Monday, August 25, 2014

How Having No Talent Can Actually Be A Good Thing

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.


Some of you have heard me say this in interviews, but I decided when I was six that when I grew up, I wanted to write books. In first grade, we had writing time everyday. For fifteen minutes (or maybe more, I don't know) we got out our writing folders and wrote stories about whatever we wanted.

When we were done with a story, we took it down to this closet of a room at the school to have it "published." We picked our cover and the stickers or art work. We picked the color of the binding. And then we left our handwritten story there to be typed up for us. (This was 1990, so it's  not like there was an abundance of computers floating around Willow Glen Elementary.)

Several days later, our books would be returned to us to illustrate. Once we were done illustrating, we read our story to the class. And then the whole process started over.

My mother saved mine, and I'm so glad.

I keep the books in my office to remind myself that I wasn't talented. At all.



I wouldn't even say I was talented "for a first grader." There isn't a drop of brilliance in my prose that hints I would grow up to be an author. I'll prove it:

Yep. The first book I wrote is called "Stephanie." That's how creative of a child I was. And wow, that clashes with my orange office.

"Dedicated to my Mommy, Daddy, and my dog.
Once upon a time there was a little girl."

"Her name was Stephanie." (Which I indicated with these flowers...?)

"She had a little dog." (And apparently only one color of crayon.)

"The dog's name was Toby."

"The little dog said 'Arf, arf.'"

"Stephanie pet her dog."

I promise you that the nice woman who typed this up for me was not thinking, "Wow. I might be typing up a story for a girl who will sometime be a real author!"

No, I had no talent. But a lack of inherent talent can be overcome by enthusiasm and tenacity, and if you had been observing my enthusiastic and tenacious first grade self, then you might have guessed writing stories was in my future. Because I loved writing stories. I was one of the most enthusiastic students when it was story writing time. And I didn't just write at school, I wrote at home without being asked. (Mostly about horses and meeting Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block.)

As I've grown up, I've noticed that people who rely more on their talent than they do hard work seem to fall into the trap of laziness and eventually slip into mediocrity. Being born without a shred of talent means I had to work hard to be any good at all.

So if you're not feeling very talented at the moment, don't worry about that. When Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all, was asked about why he's done so well, he said he "stayed in the pool longer." You could argue that he was also born with a healthy body and all that, but I love the answer he gave because it's something I can do too. I can't make myself more talented or poetic, but I can work hard and write longer.

What are your writing plans today?


45 comments:

  1. That's how my books were when I was that age. :) Thanks for the post!

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  2. I have stories form about 3rd grade that aren't much better, Stephanie! It's so cool that your school have creative writing time at such a young age. My writing plans today are to write for 60 minutes, and to finish at least 3 scenes. I want to finish the next 'part' of my novel this week. I deleted about 15K and have been re-writing those 15K for a while. I'm about 4K from being back where I started, so that's exciting!
    Thanks for a great post, Stephanie.
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    Inklined

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    1. It's like the one splurge my elementary school had, and it certainly made a difference! I hope your writing day went well! I only had about 2 hours to work on edits and I made myself stay off the internet so I would actually do it :)

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  3. Thanks for the great post! I don't know about inherent talent (the only people who have told me that I'm good at it are family and friends, and I'm less inclined to believe them), but I certainly do have the enthusiasm. I remember this one story I wrote when I was little about my teacher being a witch and boiling her students in a cauldron, she showed it to my mother who was so worried that I was in trouble when she read it, but apparently my teacher loved it. Odd woman.
    Today I plan on writing for an hour during my free periods at school. I'm trying to see if I can break the 10K mark. I've never actually written much past it, so I'm hopeful.

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    1. Good for you, Lucia! And I have no doubt that you've developed talent by now! When you're regularly writing, those skills grow.

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  4. I wrote a short story thing when I was about...probably 9 or 10. Somewhere in there. It was after I had seen the movie "Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure." It was a lot like that. And one of the characters was named "Tinkia." (Instead of Tink) Cheesy, I know. Parts of it weren't too bad, but the rest was just horrible. XD My writing plan for today is to get rid of *shudder* writer's block. I'm nearing the end of the first draft, and the words just aren't coming. Hopefully they will today!

