Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How Can You Tell if You Have Writing Talent?

One of the very most difficult parts about the writing process is knowing whether you have "it," as in the talent that it takes in order to have a book published.

This is one the biggest challenge in battling the "Am I Crazies." How in the heck do you know if what you're writing is actually good?

Sure, your friends and family might think you have a talent, there may have been a teacher who was supportive, but they're often biased. So how do you really know?

I know there are writers out there who would stop now if they knew for sure they'd never find publication. But should they? How can you tell?


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Anonymous said...

I don't get published therefore I do not have talent. This is how I feel right now, today.

Icy said...

I suppose it depends upon why you're writing in the first place. If you're writing for your own enjoyment then whether or not you are any good is not really a question worth asking as no one but yourself will ever read your work. If you're writing for publication then sure, you want to be good...but doesn't that simply come down to the opinion of the reader?

Elise Logan said...

Find a writing board. Do a few rounds of crit - you reading the work of others and the critiques people give it, then you reading and doing some critique, and put some of your writing up for critique. Doing a few rounds of this will give you a feel for whether you have not only the chops but also the hide to write.

joelle said...

I'm not sure you can tell. I think you just have to put it out there and see what happens. I mean, we've all been to plenty of open mics and heard singers who really should never sing outside the shower and yet they think they can sing. If you can't tell if you can sing or not, I don't know how you could hope to tell if you can write!

Ken Hannahs said...

Writing talent is like any other kind of talent. If you can do something better than others, you are naturally better at said act than they are. This could be for anything, but with writing it is most likely to crop up through your peers. You will get generally good feedback from people who don't really care if what you do is shite or not, and don't care all too much about your feelings to boot.
Also, you will have a knack for writing and your inner-eye will be more focused in on scenery, action, and general writing style. If you are a gifted writer, it should come relatively easy to you.
With that being said, even if you don't have that natural writing talent, enough practice can make anyone at least *good* at it. Spend the time, and your writing will improve, it may just take longer than those who were born with a gift.

John Grisham (say what you will, the man sells books) said that he never thought himself the best writer in any workshop he was in, he just had the perserverience (arg, sp) and the drive to continue writing. Be a little insane... all of us literary sorts are.

lynnrush said...

Ah, heck. I don't know if I have what it takes to get published. I know what the odds are.

I'm gonna keep writing, though.

I can't NOT write. . .

I don't think people should stop if they had a crystal ball that told them they'd never be published.

Why? Cuz I just know how much I've grown as a person as I've grown as a writer. Whether I'm published or not, can't take that growth away. Makes me who I am right now.

So, write on, my friends.

Jo Taylor said...

It is a delusion if you are wrong, a premonition if you are right. I am an optimist. I choose premonition.

Bob said...

As a new author pursuing publication, this is a great question. I answered by getting in touch with other writers, novelists, and poets. You are right, my family and friends all said they liked the first book, BEFORE any editing. Then the pursuit of traditional publication began. From there my self assessed viability as a writer was tarnished. It was the connection with other authors that led me to continue the pursuit of this thing called writing.

Thanks for the question.

Robert E Crull

C.L. Coons said...

You have talent when critiquers/editors tell you that when they're done reading your work, they miss your characters.

Jen said...

I think it's the same with anything. You know if you are good with numbers or if you are detail oriented or if fixing cars comes naturally to you. Publishing is more competitive than other careers so sometimes even good writers succumb to that creeping doubt. But if deep in your heart you know this is your true talent you somehow manage to pull yourself back up again and start all over.

KM Fawcett said...

Talent is defined as 1. a marked innate ability, as for artistic accomplishment. 2. Natural endowment or ability of a superior quality.

Since I've been writing for 8 years now and am still learning the craft, I think I can safely say I have no natural ability. Therefore, no talent.

Can I learn the craft well enough to one day be published? Damn, I hope so.

SuzDC said...

I'm working on children's literature and I have 4 kids-built in critics. If I read something I've written to them and they like it, even ask me to read it again or ask some probing questions, then I think there's something there of interest.

I'm writing to hopefully send my stories out into the world to make kids smile, to make them happy, to make them say "hmmm", and to help them learn what a joy reading is. I believe you need to look at WHY you are writing. What is your motivitation? Having those answers will help lead you to the answer for if you have any talent.

Scott said...

In some respect, I think "good" in this business is very subjective. Sure, there are authors that most people agree are excellent.

But the vast majority? There's very little agreement. Is Stephanie Meyer good? Is John Grisham good?

Does it really matter?

"Good" is something that sells and sells.

Nathan, you know better than most that there are plenty of good novels or other work that never sees the light of day.

Robert McGuire said...

Writing involves many different kinds of skills, only some of which a writer has a natural or well-developed talent in. The others skills you have to build up or compensate for somehow. I'm talented at coming up with dramatic scenarios and at portraying them with engaging language. I'm less talented at heightening the tension and resolving it. So I would say I'm talented, but not in all the ways necessary to get published.

But . . . Hemingway famously said that writing is 1% inspiration and 99% applying the set of the pants to the seat of the chair. Similarly, I think talent is a smaller part of the equation than we think and that hard work is a larger part. We write because of something other than the talent we have -- desire of some kind, mostly -- and I suspect when I get published it will be because of something other than talent.

M said...

I am lucky to have mean friends and family members who care not if they offend me.

I also think scoring critiques via writer's conferences and blog contests can be a useful evaluation tool.

When all else fails, ask a friend of a friend's teenager to read your work. If they say you suck, it's probably true.

debutnovelist said...

Hi Nathan - tough question and a good one. It used to worry me that I might be completely 'wasting my time' until I remembered I like wasting my time this way. If I don't make the big time I can clock up my own small successes. I can also learn to get better, not necessarily by joining a class (though I have) but by subjecting my work to scrutiny by people whose judgement I trust. The hard part(and not enjoyable at all!)is learning to take critiscism and worst of all, rejection. Other than that, what's not to like about sitting here making stuff up?

strugglingwriter said...

I like KM Fawcett's answer:

"Can I learn the craft well enough to one day be published? Damn, I hope so."

Talent is subjective, so I'm not sure how you tell if you have it. I certainly know I cannot judge it in myself. I know others (non-family even :) ) have gotten enjoyment out of fiction I have written. Maybe that isn't talent, but it is in the same neighborhood.

Jeremy Robb said...

It's a fair question, with no real easy answer. Talent would be the ability to make writing engaging in some way. Different abilities and talents can blend into this area, depending on your genre. Therefore not only is it possible to be incredibly talented in one genre and completely inept in another.

What's even more frustrating is the lack of self-analysis that can answer that question. Instead the identification of talent can only be done through a third party, the reader. Therefore the logical method of learning whether or not you have the talent in this area would be to have as many people read your stories as possible, and find their answers. Subsequently this can act as a marketing tool to determine which genre for which one has talent.

I would say everyone has the ability to tell a story of some sort that is compelling and interesting to the listener, though placing it down in such a contrived method as writing makes it more difficult, and herein lies the necessary talent. Therefore I would imagine that while not everyone has talent to lay their stories to the pen so easily, anyone has the potential if they have the patience.

Lisa Dez said...

I’m sure every new writer struggles with this. For me, I couldn’t even bring myself to call myself a writer for a really long time just for this reason. If I suck, am I really a writer? (I’d finished two novels and gotten an agent before I believed I was good enough to call myself a writer.)

Even querying and getting requests didn’t help. All that proved is that I could write a query.

It wasn’t until I went to an intensive writer’s workshop and had people I’d never met before (authors, agents and other participants) tell me that I was good that I started to believe that maybe I didn’t suck. I finished that novel with a lot more confidence in my ability. And, guess what. That’s the novel that got me my agent.

I really encourage people to participate in workshops or find other ways of getting objective feedback from publishing professionals. But, in the end, I just think you have to trust it and keep writing if that’s really what you really want.

Anonymous said...

I'd never stop. I have one story to tell with a message for the ages. It's been a part of my everday daily living moments for thirty-some years. Meanwhile, I've been seeking my writing voice, relocating the creative talents I was born with and had beat out of me by unimaginative nuns with iron rulers in grammar school.

I know I have storytelling talent because an audience of thousands has so signified, and because storytelling is an inborn talent of social beings. The precious moment when a two-year-old is caught with a hand in a cookie jar and tells a story--uhn--we all tell stories, tell our lives. The challenge is aligning a writer's creative vision with an audience's creative vision. That's a start, the start to learning what, if any, innate storytelling talent appeals to as broad an audience as possible.

One thing that holds me back, I have a unique voice that's striving to surface. Readers automatically reject it because it's not fully formed and it's different, too different right now for critical reading. Open minded readers, they're the ones who are helping me most to realize my voice.

Doris Fisher said...

If you're passionate about writing, write. If you're passionate about writing and getting published, take classes, join a critique group with others who write the same genre as you, go to all the writing events you can, network with other writers, editors, agents and submit. This is one weird and wacky business.

T. Anne said...

The beauty of the future is we don't know it. That being said a writer with passion and devotion and a voice should continue onward in his/her journey. BTW, I think the magical 'it' is voice. The rest can be taught and honed. JMHO

PhilH said...

There's a difference between knowing you have talent and knowing you'll get published.

Daisy said...

I don't think you can ever know for sure. I know well-published and critically acclaimed authors who say they have moments when they feel like they've been faking it all along, and with the next book it's all going to fall apart. That said, I firmly believe that the only way you can really know if you've done something right is if someone is willing to pay you money for it. People will lie and tell you you're good for all sorts of reasons-- because they're nice, because they don't want to hurt your feelings, because they want you to sleep with them, because you have a knife. But, in my experience, people don't lie with money.

John Ross Harvey said...

