Talent and skill are not synonyms. You are born with talent, but you develop skill. Developing skill costs two things that many of us are unwilling to invest: time and effort.
My father-in-law took Jeni and I out for a few holes on Southwood, and this particular par 5 had the Master’s bitter of McIlroy and sweet of Schwartzel in one frustratingly beautiful stretch.
My approach landed about 15 feet off the green and about 40 feet from the hole. On my next shot, my sand wedge made pure contact and the ball landed exactly where I intended. As if on a string, it meandered down the slope, angling to my left, and dropped softly into the cup. An eagle! Well, not exactly.
On the tee, my driver made sweet contact and launched the ball… due right and hundreds of yards into the woods. So, I placed a second ball on the tee and swung again. This time I sent it down the right side of the fairway with quite a bit of spin. About 120 yards into its journey, the ball took a hard right and went searching for my first. So, I had to hit another, this time I was hitting my 5th shot and I was still on the tee. I smoked it, hit it right on the screws, and apparently bad things come in threes, because it too was lost in the botanical abyss. When I finally put a ball in play, from the women’s tees, I was hitting the aforementioned approach as my 8th shot. My chip-in “eagle” was actually, what my father-in-law called, a “Tin Cup 9.” Glimpses of latent talent buried under an unwillingness to invest the time or effort into developing the skills of golf.
I’ve found a similar dynamic at work in my writing. From the first sermons I ever gave, I depended on “inspiration” – moments of mystical clarity when entire messages would flash into my mind. When I began blogging, I worked under the same paradigm. I’d see a road sign, experience a moment of inspiration, and write a post. It was glorious, and simple, and short-lived. But, “the journey” has helped to reinforce something I’ve heard time and again, writing is work.
It’s one thing to have a cute story to tell and utilize talent in doing so. Having the discipline to write, regardless of “inspiration,” Is a different thing entirely. It’s easy to pick up a novel, listen to a sports-talk radio show, or observe a painting and think, “I could do that.” We don’t see the countless hours of work that went into the finished project, instead we assume some great moment of inspiration or spontaneity, and voila!
“I’ll be as encouraging as possible, because it’s my nature and because I love this job and I want you to love it, too. But if you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well…” – Stephen King, On Writing, p. 144
I think Mr. King would take issue with the “Voila Theory,” and Mr. King is not someone I want to upset. REDRUM.
Pastor and author John Piper agrees with King.
If I have learned anything in these twenty years… it is that beauty and truth do not come by mystical revelations and inspirations in a moment of motionless mental waiting. Beauty and truth and compelling depth come by painstaking thinking and trial and praying and self-correcting.
Instead of leaving the mind idle, I pray, and then I bend every fiber of effort in my mind and body to think and create.
– John Piper, TASTE and SEE, excerpt taken from, “A life well-lived is like writing a good poem.”
King’s written more than 45 novels and Piper’s put out more than 30 books himself, not to mention all the sermons he writes. These guys know a thing or two about the skill of writing, so I’m inclined to listen.
If you want to write, you have to write. You can’t wait for inspiration to happen; you have to sit down and go to work. You can’t stand on the shore and wait for the rapids to take you downstream; you have to put your kayak in the water and start paddling.
Ernest Hemingway espoused re-writing: “I rise at first light, and I start by reading and editing everything I have written to the point where I left off. That way I go through a book several hundred times, honing it until it gets an edge like a fighter’s sword. I rewrote the ending of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ 39 times in manuscript and over 30 times in proof trying to get it right.” – Max Lucado, The Write Stuff
Does that sound like inspiration or effort to you? I think Hemingway considered his talent something to be buttressed with skill and exerted great effort in making it so. If I want to write well, I must do the same, and so must you.
Be it writing, singing, throwing a curveball, or milking a cow; you must work to develop the necessary skills. You don’t need to write a great novel today, but you do need to write a good sentence. Skill is developed in the small things. The things that others take for granted and you’ll never be recognized for. Jordan was famous because of his clutch shooting but he was successful because of his willingness to work.
I’ve learned that if I want to be a writer, a good writer, I have to work at it. I can’t rest on talent alone; like the wind under a bird’s wings, I must develop skills and discipline, so that my talent can produce flight.
You must do the same.