausdrucken, wusste nur nicht wie ich das niederschreiben konnte.
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  6. I think most aspects of a successful writing career can be learned. Natural talent is, of course, a fabulous thing to have, but it won't be the main reason a writer find themselves with a lucrative career in publishing. I've never worked so hard in my life for something as I have worked to publish a novel.

  7. I think talent can play a role in success- but those who are the most successful are those who keep trying and working. We don't give up and we don't stop learning. It is SO important to be open to advice from other people in the writing field. I know I had lot to learn and I am still learning every day. :)

  8. Thank you for this thought-provoking post which I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed. I tend to think that a bit of talent is helpful, but that a lot of WORK (while ignoring the internet! :) ) is the component that's necessary for a good book or series of books. Thank you for for the encouragement.

  9. Maybe "talent" is a bit too vague a term to capture what's really going on with authors at the beginning of their careers? It might be helpful to consider that every writer has certain "sensitivities" -- to language, story, humor, dramatic tension, larger meaning, and many more. Of these sensitivities, each writer tends to lean in the direction of one or more but not others or all, and this is where the education of the author/writer begins. The effort is to cultivate the main sensitivities while compensating for the ones that are less natural but necessary. In my experience, those writers/authors who ultimately succeed (I work as a book coach, developmental editor, +ghost) are those who want to be the best writer/author they can be, and so they are willing to go through a period of learning basic things (much like piano lessons but more fun). The ones who give up are more interested in instant gratification, alas, and don't feel the need to get better and better over time. So in the end, perhaps that's what talent really is: a talent for learning and getting better at a chosen art, by first practicing its craft.

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