I will keep publishing what I write until people realise it is good. Every book gets better.
I have a Stephen Leacock Award nominee from 2009, will hopefully have 2 for 2010. People outside of family and personal friends have loved my writing. Some even bought it. Word of mouth is slower when you aren't famous already. My next books, as they will be different genres and different psuedonyms will have serious potential to be best seller. Though Nathan did not pick my paragraph, that doesn't mean it sucked. It's still good.
If it's scifi, crime, or a friend's bio, or another genre, I will make it before the Mayan calendar ends.

Anonymous said...

I've always gone thru the opposite scenario--my friends and family mostly don't like my writing, other people do. Sold my first novel last year! For what it's worth, I was an A-English student all the way thru school in the honors/AP classes and was always told I could write above average. But my family thinks my genre books are silly/dumb/weird/whatever.

T. Anne said...

Anon @ 9:59, I disagree. It's a tougher publishing world all together today. Plenty of previously pubed authors wouldn't be so fortunate in this market.

Caroline Dunford said...

Appreciation of writing talent is so subjective and so subject to time and fashion that I'm not convinced there is any point worrying about it. All you can do is do your best, study your craft, seek feedback and try. I can't stop writing. I've tried and I end up feel lost and depressed, so I have no option but to learn to write in the best way I can.

Shelia Taylor said...

I would love to be a published, best selling author. It's something I've dreamed of since I was a kid, but as long as I write and I like what I write and can entertain a few others even it's family, friends, or the stranger next to me at the bar, then the talent I have for writing isn't wasted or unused. I think if you're happy at writing and it makes you happy, then you have a talent. Most people never find their own talents and strengths

Anonymous said...

"Talent" lives on many levels. There's talent for academic writing, talent for commercial fiction, talent for literary fiction.

The business itself of commercial (mainstream/genre) fiction will quickly let you know as to whether you have "talent" applicable to that arena. Remember though, there's a 10-year break-in period so don't give up too early.

Elisabeth Black said...

I only followed the link to this post from Twitter because I thought you were going to tell us. :)

D. G. Hudson said...

Isn't this a rather subjective topic? If we didn't think we had some talent, why would we bother? Whether we're correct in our assumptions can only be judged by others who read our work.

Being published is one way of being recognized as having talent (of some kind). I wouldn't say it's the only way - but success today is measured in the bottom line. Having educational credentials carries some weight, so you know what is correct technically, but can you spin a yarn, and enthrall your readers like a singer does with a song?

I like to write, and have always done so. I keep coming back to it as an immense soul-satisfying experience. I think a writer must have confidence so I try to nurture that.

Who is the judge of whether we have talent or not? Agents and publishers judge by what they can sell. Contests judge by the likes and dislikes of the panel selecting the winning entries. All are subjective based on their experience. So how can we tell? We just keep writing and wait for the results.

Julia said...

I think you might have a talent but never get published. You can't judge how talented the person is simply by him being published or not. Plus, you have to distinguish talent for writing vs. talent for appealing to publishers. They are, unfortunately, different.

For me personally, it is not about a talent for being published that makes a writer and it is definitely not what should keep him going. Writing as I perceive it, is a calling. Some people don't just "like" writing, they can't not write.

L. T. Host said...

The easy answer:

I can't.

The long answer:

I try not to delude myself into thinking I do no matter how much my crit group, boyfriend, mom, family, and friends tell me they like my stuff. You're right-- they're biased. They know me.

I won't ever know until it happens, but if I stop trying to make it happen then I'll definitely never know, ever. I'd rather take the risk and fail than not try.

Having said that, perseverance is great and all, but if it's just not happening, I hope I'll have the courage to step back and say, I was wrong. This isn't me.

M said...

If you're passionate about writing and getting published, take classes, join a critique group with others who write the same genre as you

I agree with this, but I also think it's useful to get feedback from people who don't write/read in your genre. When you get good feedback from them, it's even more rewarding.

ella144 said...

I have no idea whether I have talent or not. I have no idea if I'll be published or not. Since these are things I cannot control (well, not completely anyway), I've decided not to worry about them anymore.

Instead I'm going to write my first book and see how it turns out. Then I'll write a second book and see how it turns out. Hopefully more (and better) books will follow.

When I have a novel that I feel is publishable, I'll polish it up as much as possible and send it out into the world and see how it fares.

Some authors sell their first book while others' debut novel is their 13th book. Some of those first books have all the mistakes first books have and still sell millions of copies (plus become major motion pictures and spawn thousands of fan sites and some really funny parody contests).

And while it would be fun to be a famous best-selling author (um, I mean, published), my goal is to write a book. I will keep writing whether I'm ever published or not.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Anyone can learn the basics of grammar and how to string words together into sentences that become paragraphs. That's not talent, it's experience.

The ease and skill with which you use that experience will determine if you have talent in a certain area or not.

You can have confidence in yourself, but you can't judge your own talent. Talent is determined by the enjoyment of others. It's subjective and changes and can be adapted.

The writer doesn't have the luxury of saying "but I'm talented..." when they don't get published or if their book tanks; it's not up to them.

If people you don't know consistently enjoy your characters - you have talent there. If people you don't know consistently enjoy your plots - you have talent there. If people you don't know beg you for more of your story because they can't wait to see what happens next - you have talent there.

The true judge of talent exists in a void; it hinges on the opinions of people you don't know and can't influence.

Gemma said...

If a tree fell in the forest and Oprah's book club wasn't around to tell everyone to care...hehehe...talent is almost an afterthought to schmoozability these days.

Susan Quinn said...

Writing is the only endeavor I've undertaken where no having "talent" was considered a reason to quit. As an engineer, you have to have some base "talent" with numbers and a certain skill in academics just to get in the door (college), but then it was primarily a matter of working your tail off.

The "talented" writers - meaning, the published ones - seem to say the same thing. That the main ingredient in their success is working their tail off. This is not just writing a lot, but learning to write better , every day.

I hope so. After all, I wasn't born knowing how to write. I also wasn't born knowing how to solve differential equations, but I still managed to pass the class.

Anonymous said...

"It's a tougher publishing world all together today"

Another common sentiment applied to every human endeavor on the planet ("THis market is so much tougher today than it was....")


The reason it seems difficult is only because you are on the tip of time as it moves forward, rather than having the benefit of hindsight to put things in perspective and say, "Ohhhhh, well see, I woul;d have done this, that & the other in THAT situation, so, it's so much harder today because it's not like that." But 20 years from now writers will similarly look back and remark on how much more different and difficult the market is for them compared to the 2010 era when the social networks leveled the playing field and e-books took off, because THEY would have been able to capitalize on that.

It's not any harder people. It's the same. It will always be the same. Whatever changes int he business occur, all writers will move to capitalize on them.


Gordon Jerome said...

Well, Van Gogh didn't know, and that didn't stop him. Tom Petty is a terrible signer just as Mick Jagger is a terrible singer. Jackson Pollack had no possible way to judge whether he was a good painter or not (least of all for being fairly insane).

Today, I wrote 112 words more than my quota. I write at least my quota every day. I write it when I'm depressed or tired or feeling like a loser because of my day job. I write my quota on my current novel, no matter what. That's all the power I have. I let God take care of the rest.

So, here it is:

A writer has talent if they refuse to believe anyone who says they don't.

Susan Quinn said...

Arg, typos! "not" having talent . . .

The Sapphic Housewife said...

I don't know if I have writing talent.

I also don't know if I have the talent to be a mother, but I'm going to give it a try, because I want to and I have my heart in it. (And that's a lifetime commitment . . .)

If you have a talent and a passion for something, I say go for it, but I think it's possible to miss out on a lot of good stuff in life if you only do what you know you're good at. I also think you can get better at pretty much anything. Writing, being a mother, playing the ukulele. Just about anything.

Bill Mabe said...

Nathan, can I be a slight jerk and say, "Who cares?" If you like writing, write. Although I think it's pretty tough to judge the quality of one's own work relative to others, a writer can certainly observe whether he's improved over time. That's something you can derive a lot of pleasure from.

The corollary is just because you write and you like it, doesn't mean you're going to get published. I play basketball and I love it, but you won't see me playing point guard for the Kings anytime soon. (Okay, maybe the Kings, but you catch my drift...)

Tracey said...

You pose a very interesting question. I was at an SCBWI conference a few years back with the fabulous Harold Underdown (Purple Crayon site) and he was bemoaning the fact that in all the advice to writers, no one takes into account that it factor. What if a writer doesn't have talent? Of course this has plagued me since. My one published novel might have been a fluke! But I think that if you inspire people and you make them really feel something, that's the indicator. Sure, my parents and husband love everything I write, but when one of them say that reading X passage was really hard, or I get a call asking me if I really feel X way when I wrote X thing, then I know I've reached them.

I think that's it. If you're able to touch someone with your writing, you're talented. The rest is skill. And that, you can learn.

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga said...

Here's what William Faulkner had to say about it: "At one time I thought the most important thing was talent. I think now that the young man or the young woman must possess or teach himself, training himself, in infinite patience, which is to try and to try until it comes right. He must train himself in ruthless intolerance--that is to throw away anything that is false no matter how much he might love that page or that paragraph. The most important thing is insight, that is to be--curiosity--to wonder, to mull, and to muse why it is that man does what he does, and if you have that, then I don't think the talent makes much difference, whether you've got it or not."

Marsha Sigman said...

I just know it.

I really hope I am not like those people that audition for American Idol.....

gringo said...

Writing talent isn't had, it is developed. The result of the development, which is a lot of time and hard work, is different for every writer.

Rick Daley said...

I think the only way to tell for sure is to hear it from a credible source (which, in most cases, does not include the writer or his/her friends and family).

I think the question can be broken out further, though. There are two types of talent that are important for a novelist: writing talent, and storytelling talent.

To me, writing talent relates more to the mechanics of writing (grammar, syntax, punctuation) and the effective use of the more advanced tools in our kits (similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, alliteration, symbolism, and other literary devices).

But brilliant prose does not denote an interesting story. Coming up with a unique premise, developing characters that readers react to, and having enough meat to the story to really carry it for 80,000 words...those are all storytelling talents.

