Tuesday, January 10, 2012

It Takes More Than Talent

Current Project: Post-Apocalypse Fantasy/Romance
Status: Just Started Writing!

Have you ever read an amazing story or a thought-provoking essay or some other wonderfully crafted piece of writing that was written by someone with no desire to be published? Did you think: Why wouldn't that person tackle writing for publication? It's obvious he or she has the talent...

Let me tell you a little story. I was a competitive swimmer as a kid and it's kind of funny how it all started. I was nine years old and loved the water, but I didn't really know how to swim. Oh, I could float and paddle around and get by, but I didn't know how to do any of the competitive swimming strokes (freestyle/crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly). I was just happy playing in the water.

I spent the first two weeks of the summer when I was nine staying with family friends out of town. When I came home, my father told me he'd enrolled me in a swim school being run by my brother's high school football coach. I'd be able to learn how to swim properly and be taught by someone my folks trusted. Only—Dad had misunderstood. Coach wasn't running a swim school, he was coaching a summer league swim team.

My first "session" ended up being a one hour practice at the local high school pool. My very first time in the pool I was expected to line up behind the other kids my age and when it was my turn, to swim to the other end...25 very long yards away. There were two reasons I didn't freak out or just walk away right then and there. First, I wasn't afraid of the water, and second, I was in the swim lane next to the pool wall. I figured I could always grab the wall if I couldn't make it. My turn came and I jumped in and did my best. I grabbed the wall a couple of times, but I made it to the end. I learned later my dad walked along the edge of pool, just in case, but when he realized I wasn't giving up (or drowning), he went back to his seat on the spectator steps.

I thought I was done, but oh, no, that was just the beginning. We swam like that for an hour. Over the course of the next few weeks, I was taught to swim each of the four competitive strokes. It turned out I was decent at all of them and particularly good at freestyle and backstroke. I ended up competing in my age bracket at swim meets in the Individual Medley (all four strokes), the freestyle, the backstroke, the freestyle relay and the Medley relay, and I usually came away with ribbons of one sort or another.

For the next six years I swam competitively. I dutifully put in the two hour morning and two hour evening practices every day during the summer and then competed in the swim meets every weekend. And in the winter, I continued with the two hour evening practices Monday through Friday. I swam because I could, because it was expected of me, and because I'd committed to swimming for the team (and once committed, we never quit); I didn't swim because it was my passion. Still, I continued on until I couldn't stand the thought of one more race, and at the end of that swim season, when I was 14 years old, I retired from competition.

I believe I had the talent to take my swimming further—who knows, perhaps even to Olympic level competition (yeah, right :). But what I didn't have, though, was the desire. I was competitive enough for me, but I lacked that burning ambition—that need to excel and win at all costs—that an Olympic athlete must have in order to succeed. Talent wasn't enough. I swam with kids who weren't as coordinated as I was, but who wanted to win far more than I ever did and who continued to work hard and push for the next level of competition. Most of them were successful.

I don't regret a moment of my time in the pool. Nor do I regret not trying to be more competitive, because that just wasn't for me. My swimming experience did teach me a valuable lesson. Being talented is great, but even more important is having the desire to succeed at something. If you really want something—I mean, really want it—you're more likely to make the effort to put in the hard work required to attain your goal.

I think that's a lesson most successful writers learn at some point. Sure, there are those few writers who are innately talented, but there are so many more of us who struggle to tell our stories in precisely the way we envision them. I count myself among the later group. I firmly believe that if I continue to put in the hard work of improving my craft and putting my work out there, eventually I'll attain my goal: a career as a published writer. You might say it's what drives me.

 So, what drives you?


Twitter: @DeborahBWright


Annabeth Albert said...

Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous blog, Debbie.

Barbara Cool Lee said...

Wow. What a great, insightful post. I agree. I have read the work of successful authors who are clearly not "gifted" writers--they don't write with elegant turns of phrase, and their stories may stumble at some points. But what they all share is an ability to convey an enthusiasm--a passion--for their story and characters. That's what I think got them published. Not just hard work on their part, but a passion for the story they're telling. So I agree with you. Not just that the passion driving people to succeed as writers can overcome any setbacks, but even more, that the passion for the story needs to come through on the page.

Personally, it's when I lose sight of my own love for storytelling, and try to fit someone else's vision of my work, I lose focus. And the work is weaker because of it. I have to keep my focus on telling my stories to the best of my ability. That's when things come together for me.

Meggan McQuaid said...

Debbie and Barbara, I agree with both of you, even though I had never thought about this in such clear terms with regard to published writing. Thanks for the thought provoking blog, Debbie, and the equally brain-tickling response, Barb.

These ideas are especially relevant for me because, for family reasons, I have not committed myself to being published.

At this time, all I'm really committed to is writing these stories well, but I fully appreciate that I still have the luxury of taking a long time to write them!

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Ah, Debbie, you are so on target that passion for what you do is a key ingredient. However, my split passions of writing, graphic design and doggies also keep me insane! Juggling anyone?

Thanks for sharing your experience with swimming. Great message in that, and kudos to you for listening to your heart to "retire."