It’s Time to Realise You’re a Talentless Hack

During the course of one’s career as an author, writer, scribbler, whatever you want to call yourself, there are peaks and troughs. Sometimes, it all works. You can do no wrong. Others, it’s the continuing grind, beating your head against a mountain of rejection letters and the “close but no cigar” message. We continue to do this because of the love, because of the necessity to create and tell tales. Personally, I do this because I have to. To be honest, I also get off on leading a reader up the garden path and then putting them somewhere else, playing with people’s heads.

Nonetheless, in those times when you start to get critical praise, when someone tells you they like your work, then it’s easy for that small gem in the midden of rejection to shine a little too brightly. Award nominations, popularity contests, all of that, we writers are obsessive. We track numbers, we search the web, looking and hoping for that elusive praise, and glowing with it…unless of course you are Salinger.

A good response to your work, however, can become a trap. It helps you think that you’re good enough. A contract from a publishing house can have the same result. One, two, more. Each one is a stroke to that fragile ego. I received a rejection letter the other day, that well, was interesting to say the least. Along with praise for talent, for ability to tell a story, for having something to say, it also basically told me I was a hack, that I had forgotten the basics of the craft. At first, I bridled. How dare this so-called editor say such things about what I had delivered, my gorgeous prose? Well, I still think he was wrong, or at least over the top, but after the affront had dissipated, it gave me pause for thought.

It is easy to become complacent. It’s not difficult to believe those positive things that people tell you and turn a blind eye to the negative. Why? Because it feels good. It’s natural and it’s easy.

If you attend workshops or courses on writing, you will sometimes hear discussion about talent versus craft, about inspiration versus industry. The truth is that it’s both. We never stop learning and refining. An artisan or an artist, it makes no difference, you need to pay attention to your skills continue working on them, regardless of whether you’ve had some success or not. In the end, we have to admit that we’re all hacks. As your career progresses, you develop writing muscles, innate senses of construction, of flow, of phrasing, but sometimes it becomes too easy to sit back and let them do the work. If you start to do this on automatic, it may be far less than it could be. You just simply have to keep reminding yourself and keep on doing it.  And that means work.

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It’s Time to Realise You’re a Talentless Hack — 4 Comments

  1. Hmm… The majority of writers I know face the opposite dilemma: despite praise, awards, etc., they fret that the next poem/novel/essay won’t be half as good as the last one, if the last one was good at all. It takes them (that includes me) incredible courage to keep working and writing while they’re nagged with self doubt! I wish it were a little easier to believe in the positive things others tell us. I can’t see that it would ever lead to complacency.

  2. Believe me, I know writers out there who believe that every word they pen is golden. No one can tell them what is wrong with their story, or their novel. I think we all walk a fine line. Of course there is doubt, but that must be tempered with belief, otherwise we could not continue. The thing is to have the right balance between them, and sometimes a little reminder helps fix that balance.

  3. No matter what you do, whether it be writing or some other profession – there will always infinitely be someone, who can literally run circles around you.

    It’s something I remind myself of quite often. It helps me strive to always improve, improvise and learn. I do think when you’ve reached that level of superiority (in your own mind) it’s time to step back and take a lesson in modesty.

    I also believe when it comes to writing you can learn all the tools needed to write well and still not be a storyteller.

    A small level of insecurity and doubt can be viable tools to keep a writer real. So long as those self same things don’t hinder trying and eventual success. It’s a bit of a balancing act, you can’t have one without the other. (Hugs)Indigo

  4. It wasn’t until I was 40 and did a major assessment of my own youthful reading experience that I realized all my favorite writers had been hacks in their day, even the ones who are now taught as Littachure. Scorned hacks, too, before their star rose at last (safely dead 100 years or so).

    Now I just pray to become a steadily successful hack.