Annette Lyon said...

If you can see yourself improving and learning and understanding the craft, moving from the stages of unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence and then to conscious competence. Maya Reynolds blogged about the staged not too long ago, and she was spot on.

Someone who can't see the craft for what it is no matter how hard they try doesn't have the talent can can't develop the skill on top on the talent.

Service Manager said...

I find it extremely interesting that most comments here come from writers who obviously think they have talent, even if it's hidden behind an 'aw shucks' presentation. Perhaps Mr. Bransford's audience is brighter than most, guess is that there are a thousand (if not more) people who think they have talent for every one who actually possesses it.

pjblair said...

I'm writing to get published, as much as I enjoy it. If I'm not good enough, I need to know; I have lots of other things I can do with my time. I can't play pro ball either. No-one in the sports business pulls their punches: I think agents need to be frank and tell people if they don't have what it takes. Soft-pedalling it just wastes everyone's time.

Kelly Bryson said...

I'm with 'debut novelist'- if my writing is a waste of time, at least I enjoy how I waste it. Writing has brought so many good things into my life already- I can express my self more clearly, conversations and friendships. And as I said to my crit partner yesterday, all I had to do was give up some TV time! Publishing would be icing.

Livia said...

Feedback from objective people with expertise (published writers, publishing professionals, etc)

Karen said...

I have no idea how to tell whether you have it or not. I just know I do.


Anonymous said...

As a college professor, I often see students start the semester with writing which is - quite frankly - horrible. But with feedback, they learn to write better, visibly improving over the course of the semester.

I firmly believe that writing is a skill which can be learned, and with enough effort (that whole 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration thing) they can master the ability to write well. If you want to write at all, you have the 1% inspiration. Now it's just a question of whether you're willing and able to put in the time and effort you need for the other 99%...

Mira said...

Well, I know I have some talent. I'm just not sure how much.

I know I have talent because I instinctively know how to do some things. I know how to pace. I know how to build. I know how to twist to surprise people.

I also find that the more I practice, the more my innate sense of how to write emerges. It's sort of weird, but it's like chipping away at the plaster until my natural talent comes through stronger.

Now, whether I have enough talent to write a book, I don't know. Whether I have the type of talent that anyone else will respond to, I don't know that either.

But I do think I doubt myself way too easily. Writing is so much about two way communication that it can be very easy to use outside feedback to evaluate your own gift.

But on the other hand, some of the knowledge that you have a gift doesn't come from outside of you. It comes from inside. A sure sense of touch. A sense of something moving through you. An idea of where to take something and how to mold it.

But sure sense of things isn't always, alot of it comes down to trust. Something inside wants to come out - so it's good to let it out.

This is a hard one for me. I'm talking this out as I go....

Anonymous said...

major writing awards as an adolescent, Ivy League school, the next big thing?


Oh, yeah, life interruptus. Making a living, not making a living, growing up, moving, and keeping at it.

Novelist? Not now. How about in ... ten years? There are other ways to make a living writing. Win some more awards.

Step away.

Start a t-shirt business (realize you're not a garmento), pick up the flailing instrument of self-torture (back missed those lashes), take some classes, you're back in the game.

Sort of.

Persistence, as Mr. Lincoln pointed out, is more important than being Paris Hilton, talent and one other quality. What is it? Oh, oh! No one can stop you from writing.


The world flashes signals along the way. Keep going. Not quite there yet. Closer. Another award, agency representation, on submission ... for months, then a year.

False starts.

I'm working on a new novel - well, one, then another, and maybe this first one will work out. The phone rings and rings. I'm busy, vaguely wondering, who could be calling?

Pls, Leave word.

The agent keeps calling. Forgot about him. Wait? What does he want? Oh, there's "interest."

Sale / purchase.

Contract negotiations, contract, advance check, plotting, planning & publicity. It all seems so abstract; that book was, um, a while. This NEW one's going great.

I think ... maybe?

Suggested working title, "The Story Goes Something Like This."

Matty Byloos said...

If you share with people for whom you have respect in terms of their writing or critical abilities, and their response is consistently something on the order of, "Dude--" and then a long pause, that might mean you've got something, technically speaking. But (more) seriously -- I tend to think every writer at some point or another should be in a close-knit group of writers in a workshop environment. If you bring in work to present that is handled with care and tends to provoke respect, dialogue, insightful comments and lots of conversation, then I think you may be on to something.

Mary Caffrey said...

I agree with C.L. Coons, who said
"You have talent when critiquers/editors tell you that when they're done reading your work, they miss your characters."

That would be a good measure,for sure!

For most of us, kudos for writing talent come with education, grade school through grad, recognized and rewarded by teachers.

Writing books is mostly a collaberative effort, with critique group, spouse, friend, and cajoled acquaintance involvement in sampling the draft.

Talent is collective and synergistic.

Mary Jo

Lydia Sharp said...

You know I adore you, Nathan, but I hate this question. You will get a different answer from every person you ask, that applies only to that person and no one else. And when you start questioning yourself like this, it leads to unnecessary discouragement.

I feel every writer has an audience out there somewhere, they just have to find it.

Anonymous said...

@ Service Manager

" guess is that there are a thousand (if not more) people who think they have talent for every one who actually possesses it."

You, at least, have one talent that's essential to story telling, the ability to make comments calculated to arose emotions.

Anahita said...

I used to worry a lot about that. I don’t anymore. Since I stopped writing children’s stories and started writing science fiction shorts, writing them and reading them is so delicious the only question I ask now is: how could I not have a talent!!! I haven’t published yet though. That, I guess is a question of whether or not I have an audience other than me, my father, my husband, and my sister. Can my stories satisfy the taste of many others too? Well, I hope so…but I wouldn’t kill myself if they didn’t; and I will definitely not stop writing, it is too pleasurable. Also, I read in the book “Story”, that you must have some talent otherwise you wouldn’t be itching for writing.

Monica O Kolkman said...

People have told me through the years that I can write: family, teachers, friends, blogfriends, writing coaches, even people with a insight in the publishing business...

I am so fed up with the words "you have a beautiful language", "you know the craft", that I want to scream.
They have obviously all been lying or not knowing what they are talking about.

I guess I will never know if I´m really good. Or really bad.

SammyStewart said...

I read somewhere (probably here) that if anyone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer. If you're writing to be published, that's fine, but it can turn you into one of those bitter, self-absorbed people if you don't succeed. If you're writing because you love it, you'll be a happier person. And I think the quality of the writing will, over time, reflect your motives.


Never stop.
Creating is cathartic.
Stay true to our ideals of digging, and stirring and surfacing another world of you, of me, of us.
Why not?

Donna Gambale said...

I've been on a "heck yes, I'm talented" wave of positivity lately. Blame it on a surge of confidence caused by being frighteningly close to finishing my novel.

Do I objectively KNOW I'm talented? No. I don't think that's possible, unless the masses somehow get to read my work and come to a happy consensus. (Though even the masses can be wrong.)

Ask me again when I'm up to my neck in revisions.

And when I get my first rejection.

So I'm loving this feeling while I have it!

Keith Popely said...

A writer is a person who writes, regardless of whether he or she gets paid for it, regardless of what other people think of his or her work. In the words of Billy Crystal in Throw Mama From The Train, "A writer writes. Always."

If you're feeling like the whole world is against you and the struggle is just too much, read Jack London's "Martin Eden." Here's a description of the novel from Wikipedia:

This book is a favorite among writers, who relate to Martin Eden's speculation that when he mailed off a manuscript, 'there was no human editor at the other end, but a mere cunning arrangement of cogs that changed the manuscript from one envelope to another and stuck on the stamps,' returning it automatically with a rejection slip.

susiej said...

I can't speak for anyone else. I write because the story in my head had to get out, and I found that it was fun and relaxing to write.

I didn't intend to let anyone read it, but in time family & friends found out and they encouraged me to seek publication. I found that querying is not fun, but now that the idea is in my head, I pursue it- almost like a challenge.

Sometimes, I wonder if I've lost sight of my story while trying to make it fit what agents seem to want. I remember the words of my first ever fan- "I know this sounds stupid, but I dream of your characters. If nothing else ever comes of this, thanks for the great read."

And I'm happy.

ajcastle said...

As with anything artistic, I think the answer to this question is subjective. I don't think there actually IS a right answer. There are books I've read and thought to myself "Why the heck did this get published?", but other people raved over them. Then other times I have absolutely loved things that other people trashed. It's all opinion.

Talent, I think, is something else all together. IMO, talent is not something that can be learned, it is something that comes naturally.

For example (oh yes, I'm pulling out the sports metaphors!), my son is naturally good at anything sports related. At 10 years old he can throw a mean spiral, hit a baseball well into the outfield, and make baskets not even kids five years older than him can make.

His chosen sport to focus on is soccer. From the first moment he kicked a soccer ball, his talent was obvious.

This year he played in the U14 (ages 10-14 included) league of our local city soccer league. I swear I am not just being the doting mother when I say that this child is one of the best forwards in the whole league. Not THE best but one of -- and this is comparing him with some kids 4 years older than him. He can dribble that ball around almost any player and pulls out some of the fanciest footwork out there. 99% of this is raw natural talent. He practices, but not as much as some kids who don't hold a candle to him on the field. It just comes easily for him.

Unfortunately, raw talent isn't all that's needed. In order to really take a natural ability anywhere, practice is involved. My son, as talented as he is, will never move beyond the confines of our local league if he does not nurture and expand on a talent he was given naturally.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while talent is born into us, it isn't the only thing that leads to success. Even with talent we have to work at and hone our craft. And I truly believe that the judgment on what's talent and what isn't is completely subjective.

I believe I have a talent for writing. I tend to have talent whenever anything creative is involved, I always have. Does that mean I'm positive everyone else will acknowledge my talent and that I WILL someday become a published author? Nope. I'm not deluded enough to think that. I know not everyone will love what I write, will not see the talent, will not understand how I could ever think myself good enough. But I guess as long as I enjoy what I'm doing and *I* think I'm good enough, then that's really what matters in the grand scheme of things.