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    1. Ha! I have a few stories like that too! I hope your day went went well. Sometimes the only way through writers block is one word at a time...

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  5. Such a great post! My first story was about a bunny and a flower. The bunny ended up sleeping in the flower. My aunt transcribed it onto pink paper as I dictated and we decorated it with stickers. Lol. By the time I was in 4th grade, my teacher was swearing that I had talent, but I don't know if she was just saying that it or if she was just trying to encourage my love for writing. Looking back, I have a feeling it might have been the latter. ;)

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    1. Oh, that story sounds so cute! And I would guess that your 4th grade teacher was seeing talent/enthusiasm. If you loved writing and were doing it outside of school too, then I'm sure your advanced skills were obvious to her :)

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  6. Oh memories. I remember a story I wrote in first grade where two flowers were arguing over who got the most sun. Finally a worm who was building a tree house underground (what????) told them to go to green thumb. I still crack up every time I read it

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  7. This is encouraging. I have to admit that my stories weren't that creative when I was six either. I still have lots of hard work and improving to do.

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  8. I remind myself this daily when I look at the effortlessness with which others do what it takes me blood and tears to do. Someday this will make me strong. I find quality time and study are the only things you can really rely on. talent is not enough and inspiration is fleeting. I work four hours a day and study my craft and I still have so far to go. I never had any sort of talent, just a love for stories.

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    1. You're so right, Anne-girl, but it can be a very frustrating path. Stay strong!

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  9. This is so immensely encouraging. I have a similar little thing I dictated when I was three about my family. I'm certain my mom must've helped me a little with the wording, because I have a three-year-old brother now and while he's quite the talker, even he wouldn't just come up with those orderly (though utterly basic) sentences out of nowhere. ;)

    I'm so glad I saved my old stories. They're so fun for memories. And for reminding me that I really, really should not be put in charge of illustrating anything. Ever. (Stick figures still when I was ten...they honestly didn't look much better than your first grade pictures!) Also, it's nice to see I've learned a thing or two about coming up with original ideas now...my first "series" was totally plagiarized from the Magic Tree House. LOL :)

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    1. Yes, my art skills definitely halted in first grade :) Writing, thankfully, improved.

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  10. Those pictures are so cute! I agree that enthusiasm and hard work can go a long way in writing, or anything, really. I run cross country too, and enthusiasm and hard work is a huge part of the sport as well. You really need to be passionate about running and be determined to push yourself when you're tired in order to improve. Hmmm...my writing goals for today? I hope to finish my novel. I'm so close! I also want to finish a blog post that I'm almost done with.

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    1. My husband is a distance runner and I see a TON of parallels between the running lifestyle and the writing lifestyle.

      Did you finish?!?

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  11. Thanks for the post! I saw the title of it and wasn't quite sure what to expect.... :) The first story I wrote was in school, a very long time ago, and it was about a farmer and ladybugs... I guess it has been thrown away now. I don't know what my goal is for today, I haven't been writing recently so anything is good. Once school starts I think I might try to come up with a schedule or writing time. :)

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    1. Yes, having a rhythm can make a big difference in getting writing done!

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  12. My first story I ever tried writing down was called 'Esther' and it was based off a make believe game I'd played with some friends the day before.... it. Was. Horrible. XD As for the writing goal, I'm going to try to get some plotting done on the story I'm writing for school and also the new (and much improved) version of Esther. My bestie fell in love with it when I first wrote it and still wants me to finish it. :P

    (Eep. That countdown clock. It's.... so... close... I just...... MASON!! :D)

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    1. I know, right! That clock really has done its job...I've been watching it for like two months now or however long it's been up and it has really driven me crazy with waiting :P

      And I'm super curious about Mason and Omar's plight, but also Shaylinn and her, well, you know. (Avoiding spoilers)

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    2. I got my author copies today, girls! There are copies of Rebels IN MY HOUSE! Yay! :-)

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  13. My first story was about a dragon, a prince, and a princess :P Is there a common cause for writers block?

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    1. I think my twin has talent in witing. Her first story, I think we were seven, was a good idea and she's recreating it.

