Natural Talent: A Blessing and A Curse

*Note: As you are reading this, I’m frantically getting ready for the Love Inspired Luncheon taking place in Tampa, Florida today. I’ll be meeting with several Love Inspired authors (and hopefully an editor or two), taking pictures and collecting swag. I leave this post to tide you all over while I’m gone. Stay tuned for more book reviews, interviews, and more insight into my writing journey!

It was clear at a very early age that I was something of a prodigy. Unlike most prodigies who can solve pie up to eight digits in their heads or play Chopin at three, I was an English language and literature prodigy. I could read and comprehend things far beyond my years. I read at a college level before I was firmly in Middle School. I excelled in grammar classes despite my southern family and their horrendous dialect. Most importantly, I could write anything I wanted to: poetry, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, genre fiction. I was one smart cookie.

Here’s the thing about being a literary prodigy that no one ever tells you: natural talent isn’t enough. In fact, sometimes natural talent can hinder more than it can help. As Adrian Monk loves to say, it’s a blessing and a curse. For me, the curse of natural talent has always been the arrogance of the first take tantrum.

If I were a musical prodigy, I’d probably be one of those artists who liked to step into the studio, lay the track down one time, and move on. I’d be a real one-take wonder. That’s not to say that every take would be perfect, or that I’d be happy with it. It would just be. At least, that’s what I think I’d do since it was what I did as a writer. I never revised. I proofread but I never revised. This is a horrible habit to get into for any writer, no matter how much talent you have, but I was resting on the laurels of natural talent. Most of my first drafts are better than other people’s second drafts and blah blah. Arrogance at its finest.

The only problem with my logic was that second drafts are rarely, if ever, publication worthy. If I want to do my best writing, if I want to take my writing to the next level, I need to revise. Revision is where you put some meat on the bones of an idea. It’s where you make sure the characters are fully formed, the plot is strong enough, the descriptions flow well. It’s where you round the edges and add the icing to a literary cake. It’s where you polish it to a streak free shine. It’s where I run out of horrible metaphors and clichés and run into solid prose.

I’ve been struggling with revisions on Delivering Justice because of the natural talent curse. I was convinced that DJ was ready to publish almost immediately after I finished NaNoWriMo. I’d edited, added in detail, and proofread as I went, so I just knew it would be perfect. I read through the entire thing and thought it was the greatest romantic suspense since they invented the genre. But deep down, there was a niggling feeling that I could do more with this or that. I ignored it and set a hard deadline, but then the revisions stalled a bit.

Thank God for critique partners and time away. When my critique partners pointed out the same areas I had misgivings about, I knew I was on the right track. Reading more about the genre and soaking in advice has really helped me to develop a plan to get the revisions done. I will be able to take this book to the next level–the publication level.

I’m learning with each year of writing that natural talent isn’t enough. Revision is important. Knowing how to connect with readers is important. Continuing to learn about the craft is important. Feedback is important. There’s always room for improvement.

That’s my two cents, anyway. What hard writing lessons have you had to learn?

XOXO

Erica

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Avoiding the Kanye Effect as a Writer

I’ve seen many quotes that speak to the confidence, the perseverance, and the will that it takes to reach publication. Some tell you not to listen to anyone’s criticisms when you believe in your story. Others tell you to be jealous of your time. Still others tell you that you have to know your writing is the absolute best there is. All of this “writer’s arrogance” advice makes me think of Kanye West, and how one can avoid becoming the literary Mr. or Ms. West.

I used to be a Kanye West fan. When Kanye West debuted, while I thought his albums were unique and had good content, I was more interested in and intrigued by his story. He was this curious mix of grateful and entitled that was almost charming. He spoke about how hard it was for him to be taken seriously as a rapper and about deals that fell through. He also talked about how no one believed in him and how he had to convince everyone of what he already knew. He famously wrapped about using his self-esteem to power his dreams. That’s the good part.

Then things took a turn from grateful and arrogant to just arrogant. He became a jerk. This is the Kanye Effect: when all of the confidence and arrogance you’ve used attract an audience and publishers tips over into entitlement, arrogance, and a major superiority complex. When you stop feeling grateful for what you have been able to accomplish and start spending more time proclaiming how great you are than writing your next book, you may want to reevaluate your writing life.

There’s a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, and creative people are some of the biggest line straddlers and crossers the world will ever know. Americans in general have an issue with entitlement and a desire for instant gratification, and creative American can really tip the ego scales, both published and unpublished. There’s something about creating, having to prove yourself, and the need to be your own biggest cheerleader before anyone joins the team that makes a creative heart the perfect breeding ground for the Kanye Effect.

My solution to this growing epidemic is simple: realize that no one owes you anything. While you have to believe in yourself and your craft, never stop being grateful that you’re able to do what you do–whether you’re languishing on Unpubbed Island, seeing dismal sales, seeing moderate success, were able to quit your day job and write full-time, or are on the level of the Nora Roberts, James Pattersons, and Steven Kings. While querying and marketing involve selling yourself as well as your work, it’s ultimately the quality of your product that will determine your future success.

As sensitive, creative types, we may feel the need to insulate ourselves from harsh criticism and judgments. People make judgments about our art all the time, and some of them are spiteful, hurtful, and unfair. But arrogance is not the answer. Be grateful for those who believe in your art and support it while understanding that everyone won’t. Screaming “I’m the best to ever do it” from every rooftop won’t change the fact that someone somewhere will disagree. A popular saying of today is what you focus on will grow. Focus on the people that adore your work, on honing your craft to put out the best work you can, and on the things you know you were called by name to do.

That’s my two cents, anyway. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section.

XOXO,

Erica