Kate said...

There is a difference between talent and skill. For example, I have no talent in basketball and no matter how much I practiced; I would never make it in the NBA. But that doesn’t mean that processional athletes are able to succeed without putting a lot of work into it. I think that writing is the same way. Some people are bad writers with little or no writing talent. My guess is that most if not all of these people know their shortfalls, and don’t spend very much time writing. I expect most unpublished writers, who actively write, have a fair amount of talent. The just might not have put in enough time to fully develop their skills. We unpublished writers who receive praise from our friends and teachers but haven’t yet found a publisher are like the high school stars with dreams of a future as a professional athlete. We won’t all make it, but some of us will. Talent is important, but not all talented people succeed. In any field, weather it be sports, writing, music, or medicine, skills need to be sharpened by lots of hard work. Talent is just the little nudge that encourages people not to quit trying.

J. R. McLemore said...

Honestly, I think that you could probably find a market even if you don't have the talent. I know that sounds laughable, but I know of a published author (prolific, too) whom shall remain nameless in this public forum that has written some really awful stuff with paper-thin characters who keeps churning out one piece of crap after another.

Like most aspiring authors, I like to think I've got some writing talent (and I've gotten some good feedback from strangers), but what really keeps me going is knowing that I can definitely write better than the aforementioned author. I like to read widely, and that includes published works online by other aspiring authors, to measure my own writing against the good and the great. While I don't consider my writing great, I do consider it publishable. I'll let editors tell me differently.

knight_tour said...

Long ago in some writing classes the teachers kept choosing my works to read to the class. It was a little embarrassing, but also kind of gratifying.

When I finished my first novel recently I wondered if it was good, because I find I can judge the writing of others quite easily, but judging my own is hard. When my nine year old son blitzed through my 518-page book in two days it made me feel I must have done something right.

Scott said...

I write because I love writing. I don't think I seriously considered getting published when I started writing. I just had a story to tell.

Do I have the publishing dream? Heck, Yeah. Will I stop writing if I never get published? Heck, No!

I write because it's what I love to do.


Anonymous said...

People pay me to write.

Emily White said...

I wish I knew if I had "it." There are days when I feel like I'm the next Tolkien (those are good days), but they are very often followed by feelings of pure worthlessness when I think every word I write down is nothing but crap. Sigh. Maybe I'm just crazy.

Hmm... that is a possibility. :)

Beth said...

Because my mother told me I do...KIDDING!

I have no idea, and quite frankly, I'm terrified. I suppose it's a crapshoot, and I'll find out when I go through the process of finding an agent and trying to get published!

Fawn Fitter said...

I'm not sure you can tell. I make a living putting words end to end and heaven knows I see other stuff in print that makes me think I could have done that twice as well. And I'm sure someone out there has read my stuff and thought, "Damn, they pay her to do that?"

Emily C. said...

I get partial requests and I just got a full request. Progress means potential! :)

Derrick said...

Define "good".

Marilyn Peake said...

I never rely on my own personal feelings about my writing because I’m too close to every story I write to be able to tell if it will read well for others. I always ask for feedback from beta-readers. I also send all my published work out for reviews and enter it into writing competitions. After collecting lots of positive reviews, having Piers Anthony send me an email about how much he enjoyed reading one of my children’s fantasy adventure novels, having several TV Producers ask to include my work in TV show proposals, libraries create special display shelves for my trilogy of children’s fantasy adventure novels, people send me emails from all across the country about how much they loved those books, and winning competitions against books from major presses, I figure I probably have writing talent. Every time I finish a new writing project, though, I seek the opinion of others.

Anonymous said...

True that talent is not the only factor, though it certainly helps. But you also need tenacity, persistence, luck and --also helpful though perhaps not necessary--a keen business sense.


Anna said...

Short answer; earlier this year I entered a writing contest on a whim, ended up in the top 100 as a semifinalist out of approximately 5,000 entries.

Long answer, which actually will be short. I have faith in what I'm doing (admittedly more so now since said contest) as I know this isn't about me. Having accepted that, whatever comes is and will be fantastic.

(And NANO starts in three days, woot woot!)

essygie said...

Are there really people out there who would give up if they thought they were never going to get published? I mean, if you have something to say, don't you have to say it, regardless of whether or not people are listening? All I know is, every day I write is a good day and every day I don't feels like a wasted day. Even if I'm never successful at this, giving up would feel like suicide. I just can't do it.

Northwriter said...

I think people have different threshholds for how long and hard they might keep at something before giving up. Some writers might hit their stride on their first manucript,another maybe by the fifth or sixth.

So how do you know?

Keep writing. Seek out people who are skilled critiquers and see what they think.

Keep writing. Can you see improvement in your own writing or is it more of the same?

Keep writing. Take a class or two. See any improvement after that?

Keep writing. If you are querying: Are any of your partials turning into requests for fulls?

Keep writing. Enter a contest where part of the deal is a critique.

Keep writing.

You may never know if you are good enough. But if you stop writing then you really won't know.

So, keep writing.

Ink said...

Write for 10,000 hours. Evaluate.

Anonymous said...

Not to come across as catty...okay, maybe I will, but judging from some of the atrocious writing I've seen published, if you can tell some sort of story with a beginning, a middle, and an end in a reasonable stringing of words and sentences, then you probably have what it takes to get published.

Andrew said...

I actually think this should be 2 questions

1. Can you write technically? (we've all read published works where the nuts and bolts of style, such as superlatives, adverbs, dialogue tags etc, are badly used and we think "we can do better than THAT!!")

2. Can you tell a good story? (some people wouldn't know a good plot if it bit them after giving a 5 minute warning and are overdrawn in the banks of 'Poor Motivation' and 'Deus Ex Machina')

You need a little from column A and a little from column B, I'd say, and which blend of the 2 works for you is hard to gauge. I think if you can be quietly confident on both counts you're halfway there - It's when you're wildly convinced, and to hell with detractors, that you're 'special' in one area that I'd start to worry.

It'd be nice, of course, if people who weren't ready for publication would wait until they were and thin the field down a little, then the people who are in with a shot would get a bit more air time. (Hence why I haven't blitzed the agents yet before I get accused of arrogance...hehe)

Anita Saxena said...

Talent is just a subjective pot of mish mosh.

If someone tells me that I'm talented. I'm not going to believe them, because of course they're just being nice.

I'd never say that I'm talented- cause well, I'm not. And besides, that would be egotistical.

And thirdly, I wouldn't take the time to contemplate whether or not I was truly talented because in many ways this can be self defeating.

Nathan Bransford said...


"Not to come across as catty...okay, maybe I will, but judging from some of the atrocious writing I've seen published, if you can tell some sort of story with a beginning, a middle, and an end in a reasonable stringing of words and sentences, then you probably have what it takes to get published."

This sentiment completely baffles me. Can anyone just bang out TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD if they have a pen and notepad? Or even THE DA VINCI CODE? I mean, honestly.

Also, I'll come out as one of those writers who probably wouldn't have kept writing had I not found publication. I didn't give up after my first attempt failed, but I wouldn't have kept at it endlessly. Not saying it's right, but I would have turned my attention somewhere else after a certain point.

Andrew said...

Also, judging by a lot of time spent on aq connect....critque groups are ok, but you have to accept that there will be a number of people there who will compliment regardless, and a number of people who will nitpick regardless. Neither is done with malice, but sometimes its hard to say "I think that is great as it is" and even harder to say "Shove that bit in the bin and burn it".

My Dad told me long ago, when listen to advice about cricket, the first problem with feedback is filtering out who to listen to.

Bane of Anubis said...

Good question... sometimes it just takes lots of practice, but I could practice drawing for an eternity and never be able to draw anything better than a stick figure.

If I had a crystal ball that told me I'd never find publication, I'd probably stop. Though writing provides some outlet, I'd prefer more productive methods (or at least less frustrating ones).

Edward W. Robertson said...

A lot of it comes from external sources--the first time a friend asks to read more, or when a teacher seems not just happy with your work but taken aback by it, or when you start getting personal feedback from magazine editors, and then when you start selling to them.

My biggest sign was when I started to enjoy my own work rather than getting upset and embarrassed whenever I opened an old file. I could tell I still had progress to make, but that was a turning point.

Blank said...

There are many bad writers who get published. There are also very good writers who don't get published. This is how the world works sometimes.

(And I don't think I'm a good writer. I am not published. I am working on being a better writer. Maybe, way down the road, publishing will happen for me.)

AB said...

Persistence, attention to craft, and luck. That's what it takes.

I have career writers on both sides of my family and writing's not really about talent. Competence, yes. That's craft. Otherwise, it's a business - and like any business, you've got to work all the aspects. That includes knowing your target audience, researching markets, expecting numerous failures, and accepting there's no guaranteed success.

Being a writer is entrepreneurial as well as manufacturing. You have to understand and create your product first. Second, you need to know the business. That's the difficult part. But if you're entrepreneurial in spirit, being delusional and obsessive and refusing to give up goes a long way.

You have to learn, write, finish, get and sort through critique, rewrite, network, listen, read, read some more, write some more, research markets, and send out.

Then you've got to do it again.

Someday, opportunity may knock. If not, you can make your own opportunity. Poetry nights, small production companies, small newpapers, 'zines, diy publishing, art collectives, etc.

The question is, really, why? I write for audience; that has at times been paid, but not much. The unpaid audience (if wide) is satisfying too. So you've got to look at what your model is.

I think the problem is that "writer" seems glamorous, when really, it's work like any other. People who are talented exist in every field -- but every field needs its hacks, too. What a hack brings is the ability to get the job done.

Dara said...

I don't know if I can tell personally. I just take it on the word of my fellow critique group members, who are about as objective as they come. They've told me I have potential, even though there are times I really don't think I do.

Diana said...

