Saturday, January 21, 2012

Talent or Doggedness?

Years ago I had a discussion with Mike Resnick about the role talent plays in writing. His contention was that anyone could produce a work of salable prose with enough dedication and effort but that it took real talent for writing to consistently do this time and again. What differentiates the talented amateur from the professional writer is the ability to consistently produce acceptable works on demand.

I seem to fall into the talented amateur camp myself, although I have produced stories on demand a few times in my career.  Mostly, though, I nibble away at an idea, draft a few pages, ponder for a period, then either abandon the effort or continue on until I become bored or run out of ideas about where to go next.  This pattern of behavior results in my always having a dozen and a half partial drafts lying about that I return to when some fragment of an idea for moving it forward occurs to me.  Sometimes, bored with whatever I happen to be working on, I will pick up one of these drafts and edit it a bit more,  Sometimes when I do this I get a sudden burst of intellectual energy and am able to move the piece further toward completion. This is not behaving like a professional writer. There is no consistency to my production.  I could set up a schedule, but having tried that in the past it simply doesn't work for me unless there is an actual deadline facing me.

When there is no deadline (usually for a rewrite request) I find that I can manage no more than a couple of thousand words a day of finished prose.  When I am aflame with a new idea I can crank out more than that as rough draft.  I can cover a lot more words when editing although, truth be told, it's usually more cutting than adding new material.  In general, though, I usually just doggedly plug along - good days and bad.

This lack of discipline has consequences.  If I apply magazine word rates (A remarkable rate of $0.06 per word on average) my productivity rate might generate about $140 an day, which is not bad if I sold everything I wrote.  However, my sale rate (mentioned here a few weeks ago) has been a disappointing 19:1 ratio, which turns my selling rate into $3.60/hour - an amount most sweat shops would be embarrassed to offer.

So why do I have this doggedness despite my minimal talent?  Part of the answer is that a simple acceptance notification provides a greater thrill for me than the tiny check that usually follows, often months later.  I doggedly continue to write because I get a bang out of creating stories and refining my rough drafts into something acceptable. It is the golden promise that I can always write something better that drives my dogged determination.

And maybe that is my talent.

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