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  • Writer's pictureLeeyanne Moore

Writers Who Work Hardest, Not the Most Talented-Usually Have Best Outcomes



little puppy sleeping on the floor
Sometimes writers need to mull over ideas. This looks like laziness, but counts as writing work.

I have a student who wants to be a New York Times best-selling children’s author. (It's so good to have a goal!) She had completed a manuscript entirely on her own before we began working together, and was already revising it. First of all, finishing a manuscript is an incredible thing for any teen to accomplish. Even finishing a story is exceptionally challenging for most teens. In fact, most adults who try writing a novel will never finish. So I can't help but think this teen is special and gifted in some ways. Did her novel draft have all the important craft elements woven together in a way that makes reading the manuscript highly satisfying for a reader? No. Could she learn the ways to improve her story so it would? Yes, oh yes, definitely!

I laugh with wisdom when I reflect on this, because when I started high school, aside from trying to write a novel when I was ten, I hadn't even given myself permission to write yet. Instead, I was a would-be theater nerd.  When I was a senior in high school, my drama instructor, Lynette Sampson--whom we all called Sam--shared her first impression of me. I was a freshman, and our first assignment was to recite a poem--any poem. Even if we got up and recited Mary Had A Little Lamb, the point was to memorize something and recite it. She reminded me that I came in that day on crutches with a broken ankle, sat on a stool, and recited all thirteen stanzas of "The Creamation of Sam Mcgee". At that point she said to herself, "Well, she can't act--but at least she can memorize lines."

Man, I did not like hearing this when I was a teen. Like most teens, I wanted to be the Chosen One. I wanted my supposedly inborn talent recognized as my superpower. However, as someone who has been teaching for decades now, I completely get what she meant. She saw not talent, but a will in me to succeed. I'd shown I would worked hard to be outstanding--even on a low-stakes assignment. Do not get hung up on whether you or your learner has writing talent--focus instead on this: is there a strong will to write?

Let us cut back to my senior year in high school. Sam cast me as a lead of our school play my senior year. During the same year she presented me with multiple awards from the drama department as I headed off to a top drama program in the nation. I'd surpassed all the other (perhaps more talented?) drama students with my single minded will to succeed and outstanding hard work in theatre.

        Meanwhile, my student today has worked hard on her writing. She still has a ways to go because she is overtly learning what some other students already do intuitively. She is quickly beginning to catch up, however. I have so much respect for her. Now we both see how excellent her writing is—and how much her beta readers are enjoying her new novel. My student and I both savor the fruits of her hard work and success.

          Young people like this student of mine are presented in THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle. Coyle argues a strong work ethic floats someone further in the long run than talent alone. (Meanwhile, I have many students who are both talented and work hard.)

There is a feeling of competence and ease when you're standing at the top of a mountain comprised of your consistent hard work. It soothes the suffocating feelings of frustration that one had at the beginning of the process.

        In fact, sometimes you have a better outcome when you have to overtly learn or re-learn what you need to do. When I first took skiing lessons, I skied with a friend who’d never had lessons, but instead had intuitively figured out how to ski well. She was a much better skier than I was, yet after I took lessons, we were fairly well matched in our ability to tackle easy black diamond slopes. The problem was that when she was having a hard day on the slope, she didn’t know how to correct herself. Because I’d had lessons, if I had problems, I’d start with the basics: my turns. Then I'd go over four other techniques I’d learned. I could return to having a good skiing day in ten minutes, whereas my friend might wind up having an entire off day. 

I encourage you not worry about talent. Especially at the beginning of our process together. As one learns more about crafting stories, latent talents will emerge. What you're looking for is whether there is a yearning to write, and a determination to chip away at it week after week. What you can do is support this passion by giving yourself or your learner the opportunity to have professional coaching. All the skills coaching plus working hard work will pay off in other areas throughout one's life: especially in academics. :)

If we're looking to what will lead to student success, we should look less at the talent we see or don't see see and focus more on getting latent talents to emerge by putting the emphasis on developing good work habits.

ONE FINAL CAVEAT:

When it comes to good work habits in the creative arts, we also have to be careful not to take a young, diligent worker and use their conscientiousness to beat the fun out of of them. Sometimes these hard workers need a break.

  • Sometimes it really is best for students to give up on a novel draft.

  • Sometimes, a learner need to abandon what they've been working on--not give up lessons, but not continue from the end of a full draft into the editing process. Some learners just aren't ready for the major slog that is editing.

  • Sometimes a learner is on the verge of burn out and needs a break--from everything.

We won't instill a good work ethic by lecturing or guilting a learner into doing creative work they don't want to do when the creative spirit is low. Sadly, I've learned this the hard way. :)


For anyone interested in exploring more themes of artistic work and success:

  • check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.

  • Henry James also has a short novel about hard work and artistry called Roderick Hudson on this same theme. This work is suitable for teen readers.

  • Martin Scorcese has a complex and interesting short film in New York Stories that, within a problematic romantic context, throws out a comparison between the obsession and hard work of a seasoned artist vs. the worries over talent and the social distractions a new artist faces. It's not for kids, but quite interesting to contemplate in the light of the discussion above.


Bye, my friends! I hope this was helpful. Have a great weekend. Feel free to leave comments or questions below. 


As always, if you or someone you’re raising is interested in writing a big project, you can let me know in the contact form and we can chat about you/your learner and the project to see if I can help.


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