It's very difficult to be objective about one's talents and abilities. But, something I noticed when I taught social dancing, the people who thought they were not very good at dancing were the best and those who thought they were really good, were not.

It is rare to find someone who knows what they are good at and what they aren't so good at.

Feedback in a writing community is rather tricky. I've been in situations where I've seen someone lauded for the writing talent, when they really weren't very good. I wouldn't publish a short story that they wrote.

Nathan Bransford said...

I don't agree that "bad" writers get published these days, at least not by the major publishers. They may not be as good as some people who aren't published and you personally might not like their books, but they're not "bad" in any meaningful sense of the word.

It's like saying a bench warmer in the NBA is a bad basketball player. They're not LeBron James and you might be able to change them out with some guys on the fringe of the league, but they're still elite by any reasonable definition.

Ink said...

Would I be considered "on the fringe of the league"? Because if Mike Woodson wants to, say, swap out Terence Kinsey for me, well, I'm willing to accept the bench role. I'll even carry LeBron's bag.

doctorquery said...

When someone wants to publish your book, you have clearly achieved a level of writing talent. That's an easily recognizable measure. But in order to get those professional eyes on your pages (rather than those of your fond friends), you need to find an agent who will agree to accept a submission.

I help writers improve their chances of getting closer to an agent by critiquing query letters. It's my little gift to the world.

Come by sometime and get some free advice.

Nathan Bransford said...


As long as Tarence gets to run the bookstore for a day.

pjd said...

One of my favorite ironies of life:
Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own
Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments

I know that I don't have as much talent as I would like to have. Essentially, I want to have enough talent so I don't have to do any actual work.

talent + effort = quality

Thus, if your work is not the quality you (or your audience) want, then it's either a lack of talent or a lack of effort. Or both. I just keep waiting for the market's quality threshold to drop enough so I can make it all work on talent alone. Effort is hard.

lysesh said...

I'm making sales, and when I'm not making sales I'm getting "close but not quite" rejections, so...I can't think of any more honest judge of talent than whether or not other people are willing to give you money.

Anonymous said...

Two issues. A talent for writing, and the ability to get published.

I work as a graphic designer. Everyone that has Photoshop thinks they can design. It's the same for writing. Everyone who reads a book thinks they can write. I'm sure it's the same in many industries. People always think they can just pick something up and do it. Not so.

I can tell when someone doesn't have that grace with the language that is required for good writing. But I never tell them. There are so many terrible published writers out there. Who's to say what gets published these days? Go. Write. Do. The worst that will happen is that you will make yourself a more interesting person.

wonderer said...

If I knew I'd never get published, I'd still write for fun and share it with people I know would enjoy it. But I'd spend a lot less time on revising and on reading agent blogs.

As it is, I'm hoping that 99% perseverance will carry me through...

L... said...

Talent as a writer is one thing, but talent as a storyteller is the main thing in this gig. I know I can write, but can I entertain? That's where the doubt comes from.

Nathan Bransford said...


What if I were to say that lots of graphic design is terrible so who needs to be an expert anyway?

L-Plate Author said...

Hi Nathan, I'm not sure if I have writing talent, but I do have perseverance by the shed load.

TKA said...

I think this question of talent only matters once we know why we write. If we write for our own enjoyment/fulfillment and we are getting enjoyment/fulfillment from our writing, then we have talent sufficient for our purposes. If we write for the enjoyment of a small personal audience and they enjoy it then, again, we have sufficient talent.

If however, we are writing with a strict goal of publication, then the question becomes how badly want it. Do we want it enough to invest all the time, energy, thought, education, practice, etc. that it will take to accomplish that goal?

Also, I am sure we have all read books published by some publishing house, large or small, that made us think, "If this writer can get published, then so can I." As many others have said, not being published does not mean we don't have talent, or "enough talent." All it means is that we need to keep honing our skill and putting our work out there until we make the connection(s) that lead(s) to publication, *if* that is our goal.

In other words, talent, schmalent. Quit worrying about it and just keep writing until you are good enough to fulfill your own purposes.

Anonymous said...

Talent I have. Craft I continue to develop.

Both, I believe, are necessary.

I have one completed novel that I believe has potential to sell modestly well.And another WIP that I think is even better.I have given parts or all of these works to various readers and their feedback and mostly their keen interest is my best meter so far.

What I feel I need to know is who and how many am I talking to? How wide or narrow is my audience? Is it 50? 200? 10,000? More? Maybe 2?
That is a most important question to whether or not I should have books published.

I began writing for myself. I love correspondence and realized, after many years, that people I wrote to saved my letters and e-mails. In fact, I have often been contacted by someone who accidentally deleted e-mails from me to restore them.

I have learned that *some* of my writing affects people.

The other big question for me is if, even with talent, I can get published. I am not good at marketing (self-marketing anyway).I may never know how many readers I might reach with a book until I get someone promoting a piece. Oh, agent, my own agent, where are you?

Anonymous said...

The only way to really tell is to let people read what you've written. It's like a bad hairdo: you may think it's great and awesome and perfect, but until you get feedback from someone less crazy than you, you'll never know that a quadruple-pigtail-twist-updo is a bad idea.

Paul Neuhardt said...

I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but I suspect if I did that I might abandon the quest.

Ignorance is, in this case, bliss.

pjd said...

Oh, wait... the actual question was "how can you tell?"

Find people who are known to have talent, or to have the ability to assess quality... and who are also honest. Show them your work. Get a second, third, fourth, fifth opinion. Learn from that, create something new, and try again.

Bear in mind they are assessing the result, not the creation process. It will be up to you to assess yourself honestly based on those external opinions. Many talent deficits can be overcome through additional effort. Some can't (I've seen them). But you can't figure out your own talent:effort ratio threshold if you don't get honest, (reasonably) objective assessments of the end result.

By the way, I wouldn't pay for those assessments. I don't think anyone will ever be honest with you about your talent level if they stand to make money off you.

Myrna Foster said...

If a person works, learns, works, makes mistakes, and works, it might not matter whether or not they have talent.

That said, I'm hoping the encouragement of writing professors and magazine editors is a good indication.

Anonymous said...

I spent the better part of my life as a working chef. Still I cook gourmet, but my feet don't tolerate being on 'em for ten hours a day anymore and my health won't survive all the goodylicious temptations. I know I'm a talented chef. My cooking is psychologically satisfying as well as nutritionally satisfying for me and my audience.

I can make instant macaroni and cheese that youngters will say is better than when their moms make it from the same recipe, almost, and same packaging and ingredients. A pinch of mustard powder and ginger powder, I add. For me, it's the little things that make all the difference. No more and no less tender loving care than moms gives, just that little bit extra that moms doesn't know about the art and chemistry of cooking that I do, that's not in the cookbooks, that's a matter of practice and application and knowledge and the little bit more tender loving care that makes what I make stand out from the ordinary.

Then there's poached salmon for the grumps. Poached in Chardonay and fresh dill and served with a clove flavored champaigne beurre blanc sauce.

I've noted that sophisticated palates are an acquired but not exclusive taste. Poached salmon goes really good with homefries and applesauce.

Robena Grant said...

I do think you can tell if you have writing talent. Storytelling, more so. But the two are different, one is innate, the other learned.

As a writer you know when you have talent (and it isn't all the time) but it comes in those moments where you're totally in the zone, and later you think back on it and it appears to be somehow magical.

So you strive to have more of those moments. : )

P. Grier said...

Someone told me, not long ago, that my novel won't sell because people don't buy sad stories during serious recessions.

Someone recently told me that chick stories are really hot right now.

Mine is a sad chick story.

I write, hoping to be published, but also because I want to. If this sad chick story isn't picked up, hopefully the next one will be.

Anonymous said...

If you have it, you just know. Under the layers of self-doubt b.s., you know it to be fundamentally true.

Confessor said...

I think that talent is something that just comes naturally. Sure, you can work at it and improve your skill but its something that just comes easy to you.

I just started writing six months ago and *gasp* I can honestly count the number of fiction novels I've ever read on both hands. After joining a critique group every single member that has read my work has commented on my talent. Writing (and especially voice)is just something that comes easily to me, crafting a story has been a little more challenging though.

Scott said...

I suppose you're always aware of some flair for language and storytelling even before you get serious. After that, you just compare with what's out there.

There is something to the reaction of those who read your stuff, too. That's one of the reasons why I feel it's important to write short stories. The feedback is more immediate and frequent.

Mira said...


I'm not one to tell someone else what they would have done (that's a lie, I totally tell people what they would have done, what they can do now and what they should do in the future), but I wonder if you would have given up writing.

You may have given up trying to write MG fiction, but there is still your blog, and your talent for essay writing and humor.

I think people sometimes give up writing for awhile, but it always comes back to bug them. Write, write, write, write, get writing.

That's been true for me anyway.

Getting published - well, that's just a small group of people's opinion at a given point in time. That's valuable, but that's all it really is.

J. Bookman said...

I think that knowing what is good and what isn't is part of the "it" one needs to succeed as a writer. Some people are too easy on themselves, and some people are too hard on themselves, but being honest and seeing through bullshit, whether it is to describe someone in an intriguing way, or whether it is to recognize your own shortcomings, is necessary in writing. Those who have "it" probably know they still have a long way to go, and that's how they got "it" in the first place -- realizing what they need to improve. When you think you're "there," that's probably when you'll stop growing as a writer, a thinker, and an individual.

Thermocline said...

I'm not sure anyone can tell they've got talent. Yes, it's subjective, but that kind of validation needs to come from an outside source. Otherwise, how can you be certain it's not just narcissistic grandeur?

Ink said...


I'm not sure Terence will be keen on the pay cut...

Anonymous said...

"I'm hoping the encouragement of writing professors and magazine editors is a good indication."

Mag eds, yes. Writing professors, no.

Always pay attention to which way the # is flowing. With magazines, they have to pay you for stories, so they're not going to feed you any bull. If they say you're good, then you're good to them.

