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The Problem with Talent

One update this year. Shocking behaviour! But I've had a busy year. Honest. Super busy.

I ended up with loads of teaching this year, which regular readers will guess made me extremely happy. I had first and second years in class, did a bit with some postgrads and got to see the first students I had in their first year finish at uni. Wow, where did that time go?

It was a privilege to see them grow and develop both as people and as writers. They are an impressive bunch. Some of them are throwing themselves into the professional writing community and are being recognised for their considerable talents. But the most satisfying thing for me has been to see how their work ethics and confidence have developed. Students who lacked confidence and didn't start at the top of the class have ended up there because they put in the work.

This seems to be the overlooked element of creative writing. There's a debate about whether universities and adult ed centres are just making money off aspiring writers without giving them anything in return. Big name writers often go prancing about declaring that writing cannot be taught. One once rubbed his fingers in the air like I was a flightless Tinkerbell and he was sprinkling pixie dust on me, saying, "We'll have to see if you have...have that something special." Dramatic and makes for an interesting aside in this blog post, but it's utter rubbish. At least I think it's rubbish, but even if I'm wrong, talent isn't enough. You have to work. Malcolm Gladwell would say 10,000 hours of work. And if 10,000 hours sounds like a lot, like too much, you might want to find another job, one you want to spend that much time at, because I'm not convinced 10,000 hours is enough.

If you ask me, talent is wildly overrated. In fact, I think we do students a disservice by focusing on their talent. There have been studies (which I do not have to hand - refer to Google. I'm busy, remember? Super busy.) about praising kids for their cleverness vs their hard work and experts have found that kids who are told their work ethic is their strong suit are more likely to be successful in life. They are less afraid to try and less discouraged by failure. Sounds like the perfect writer. Because there's a lot of failing and then failing better in writing.

And if you're talented? Well, bully for you, but you'd better be prepared to work your little tail off because the one thing I've learned in three years of teaching is that there are most certainly people a lot more and a lot less talented than you who are willing to put in 20,000 hours of writing. And that much practice will make anyone's writing better than that novel you're still dreaming you'll write tomorrow.

And on that note, the ending of my novel is calling me...


  1. As a talented writer woth mrssed up work ethics and low motivation, I completely agree with you!

  2. Get thee to writing, Oge! Get thee to writing! The good news is that work ethic can be changed - plus you're always working flat out anytime I see you, so it's just a matter of adding writing to the list. Have you heard of Gretchen Rubin? She writes about habits and happiness, and her big idea is that she reckons that people fall into what she calls 'the 4 tendencies' that relate to how you're motivated. She has all sorts of strategies for getting things done for each type of person - all a bit self-help, really, but might be helpful!


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