Why Persistence Means More than Talent

I know quite a few people who can write well, but aren’t writers. They have the skill to write, but they lack the persistence to make it a career. Writing is a skill that most people have to some extent or another. There are plenty of people who don’t care about writing at all that can still do it well. They had good teachers in school and the learned what they were taught. That doesn’t mean they want to do anything with writing specifically.

It takes more than desire

The more problematic set of people are the ones who want to be writers, but don’t write. They like to read books and think about writing one. They like to watch movies and think about being a screenwriter. They have the desire, but they do nothing with it. Even if they do write that novel or screenplay, they don’t really see it through to completion. They don’t edit it until it is perfect. They don’t write a second one to build up their skill. They have enough willpower in them for one work, but not enough to make writing a career.

Easy isn’t always good

Willpower and persistence matter more than talent in most fields, and especially in writing. In fact, having a natural skill can sometimes be a hindrance. When a skill comes to a person naturally, that person often has less desire to improve. When I was in elementary school I was a math wiz. I could add, subtract, multiply and divide in my head easily and always got the best grades. When it came time to take algebra though, math suddenly became hard for me. At that point, I needed to try much harder, but I was used to not having to make an effort. I got average grades and moved on to other things. I wasn’t looking for a challenge. I just wanted to be good at it.

Sooner or later it gets tough for everyone

The same is true of people who are great at the basics of writing. A person with perfect grammar and an excellent vocabulary can write well, at first. It gets hard for them though, when they actually have to put 70,000 words together into a novel that makes sense and engages the reader. It gets hard when they have to write a heartfelt poem. It gets hard when they have to write a direct-mail advertisement that brings in customers. It gets hard when they have to write a one-hundred page guide to using a piece of software. People who have had to work at their writing though, and know they need to improve, are more likely to be up to one of those challenges. They know going in that it is going to be hard.

Writing is only the first hard step

To embrace writing as a career you need to be persistent. The pay isn’t always great and the work isn’t always interesting. Writing 70,000 words is hard. Editing 70,000 words is excruciating. Having somebody tear apart those 70,000 words and tell you it is not good enough is devastating. The career in writing belongs to the person who gets up the next day and gets back to work, either improving what they have or creating something new.

Building a writing career

If you want a career as a writer, you need to push yourself. You need to write when there are a dozen distractions, both pleasant and unpleasant. You need to see projects through to completion. You need to bounce back from criticism and even learn from it. You need to care about writing enough to stick with it through a hundred bad times, or you need to let it go. There is no shame in writing strictly as a hobby. There is no reason you can’t write for fun. There are easier and even more rewarding careers out there. If you want writing to be your career though, be prepared to push through the difficult parts and see where your path takes you.

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