But with professors, you're paying the chool for the privilege of writing and being evaluated on that writing, which makes impartiality impossible.

As a writer looking to go commercial, you should only be interested in the opinions of two groups:

1) readers and potential readers of your material (who have no personal or business ties to you)

2) Publishers ina position to buy or potentiaally buy your work

Anyone else has a relationship with you that will compromise the impartiality of their feedback and opinions.


Margaret Yang said...


It isn't a perfect measure of talent, but currently, it is the best one we have.

It not only measures writing talent, but how willing/able you are to do all the rest of the job (query letters, synopses, taking editorial direction, etc.).

It also measures your patience, which is a job requirement.

Okay, so maybe it's not a perfect measure of pure writing talent, but it is a good measure of talent required to do the job.

Anonymous said...

You have to assign a goal to measure the "talent."

If the goal is to publish a story and then sell x number of copies, then sell another one and repeat...well, that's an attainable, clearcut goal.

To say you want to write "good" stuff is not.

Then it becomes a matter of how long will you continue your attempts to reach the goal? 5 years max? 10? A lifetime?

Most people move on to something else when it doesn't pay off quickly enough.


Anonymous said...

Here's another perspective:

How many of you writers will keep writing AFTER your first book sells, but your second flops and then no publisher will buy your third? Are you going to sit down and slog through #4 at that point? Or maybe pick up that guitar that's been sitting in the corner for all these years...

Everyone says they want to write when they have either no track record (cuz they just know they're gonna win, baby! Their English prof and their kid says so!) or they still have a good record (debut comes out later this year! Yeah I'm writing #2 right now, outling #3, lookout world!)

But after you succeed (i.e. get published), and THEN you fail (i.e. can't get published) will you still write?

~The Anonymizer

Ulysses said...

You ask some tough questions, and I'd love to know if there's a definitive answer to this.

Give me a quantitative test of writing talent and I shall devote the rest of my life to making enough money to buy you a tropical island populated with servants happy to cater to your every whim.

Fair exchange, I figure.

Most writers of my acquaintance are horrendously insecure and bounce back and forth between believing they have no talent and believing other people have no ability to recognize it. A few have settled comfortably into that gray zone where they don't know if they have talent, and hope to sell something in order to have tangible evidence that they might.

The hardest part about all this is defining "talent." Sure you can just go with "the ability to write a compelling story using beautiful words," But then you need to define "compelling story" and "beautiful words," and then their definitions will need further definition. The whole thing just devolves into an exercise that results in measures which are both very precise and completely useless.

However, in the interest of some kind of conclusion:

If by "how can you tell if you have talent" you mean, "how can you tell if you can write a story people will enjoy?" Then I think the only sensible measure is the size of your appreciative audience. If they're willing to spend money to read your words, then that's a great measure of their appreciation.

That's not the only possible definition of talent, though. When I was a teenager, I saw a friend of mine read his girlfriend a poem that reduced her to tears. I don't think he ever got published. I don't think his audience ever grew beyond that one girl. However, at that moment, there was certainly no question in her mind that he had writing talent.

To be specific: the talent I want is the ability to write a story which entertains and leaves readers wanting to read more of my work. Do I have it? Some, I think. Someone has read these words this far, and this isn't even a story. Maybe a few of those people will click on the link to my profile, then follow it to my blog and read a few of my other rambles. That's tangible evidence in the "yes" category.

Are they willing to pay to read a story I wrote? Am I talented in that way?

Well, it's happened before. Whether it'll happen again is something I intend to find out.

Christina Kopp said...
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Anonymous said...

Uh-oh, nathan--welcome to the world of high-traffice blogs--you've got spammers!

John said...

Whether it is football, writing, or even speaking. All things are a combination innate talent and practice. Some people have very little talent and must practice a lot. Some are savants, and practice only refines their art. One gauge of whether you have enough talent to make it might be, how much does your writing improve with practice? If it doesn't improve at all (Not sure that can actually happen), you are either a savant, or a dullard. If it improves only slowly, you need lots of the third element, determination. (Also known as bloody minded stubborness)

Christina Kopp said...

I write this without meaning any disrespect, but I wonder how useful a question this is? Should not the question be, how much are you willing to do to achieve your goal?

I'd reword the question for two reasons:

1. Talent, to me, connotes inherent ability. This means you either have it or you don't. Who decides this? Literary agents, publishers, and audiences? Does this mean that the author who sells the most is the most talented? Do critics and fellow writers decide talent? If so, does this mean that writers who have become part of the literary canon after their death but were largely ignored by critics and colleagues during life weren't talented?

2. Let's say you come up with a definition of talent, and it's based on some combination of commercial and critical success. (Btw, I'm not sure I agree with this definition, but for the sake of argument...) Each writer will have to go through the process for herself before she can decide if she has talent. People generally come to understand their strengths and weaknesses through experience, not through the advice of others. (If it were otherwise, we'd have avoided wars, global warming, and most stupid mistakes made by teenagers.)

So, is there any answer to this question posed here that can make any of us give up? Probably not. (But I'm sure many of us think we know someone else who will profit from the collective wisdom offered here!)

So, I'm not sure there's anyway to answer the question you've posed. It is possible, however, for most people to answer the question, "How much are you willing to do?" I don't know how honestly any of us can answer that question until we're in the midst of writing, but I do think it's a question likely to provoke more objective answers.

Despite my criticism of the question, thanks for posing it... very thought provoking!

Colette said...

I actually think that most people who are writers or want to be writers are pretty good at it. The thing is -- they may not be good at all types of writing. Not everyone is a novelist. Not everyone can write a humor column. By the same token, not everyone can write a prescriptive non-fiction book. The point is -- if you think you're a writer chances are you are. You just have to figure out what kind of writing is right for you.

Ben said...

I think the real confirmation came when I won the creative writing contest at college. I had had several people tell me I wrote well, but never really an unbiased, credentialed person.

The praise of friends and family is great, but I think there is always a lingering doubt, even when they try to be objective, that they cannot quite separate your work from you.

A Little Of This And That said...

When someone with literary weight offers an encouraging word about your work, take it as a good sign. It may not mean you're there yet, but it does mean your work shows promise. Run with that notion. Keep cultivating the talent that you have by reading good writing, and then write, write, write. Someone once said we all have 10,000 pages of bad writing in us. Don't give up too soon.

swiftj777 said...

I don't know...

Maybe I will just have to send you a manuscript and see...


I know, Query First!

Teresa said...

I really like a lot of the comments, especially those that suggest people should evaluate the reasons they write. I had an art instructor once tell me that any art is thirty percent talent and seventy percent technique. It’s important for an artist to learn the technique so any talent can shine through the work.

In the late eighties, two different literary agents, both of whom were well-respected, told me I had talent. The second literary agent turned down my first novel, because the story lacked structure, but he invited me to send future projects to him.

I studied the craft of writing and eventually decided to try writing a second novel. Now I have members of my online critique group, who have never seen me, judge me on the quality of my writing. Based on their comments and suggestions, I feel like I will have a marketable novel ready by the first of the year.

I don’t think my success or failure will be determined by publication, though. I believe that even if this novel isn’t published, my communication and writing skills have improved. I’ve also met a lot of really wonderful talented people. So I’ve lost nothing by this adventure and gained some lovely friends. That’s a win/win situation for me.

Anonymous said...

In general, the more talent one has (at anything, whether it's writing or music or sports), they tend to be drawn to that thing from an early age.

With writing, it's sort of silly for a 6-year-old to be writing books, of course, but they can read. I think the key for writing novels is to have read them since childhood. Starting with Winnie the Pooh and the Beatrix Potter rabbits and Where the Wild things are then on to your middle grade stuff (for me it was the hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (yup I read them both) along with the classics they make you read in school and the essays that accompany them, then onto Stephen King as a teen and finally into the stuff that you really like, which will spur you to write your own stuff.

But without that foundation of early reading, the level of "talent" will tend to be lower, because you have no understanding of what came before you, no perspective.

I would be like a parallel universe in which Eddie Van Halen didn't pic up a guitar until he was 30 years old. Yeah, he'd still ahve the innate ability, but without the early years of piano lessons and general musical experimentation that cemented who he was as a person, he wouldn't have achieved the same level of talent. there's just not enough time. True talent evolves over a lifetime, I guess is what I'm trying to say, and if you don't start something until adulthood, then you've already started to late to achieve ultimate talent.

~Anonaholics Anonymous

Monica Pierce said...

Good writers are good observers. I think the rest is a matter of time, trial and error, and hard work. But, if you aren't good at observing people, the world, and how everything interrelates, you're not going to produce good writing.

Dave to You said...
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Jill H said...

I generally find that people who think themselves to be extraordinarily talented are usually the least so. I think a healthy combination of realism and optimism is a good approach.

Anonymous said...

"See...[Band bus, Buddy Rich, Woody Herman. Big bands. I was the lead trumpet player.]..won't sell. The masses cannot relate to it and although it will never "sell". I still write it!"

I would think that could sell just fine, depending on how it's written. Lotta ways to go with it--a volatile behind-the-scenes truel-life tell-all biography? A hard-boiled mystery novel set amidst the early jazz greats? Just depends on the direction and then the execution of that concept.


Parsley said...

To be honest, I think too many people put too much stock in the concept of "talent." I mean, I agree it exists. Definitely.

But sometimes people use it as an excuse ("Why bother trying to write a book? I'm not a good writer" or "I don't need to edit my work because I have TALENT!").

Everyone can become a better writer, and the way to become a better writer is to LISTEN to what others tell you about your words and to THINK critically about the words you put down on a page. And to SIT AND WRITE.

I'm not saying doing these things will turn you into Stephen King or George Eliot. But they will still make you a better writer. I am about 98% sure of that.

I think purpose is more important than talent--not only do you have to SIT AND WRITE as I said, but you also have to know your writing process, your writing style, your likes and dislikes, the history of your genre, and your audience. These are things that can be learned.