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    2. I said witing instead of writing. I keep forgetting to write T's.

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    3. Typically my writers block is caused by:

      1. Laziness. I would just rather watch Veronica Mars/surf Pinterest/read than try to figure out the next scene.
      2. A harsh critique/rejection/review: Sometimes this knocks me off my game for a few days.
      3. Health or other stress: If I'm sick or if there's a lot of life stuff going on, writing suffers.

      What usually brings me out of it is a brainstorming session with a friend, setting my timer and making myself write for 25 minutes (after that I usually want to keep going), or reading a writing craft book.

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    4. I think mine is from reason number one. My writers block is most likely also being caused by writing myself into tight corners.

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  14. Actually, I kind of liked that story! LOL Sometimes I think the guts to tell a story at all is half the problem. Being willing to try is so much more than many people attempt, you know?

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    1. That's true. It can be much harder than it seems at first!

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  15. I remember in around kindergarten I made short stories about Squirrel and Turtle, two best friends. I may stick with the idea and use it sometime ;) (I was a horrible artist then but I've gotten much better)

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  16. Some of the first stories I wrote had elements of stories I liked or was based on something I had heard. One story was about a wealthy dog named Ginger who stopped bad guys and another was about two orphan girls who escape from their orphanage (to get away from the "bad guys" trying to adopted them) and somehow had enough money to purchase a house and without paperwork lol I think I was channeling the movie Bolt with the first story, and The Rescuers for the second. Oh fifth grade me what were you thinking? Lol

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    1. I think it's funny how many of us are confessing to something similar! I definitely had a few Boxcar Children knock-offs in my early collection...

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  17. My elementary school had a Quality Literature Contest, and I entered every year. Kindergarten was the only year I won, though, even though my story was pretty much "My doll's name is Amy. Amy likes her bottle. Amy likes to go for a walk...etc" up until the end, at which point my mom, who was typing for me, struck up a conversation.

    Mom: You know, this is really good...
    Me: *nods and bows*
    Mom: I bet it could be even better if you started the next page differently than "Amy likes to..."
    Me: Why?
    Mom: Just...
    Me: *growls* Fine, if you're gonna make me.

    The next page, Amy snuck out of the house as soon as I was at school and, if memory serves, climbed a tree and had a conversation with the some squirrels, an ending that one me my first and only 1st place gold sticker thing. I didn't win another writing contest until NaNo, and - here's where I tie in with the post - that was because in NaNo you "win" if you reach your word count goal, whereas with contests you win if the judges pick yours. The more I hang around the writing community the sillier I feel for basing my potential as a writer off who got first and who stared dejectedly at the alphabet rug because she didn't place/got Honorable Mention.

    Yet I think it was winning in kindergarten that made me believe I was a good writer, which made me keep writing. So if my mom hadn't hinted about repetitive sentence structure oh way back when, I probably wouldn't be where I am today, which is plotting my rewrite and pacing around my room riddling out how to give my MC a cultural religion (that eventually leads her in a hopefully not preachy way to a Christian worldview) that doesn't make the whole book scream "pagan"!

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    1. That was a lovely story, Miri! I laughed when I read the conversation between you and your mom. :) You have a good point about early confidence-boosting experiences as well.

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    2. I love that your mom praised you first before making a suggestion. That's excellent :)

      I never won writing contests either, and it always left me feeling pretty sucky. And in my moments of doubt about making it as a "real" writer, there were definitely times when I would think, "I can't even win in this stupid school contest..."

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  18. Love this post! I started writing at the same age actually, playing out stories with my paper dolls. I have a slightly edited version of my first story, but I've no idea where the original got to. Probably the trash can.


    Alexa S. Winters
    thessalexa.blogspot.com

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    1. I'm rereading Stephen King's autobiography and noticed that he also started writing stories in first grade, so there must be something about it!

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    2. Good to know I did something write in that story. lol

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  19. This is hilarious! I laughed out loud. I definitely believe diligence and enthusiasm are more valuable than natural talent.

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  20. In second grade I wrote and published the thrilling tale of my rock collection. I don't think anyone can top that.

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    1. Oh, Sara... :) Did the rocks at least talk to each other or something?

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