Talent is Overrated

With a lovely thanks to a friend (Sue Babcock), may I humbly present to you…. the truth about success.

Excerpt from Corporate Curmudgeon, Dale Dauten, dated July 20, 2009

…Geoff Colvin, author of “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.” As you’d guess from the “really” in the title, Colvin argues that IQ and innate ability are less important than you’d think, and that hard work is the real determinant …but not just any old work – only what he calls “deliberate practice.”

For instance, research at a German school for violinists divided 18-year-olds into three groups based on performance/potential. The researchers examined every variable that might explain the differences in the three groups, including estimating the number of hours they’d practiced throughout their young lifetimes. The highest group had put in 7,410 hours, the middlers had 5,301 and the stragglers had 3,420.

That led to a conclusion, the secret nobody really wants to hear, that thousands of hours of practice are what separates the best. However, as I mentioned, it isn’t just any old practice that counts – it’s methodically working on getting better. Colvin tells us that a study of ice-skaters finds that the mediocre ones spend most of their practice time working on jumps they can already do, while the great ones spend time working on ones they can’t, falling over and over. As Colvin puts it, “Landing on your butt on cold, hard ice is what progress is all about.”

So here we are. The plain, ugly, and unvarnished truth.

The only way to get better isn’t to just practice — you have to practice that stuff you don’t know how to do yet.

Here’s our dilemma as writers, folks.

We tend to write what we know. Not in that write-what-you-know-because-that’s-familiar sense. An example of which is: If you’re a plumber in your day job, write a story about a plumber in space if you write sci-fi.

No, what I’m talking about is sticking to your usual genre. Or sticking to writing single POV, either with a main character from your gender or with your background, etc. (For example: Stephen King’s Main Characters are usually writers. A lot of other writers believe this to be lazy writing. I might agree, except that it certainly makes the writing easier if you’re not spending agonizing hours researching something you just don’t know.)

In my own case, ironically, most of my Main Characters are male. (I can’t explain why. I just subconsciously create male characters to be the leads in my stories. I’ve written only a few female centered stories. Perhaps this explains why I’m not published more often….. Hmmmm…….. This requires deeper thinking.)

We should be stepping out of our safety zones. We should be writing stuff we never have the gall to write about before.

Write about Main Characters who’ve done things you’ve never experienced. Take it to places you’ve never been. Write more dialogue, less description. Be brave and bold in your writing.

These things are difficult to master. These things may even still require some research, talking to people who have the kind of experiences you’re writing about, so on and so forth.

But that’s what real practice is about. Doing the thing you can’t do, over and over, until you finally nail it.

Here’s where we need to define ourselves as writers.

I am already working on this. I’m tackling a novel, which I’ve never done before, but am making sure the experience is worthwhile and plain old fun. On top of that, I’m writing stories of a type I’ve never written before.

Remember, it’s not enough to just think outside the box…. sometimes you have to play outside, too.



That one day as you’re walking out of the bathroom, you’ll look down to find a ceramic kid’s clown has attached itself to your leg… and is climbing up!



Okay, the next blog will be Part 2 of my Writer’s Online Tool Box series, featuring online market databases.

5 responses to “Talent is Overrated

  1. It looks great, Shanna! And I totally agree. I’m always trying to push myself like that, and it might seem like a struggle for weeks at a time but there’s a payoff on the page.

    *Does the Zoetropian Secret Handshake*



  2. *Does the Zoetropian Secret Handshake with added flair and a booty shake*

    Hey Lee!

    Thanks for stopping by, especially for commenting!

    The writer of the original article is entirely correct. We can’t be satisfied by getting better at what we already do. We have to tackle the things we are completely downright awful at, then we can get better at those things and … wash, rinse, repeat!

    I can’t say I like to write outside the box, because sometimes it’s down right annoying, but each time I do, it’s a whole new experience. I learning something every time I try something I never tried before, whether I win or fail, and that’s what’s most important.

    It’s always the journey, never the destination.

    Again, thanks for stopping by, Zoetropian Brother!!



  3. Petra Miller once told me I write within my comfort zone, that I needed to take a step out of it. She was right and I listened. The next story I wrote was a hard hitting erotica piece, and it was actually good. Then I wrote one of the most violent stories I have ever written. And, you know what? It was good.

    I preach practice all the time. I preach these same words–I’ve preached them to you, even.

    I don’t think it is just enough to play outside the box either. I think you need to crush the box with a mallet.

    Don’t settle for just writing, go after what is good and own it.



  4. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, AJ.

    As always, Sensei, you provide great wealth of knowledge. I am already working on something entirely out of my comfort zone. But I think I’m going to tackle something entirely different. Maybe I’ll try some hard erotica. I’ll let you read it when I’m done. 🙂

    I fully intend to OWN it, as well, Sensei. Thank you very much for your guidance and for letting me pick at your gray matter.



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