Bethany Mattingly said...

I don't think a person can tell if they have a writing talent. Even if I get my books published, I'd probably still think that I got lucky. If any book after the first sucessful one was, I would say it came from the first book's luck. Personally, I write because I love it.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Anon 1:34 -

I agree that people will find a way to do what they're good at.

6-yr. olds may not be able to write books in most cases, but they can still tell stories, and storytelling is an essential component of narrative writing. I was "writing" this way from the time I was 3 or 4, with a toy tape recorder and a microphone. (Audiobooks! :-P )

It's the same as kids who want to act putting on plays for their parents in the backyard. Sure they're not works of art, but they're baby steps toward the final goal.

Sam Hranac said...

My dog really likes it when I read my stuff to her. Okay maybe she's partial.

Really, I LOVE the process of pulling together these adventures, worlds, people and events from the air. Without obsess over my talent level, I just do the best I can and enjoy. If it takes me somewhere, great.

Thomas Burchfield said...

Probably because I've received *just* enough praise to whet my appetite when i was young.

Also, if you read enough good work by great writers and you get the same feeling when you read your own work, that *might* be a sign that you have talent.

And if your Mom likes your work . . . well, who are you to question your *Mom*.

And because I am so completely obsessed and blinded--to the point of needing a seeing-eye dog--by the notion that I have writing talent that I'm posting the following link to my latest Red Room essay:

Hope you enjoy.

Susan Quinn said...

Ink -
I have this on-going debate (mostly in my head) about the 10,000 hours idea.

One (apparently) has to put in the 10,000 hrs to master a skill, but do only the initially "talented" have the perseverence to last the 10,000? Or can anyone, even those with less inherent gift for the skill, acquire it, with dedication and practice?

What do you think?

I subscribe to the dedication-and-practice philosophy, assuming the skill in question is something most people have some ability in (i.e. I'm seriously never going to play in the NBA, unless I have several painful operations. Yeah. Not even then).

So, 10,000 hours minus (time I've already sunk into writing) = Wow. Lots more to go.


Adam said...


I dont think the NBA analogy works. You can quantify basketball talent. How high can you jump? How fast can you run? Writing talent is much harder to pin down and is so incredibly subjective and whimsical.

To me, the simple answer is you cant. You can tell if youre able to dunk a basketball. You can't tell if you have writing talent. You can only believe you do, or you dont. Even if you are successful, there is still no definitive answer. Just ask all the successful writers who still seem to battle with the same self doubt. It isnt exclusive to aspiring writers.

Jill H said...

Anon 11:43, I'm curious if you are published?

If you really believe it's that easy to be published, I'd have to assume you haven't your knowledge of the industry is sparse.

Mira said...

Colette - thanks for that. That was really helpful to me.

I have no issue with non-fiction. It's fiction writing that makes me doubt myself. Something to ponder.

Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

For the most part, talent comes from hard, hard work. With anything, say basketball, no one wakes up one day and is professional quality. Sure, some people, LeBron, have loads of raw talent, but they still have to work at it. Then there are others like Michael Jordon, who didn’t make his high school JV team. But as we know, hard work eventually paid off for him. Many college scouts will tell you it takes a mixture of talent and hard work to make it to the pros, especially baseball. Some very talented ones never make it to the Majors, some less talented ones work their ass off, stay dedicated, and make it.

I think writing is very similar. Some people are LeBrons, they have it. However, most are Jordons; they have talent, but they have to work very hard at it. And unfortunately, some are like the five-foot-two couch potato high school kid who says he’s going to be in the NBA someday.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree and disagree. On the one hand, I agree the raw abilities needed to be a basketball player (i.e. being tall/athletic) are a bit more readily apparent to everyone. Whereas with writing, it's a little less apparent to the average eye.

But basketball is not so clear cut that it's quantifiable. People are trying, but it's a sport that's remarkably resistant to quantitative analysis. There are guys who have good stats but their teams don't win games. Why? Who knows - maybe their teammates aren't good, maybe they don't do the non-stat things it takes to win games. There's a lot left to interpretation.

I still think my analogy mainly stands. The people who are published writers are the NBA basketball players of the writing world. Even when they're not good-for-the-NBA they're still in the elite. And as the NBA shows, sometimes the best players aren't always the best paid. Shaq makes more than LeBron, for instance.

There's a common sentiment in this thread that anyone can be a published writer if they just put their minds to it. I'm afraid I just don't believe that's true.

Adam said...

I dont think it's the same, anon 2:01. Lebron James has so much talent, he couldnt fail, with hard work and effort, of course. If there was a Lebron James of writing, I believe he could still fail. The difference is the subjectivity of measure of talent, along with the whimsical nature of those measures.

Mira said...

"I'm afraid I just don't believe that's true."

Nathan - what do you believe?

Emily Cross said...

"I have no idea whether I have talent or not. I have no idea if I'll be published or not. Since these are things I cannot control (well, not completely anyway), I've decided not to worry about them anymore.

Instead I'm going to write my first book and see how it turns out. Then I'll write a second book and see how it turns out. Hopefully more (and better) books will follow.

When I have a novel that I feel is publishable, I'll polish it up as much as possible and send it out into the world and see how it fares"

Ella1444 - excellent, i absolutely love your attitude and am going to bear it in mind :)

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't think LeBron would have made the NBA if he also didn't have an insane work ethic. He has all the raw abilities in the world, but he also keeps adding moves, perfecting his jump shot, and getting better. The only way to do that is to practice.


I think that writing is a combination of innate talent and hard work, just like everything else. I don't think everyone has it, though I agree with everyone in the thread that it's very difficult to distinguish who does and who doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Professional athletes, Olympic athletes, celebrity actors, beauty queens, bodybuilders, musicians, politicians, etc., all come with inherent physical qualities that improve their odds of making it to the big top, and not without a little chemical or surgical intervention to boot. Writers, physical traits have zilch to do with talent. There's no magic steroid or plastic surgery that's going to help a writer make it into the major leagues.

If publication is a measure of talent, then all writers who share their work with the public are talented. Commercial publication isn't a measure of talent, it's a measure of popularity.

There's one thing that might be a measure of writing talent and it has broad potential, the ability to meaningfully reach another person.

Kate Walton said...

I don't typically comment but that is a dang good question, fine sir.

How does one know if they possess writing talent?


Logic would say when the writing makes people late for work or stay up all night or beg for a sequel or pass book around as a must read or makes teenagers you don't even know say, "I don't read, but that was the best book I've ever read." And of course the writing would be polished and revised and edited and critiqued and beta-read and revised some more, etc...

But you see, that's logical, describing writing talent that way. That makes sense to me. So I will question you back...

If what I described above is true, why oh why have I been stuck in query hell? For. So. Long.

Dave to You said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

Nathan, thanks for answering.

I agree.

I wonder if on some level, people know.

I remember I used to stare at a blank piece of paper. I felt this yearning to draw that paper toward me - I wanted to paint on that paper. Which always confused me. I have zilch talent for drawing. Just terrible. So, I never quite understood it that yearning....

Until I realized I wanted to paint with words.

I think on some level, we know.

Liesl said...

How do you know you're good? When 1000, 10,000, 100,000 people are willing to spend money to read it? People don't buy your stuff until it's good, (whatever that means to them.) That's why it's pointless to worry about it too much. Writing is an act of faith. If you need assurance before you start, stop now.

Ted said...

Somtimes when you write something and you know when you read it is good!

Annalee said...

I was once convinced I was destined for the stage. Took acting classes; participated in drama clubs; auditioned, auditioned, auditioned.

Eventually, I figured out that I sucked.

And not a little bit, either; the kind of suck in search of which vacuum manufacturers scour the countryside and sacrifice virgins.

It's hard to come to that realization. If you've spent a lot of time and money developing a skill, and wrapped your whole identity around having it, realizing that you actually don't have it at all can be crushing. I accepted it because it was better than the alternative (wasting more of my time, money, and self-image), but I have a lot of sympathy for "bad [fill in the blank]s" who are convinced they'll eventually make it if they keep trying.

How can I tell that my writing isn't like my acting? Feedback from objective sources. Requests for partials. Personalized rejections. None of this suggests to me that I'm the best thing to happen to writing since the printing press, but I doubt I'd be getting this far if I wasn't on the right track (or at least in range of the whistle).

If all I was getting was general platitudes and form rejections, or if I found myself resorting to the validations/consolations that I used with acting (Perseverance is the only thing that matters/the people taking "my" roles were just lucky/all the actresses in this town suck anyway and these idiot directors don't know talent when they see it/etc), I hope I would have the good sense to do what I did with acting: give it up and go find something was better at.

(costumes, for the record. I am like a serger NINJA).

Anonymous said...

Talent? Really, Nathan? C'mon. Should have asked 'How do you know if you have the tenacity and cunning of a used car salesman' because that's what it takes. If you don't have that, all your talent will never be seen.

Vacuum Queen said...

Really good question. If I have time, I follow several comments through to the personal web pages in order to read what they're writing. And really, I sometimes don't like what they're writing and I think to myself, "well, they'll never be published."

But really, it's more that I don't care for that style. I don't have patience to read sci-fi, but does that mean those writers don't have talent? Of course not. I'm guessing there's an audience for everyone.

So who's to say? I suppose that's why we should query widely.

LitWitch said...

You write because you have to write, you need to write, and only later do you realize that this could be a job.

You ask people who are in no way related to you or obliged to be nice what they think of your work. Take that feedback and apply with an axe.

When I had the opportunity, an editor asked what one question I'd like to pose before reviewing my work. I asked, "Does this have voice?" (Another ineffable quality of good writing.) Afterwards, she said "Yes." That is how you know.

Does it resonate with another person? That's the answer for publishable writing. Does it resonate with YOU? That's the answer for if you enjoy writing. said...

