Writing Advice: On Discipline


I think we can all agree that it is nearly impossible to quantify talent. What exactly makes someone a talented writer? You might say that having a good command of the English language is important to being a “talented” writer. But there may be people out there who have stories to tell, and who are not very good at writing in English. That’s why we have editors, after all. You might consider grammar to be an important part of writing, but someone else might not. Is someone who has published 20 books more talented than someone who has published only 1 book? Who is more talented — Stephen King or J.R.R. Tolkien?

As you can see, talent is a subjective matter. What you consider to be talented writing may be very different from what I consider to be talented writing. In a recent post on the Writer Unboxed blog, Jane Friedman discussed 3 Insights That Lead to Successful Publishing Careers. One of the points that she mentions in her post is the one that I’ve been ruminating on here — talent doesn’t matter. That’s certainly a broad statement to make, but I think that Jane has some compelling arguments as to why she believes that.

First, Jane says, “I’d like you to show me your talent. Point to it. Let me see it. What does it look like? I’d like you to measure it and show me, quantifiably, how it’s more, less, or different than someone else’s talent.” There is no way to quantify, or measure, talent. We have no scale or system that is set in stone to measure someone’s talent.

Secondly, Jane proposes something we should all be focused on instead of talent: discipline. Jane says, “Instead, what if we decided to believe that practice develops talent—that what we think is talent is specifically a product of years of hard work? That would mean having the discipline to practice and put in the work would be most important.”

I completely agree with this. What leads to success is the discipline and will power to sit down each day and get your writing done. No matter how little you do, writing every day and keeping up that practice is what will get you success in the long run. There are other factors, to be sure, but it all starts with the discipline you have to sit your butt down and write. So, instead of worrying about whether you have some nebulous concept known as “talent,” sit down and get writing! Make your writing the best it can be, and include as much of you as you can. That’s what will make you stand out and help you be successful when you begin to publish your work.

Happy writing!

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan


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