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You Don't Have to Be That Talented to Become a Bestselling Author

Jun 02, 2020

I’m in myth breakdown mode when it comes to the road to author bestseller-dom. 

Today we’re tackling talent.

There’s a popular meme floating around the web: “Great writing is 3% talent and 97% not getting distracted by the Internet.” It is often accompanied by an image of a person who appears overwhelmed while staring at her computer screen.

I’d like to offer an amendment to that. It’s not as cute-sounding but from what I can see, it’s just as much, if not more, accurate.

“Succeeding as a writer is 3% talent and 97% not giving up year after year.”

Because here’s the thing: the most successful writers I know aren’t the most talented. I know fiercely, skin-tinglingly talented ones who have to pay the rent by working at gossip magazines or worse.

I know not particularly talented ones who rake in accolades, money or both.

It’s not about talent.

It’s about what you do with the talent you have.

And it’s about following the second-most popular adage when it comes to writing: “Writing is rewriting.”

How do I know this? Because I’ve both taken and taught a plethora of writing classes; I even majored in Creative Writing in college. It was, of course, an utterly useless degree but it did teach me one thing: writing can’t be taught.

Here’s what you do when you’re a Creative Writing major:

1) You write stories.

2) You workshop those stories, which means that your teacher and classmates read them and then provide feedback.

3) You rewrite your stories based on that feedback.

At no point do you get lessons on how to write stories because it is presumed, if you choose to major in something as useless as Creative Writing, that you a) are delusional and b) already know how to write short stories.

Most of my fellow students didn’t become writers.

You know who did? Plenty of people I know who didn’t major in Creative Writing.

They are people who’ve spent years and years and years honing their craft, possibly subscribing to the Malcolm Gladwell popularized belief that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to develop mastery over it but probably going well over that allotted time frame.

It’s not about being a gifted writer.

How do I know?

Martin Amis is a gifted writer.

Jennifer Egan is a gifted writer.

Philip Roth was a gifted writer.

I’m not a gifted writer.

I’m quite good in that I have a lot of practice obsessing over words and placing them together in a way that can best articulate my feelings while also sounding both original and clever.

I’m good.

But I’m not gifted.

Despite not being a gifted writer, I’ve had a great career, in some form or function, for the past two decades.

That is because I didn’t give up.

And in doing so, I’ve made the most of the talent I have.