Talent Vs Hard Work

See full issue for 2017 04-03

While scrolling through Facebook the other day I came across one of those clever web comics that writerly types like to share instead of opinions. On it, a woman concentrates on her painting as a man looks over her shoulder and says something to the effect of: “Man, I wish I could paint like that. You’re so lucky!” The artist, never breaking her deadpan expression, cooly suggests that she just came out of the womb with the ability to paint. The message was clear- anyone can paint if they put the hard work and dedication in, even those idiots who stand around prattling about wishing and luck. Talent is just following through on a decision to be good at something.

Once again I’m forced to get unreasonably irate about something I read on what is primarily an app for sharing food pictures and cat videos. I don’t like it any more than you do, but here we are.

See, there is such a thing as raw talent. I’ve seen it. Everyone’s seen it. Two kids in the same class draw a picture of a horse, one of the pictures actually looks like a horse, one of the pictures looks like the Hindenburg for some reason. One of these kids has talent, the other does not.

There are any number of reasons for this found within the intricate coding of nature and nurture, but ultimately kid A did not ‘decide’ to be good at drawing any more than than kid B ‘decided’ to be bad. And that aptitude, that happy result of factors far outside of the children’s conscious control, will greatly affect the sense of accomplishment they feel from pursuing their talent. Kid A is on to a good thing, Kid B maybe sticks to something pointless like math. No harm done.

So, now that I have flawlessly proved the existence of raw talent (remember, I can’t hear you disagree with me,) let’s get on to what that means to you, the indie writer.

Talent is never enough. It’s like getting a head start on the track. You’re in a better position to do well, yes, but there are a lot of people behind you, and all of them are hungry. It’s like the tortoise and the hare. Sure the hare’s got this in the bag with his natural flare and athleticism, but if he takes his eye off the ball for one minute, stolid, determined tortoise is going to steal the golden carrot from under his stupid rabbit nose.

I’ve seen this happen in real time (not with actual hares and tortoises, though, that’s insane.) I wanted to do a lot of things for a living when I was a kid. All of them creative. Musician, comic book artist, film maker, dance battler- I had dreams. I also had realities, but they didn’t come until later. When you find you have an aptitude for something, you feel like destiny’s giving you a pat on the butt. But it doesn’t take long to realise that the world is full of people with aptitude and dreams. Talent gets you through the door, everything else is hard work.

This doesn’t excuse the arrogance of the artist in the comic strip, though. You can replace raw talent and aptitude completely with hard work and moxy. When it happens we tend to shout about it, because it’s rare and special and usually heroic. We rarely see it done. In the movies, when the tubby construction worker wins the amateur ballet competition over the rich-kid son of a dance academy instructor, that’s a great story. That’s why I’m currently writing my screenplay ‘Denim Plié' (don’t steal it, please). The reality, that the rich-kid son of a dance academy instructor will do well at dancing, is so obvious we wouldn’t consider it story-worthy at all. We take the existence of talent for granted all the time.

And we shouldn’t. It’s arrogant. Arrogance leads to complacency, and complacency is the enemy of passion. Passion is the secret ingredient of quality.

When someone tells you that you’re lucky to be able to do what you do so well, it is not an insult. It is not a smear on all your hard work. It does not diminish you. You have a gift, born of circumstances you can barely remember, let alone have possibly controlled. Maybe the gift came with a price, that’s fine, most things do. But it is a gift, none-the-less, and there’s no shame in embracing it as such.


Steve Wetherell

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