Monday, August 4, 2008

Writing Monday: Talent Schmalent

At Hollins University, where The Writer was teaching creative writing in the graduate program in children's literature, The Writer was astounded to learn that most of her students, maybe all of them, worried whether or not they had talent. The Writer was shocked because she herself has never worried about talent.

Maybe she should.

Winchester! You're back!

Why shouldn't I be? You're back. The Writer's back. As I was saying, maybe she should worry about having talent. That's probably why she's never won any big awards.

If The Writer sat down to write a book that would win an award, she'd never type a syllable. It just doesn't work that way.

Back to the point. The Writer never worried about talent because she began writing as a child. Writing stories was fun--who cared if they were good or not? When she grew up, The Writer kept on writing, this time for publication. She still didn't wonder if she had talent. She just kept working. If she felt her writing wasn't good enough, she worked harder. The Writer had no talent for anything--she wrote stories because she enjoyed it, and then she wanted it to be her life's work.

In the mid-1970s, she found a book called Talent Is Not Enough: Mollie Hunter on Writing for Children. Hunter, a British children's writer who had won the Carnegie Medal, gave a speech, "Talent Is Not Enough." Hunter quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book." Mollie Hunter amended that quote to "A person behind the book." At the time, The Writer was struggling with that very issue. Eventually she learned that passion counted more than talent. She wanted to write about something important to her. In order to do that, she had to put her heart and soul into it.

The Writer told her students what she'd tell anybody--don't worry about having talent. Instead ask yourself, "Do I want to be a writer for children?" "Do I want it more than anything in the world?" If the answer to those questions is "yes," then get busy. It's that simple.

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. No wonder The Writer has never won the Newbery.

The Writer doesn't worry about that either.


Heidi Quist said...

Glad to have you back, Ellsworth!
Good post, too, something I needed to hear.

ellsworth said...

Look, Winchester! Somebody commented! The Writer says hi, Heidi. She was happy to see you this summer and hopes to see you again next summer.