I would love to know the answer to this from an agent or publishers point of view.
I have taken two writing courses-my last instructor was a critically acclaimed author. At the end of my course he wrote to me and said that I will probably sell my book faster than I know. I have had published authors critique my book and they have said the same thing but so far I haven't had luck. I know the first few queries I sent (including one to you) was pitiful but now I am pretty confident I am understanding the query process. I constantly question whether or not I have it and would love to know for sure. I think you can start off not having it but if you practice enough you can end up with it.

Jami G. said...

On some level, I do think that if someone is willing to put in the work, they would eventually reach the elite level. The question is whether or not that'd happen before their death. :)

Given that, if someone can quit writing - they probably should. If you can not write for a month without getting itchy fingers, then maybe you don't have the drive, determination, perseverance (and just plain insanity) needed to follow through with the necessary learning curve. :)

Jami G.

Ink said...


I lean more towards the work end, I think, but natural talent will always play a role. And the thing about the 10,000 hours is that is what it often takes to reach true mastery. This is what the Michael Jordans' need, the Tiger Woods', the Beethovens', the Picassos'. A true and complete mastery. But you might, say, do five thousand hours and still be a damn fine writer, and be quite publishable. It's not a cut and dry thing. But the worlds' best have almost always hit that plateau of 10,000 hours (according to the studies).

But within that framework of applied effort a person's natural talent will play a keen role. Terence Kinsey might have put in the same hours as LeBron James. He's elite, pulling down a wonderful paycheck in the NBA... but he's not LeBron. Natural gifts will still play a major role.

And I think people hugely lacking in natural talent for a task will almost never put in 10,000 hours. That's a monstrous amount of work, really. I mean, an hour a day for an entire year will get you over 360 hours of applied practice... and that's a long, long way from 10,000 hours. If someone puts in 5,000 hours and still can't string a sentence together... well, it seems unlikely they'll put in another five thousand. I think talent works partially as a self-selector. Does your practice reap any results? If you have talent, it probably will... and you'll continue to practice (or perhaps increase your practice). If you don't have results... usually you'll find something else to do.

If a writer spends 3 hours a day, for example, for three years (let's say 3,000 hours) and they don't see much gain in their writing... will they really be willing to up their practice to five hours a day? That self-selection comes into play, and people will weed themselves out. And, frankly, I'm guessing it will generally occur long before three or five thousand hours are reached.

So I think talent feeds hard work, and hard work feeds talent. Very symbiotic, really.

Okay, I'm done. You may return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Poetry of Flesh said...

I think there are different types of talent when it comes to writing, as odd as that sounds now that I'm re-reading this sentence.

Some authors have juvenile language but amazing stories, so we return to them each time one of their books hits the shelves. Some can write about the most mundane things and change our world with their interpretation of life, with their language. We laugh, we cry, we fall in love (or hate) with strong characters because one writer can express emotion so well.

I've read over the comments and the main ideas seem to be if one is published, if one can get someone unknown to them without emotional bias with the ability to be critical to love the work, or one simply knows.

So, how can I tell if I have talent? I can't tell. But if I write something and one person connects with it, it doesn't matter to me if I, or anyone else, feels I have talent. I'd rather reach my audience and make them think, make them feel, than have someone tell me what a good writer I am, or what talent I have.

mercedesalh said...

For me, I think itwas the first time someone I didn't know very well told me they liked my writing and wanted to read more.

Annalee said...

I disagree that good or successful writers "have to write."

I enjoy writing. I tell stories to myself in my head even when I don't have writing implements handy, because that's just where my head is. But if it became obvious to me that I wasn't any good at this, and had no chance of ever being published? I would find somewhere else for my head to be. That doesn't make me love where my head is now any less.

Anonymous said...

Adam, not that you have to agree with me, but I do think it is similar. Nothing is exactly the same. LeBron played basket ball in high school and I’m sure in junior high, and although I don’t know for sure, probably at the Y when he was eight. And most likely, 340+ days a year with his buddies. Now, if a writer has an extreme amount of talent, they will get published. It may take a few contests, some minor stuff in magazines, a few manuscripts, and lots of work, but this is like LeBron’s early years. Once again, no one wakes up and is suddenly the best. LeBron had to do the leg work and so does the super talented writer. But how many super talented writers actually exist? Like LeBron, probably very, very few. If someone is that dang talented at writing, and they work at it, they will get published.

And just like professional sports, besides hard work success in writing is all about timing and luck. How many Jordans were on a losing high school team and no scouts ever came to their games? I do agree there are many talented writers who don't make it. Then there’s the Rodmans who never played until community college and became a star. Perhaps not the best, but definitely a star. There are these writers too.

Anon 2:01

Broadway Mouth Blog said...

I don't like this question. Can we get a new one?

terryd said...

My goal isn't to be recognized as a talented author. I work hard to entertain readers. Everything else (including depth of theme!) is hot fudge and whipped cream.

It's very hard to take ego out of this game, but backing away from the virtual Nobel podium can make the daily pages come a bit easier.

Bobby said...

How in the heck do you know if what you're writing is actually good?

You don't.

That's part of the fun

Anonymous said...

Talent = Amazon rank # !


Arabella said...

Define "talent".

Nathalie said...

When a literary agent sends me a nice rejection letter where he/she encourages me to continue writing, stating she simply isn't specialized my genre but liked the story.

When strangers, who do not care about my feelings at all, said they were touched by what I wrote.

When I get a positive paid critique session at an international conference by an award winning author, where my manuscript isn't edited every two words, where the feedback pushes me to stretch every bit of creativity, answering tough questions, but at the same I have an equal amount of enthusiasm and compliment displayed all over the page.

I can I have a potential writing talent when I am open to criticism and I am able to effectively use it to make my manuscript stronger and to improve myself.

pjblair said...

I totally agree with your comments. A lot of the people who have posted on this thread seem to think that if you are a talented writer, you will be published and that all you have to do is finish your manuscript, submit it, and it will be considered for publication.
Well, I seem to remember you reading a manuscript of mine recently and telling me I was a talented writer, but that you weren't interested. I had another NY agent tell me she loved the premise, the characters were well-crafted, the plot well-conceived, the dialogue strong etc etc, but it still wasn't right for her.
Talent does not equate to marketability; will not get you an agent, and probably won't get you published. Writing can be as personal as you like, but publishing is a business.
At a certain point in time, if I haven't landed an agent, the manuscript will go in the drawer, and I'll get on with something else. Just as I would if I opened a store and no-one bought what I had to sell.

AndrewDugas said...

This is a trick question, right? Talent and getting publishing are not connected. The former does not necessarily lead to the latter, nor does the latter prove the former.

Talent is like pornography, as the Supreme Court Judge once said. You know when you see it (and it's equally fun to watch).

P.A.Brown said...

I think the only way is to put it out there for people who have no vested interest in praising you to read and ask for an honest opinion. I would stick with people who read your genre and give it to more than one person. But in the end only you can decide if you need to be published or whether the writing in itself is satisfying enough. I know I couldn't not write, published or not. Now it's great to have the validation of being published and being told by people who have read my books that they love them, but I'd do it no matter what.

Paula B. said...

Are you saying that there comes a point beyond which a certain type of person can't improve?

I don't believe that. If you can improve, then there's always hope.

You may not be good enough today, but that doesn't mean you never will be.

Melissa Pearl said...

Writing is so subjective, what your best friend thinks is awesome might be way off the mark in the publishing world, but hey, your best friend got to read a manuscript they enjoyed.

I think if you love writing you should write. I think if you want to get published you should put yourself out there. I think if trying to get published is making you hate writing, you should stop trying to get published :)

AM Riley said...

I don't really believe in 'talent'. There are so many skills required to accomplish almost anything. Tenacity, good judgment, taste, intelligence, to name a few.

There are undoubtedly people who find it easier to master the craft. And there are persons whose imaginations are more vivid and fecund than others. An innate ability to do something with more ease than someone else does not guarantee that one will do it well.

And getting published is certainly not a barometer of the worth of anything. Emily Dickinson wasn't published until after her death. It seems to me that she was fairly talented.

If your goal is merely to be published, I'm sure it's possible to do so merely by studying and working hard. Is that why you write, though?

hilltrash said...

I've seen lots of folks ask for a definition of talent.

Can I have a definition of "published?"

Do literary journals count?

What about not-so-literary journals?

Do you have to get paid?

Does getting paid in subscriber copies count?

Will you feel published if your work appears on a website, or must it be in print.

Do you feel differently if the website is Agne online? If the print journal is obscure and filled with other writing that makes you cry inside a little when you finally get your copy?

I think the line between "published" and "unpublished" is almost as gray as the line between talented and not-so-much.

swiftj777 said...

How in the heck do you know if what you're writing is actually good?

You don't.

That's part of the fun

LOVE IT!!!!!

Susan Quinn said...

Ink - I knew you had more to say on the subject!

I agree that talent feeds hard work and hard work feeds talent. And that some self-selection most certainly occurs. I also think all that can start at a very early age (but doesn't have to).

And I agree that natural talent is required to achieve the level of Mastery of a Tiger Woods - but, as you say, we don't have to be Tiger to get published, right? After all, even golfers don't have to be Tiger to play professional golf and make a living at it. And publishing one novel doesn't even guarantee making a living at it (more akin to winning a lower level golf tournament, I think).

And I'm going to have to quibble with Nathan's analogy between published authors and NBA players, strictly from a numbers standpoint. Approximately 60 players are drafted into the NBA each year (I learned this today. Ask me no basketball questions. I know nothing sports related).

Nathan - surely there are more than 60 debut books published each year? Even if we narrow it down to debut novels, please tell me there are more than that?

I know it's a long shot to get published, but it's not that long is it?

Nathan Bransford said...


But there are more people writing than playing basketball.

Terry said...

Talent, who knows. I've been told I could write since I was a child. Again, we're talking subjective.

The real question is: Are my stories marketable right now?

Marcia Sargent said...

Talent is not part of the question.

We all have genius. See Elisabeth Gilberts's speech at

Since writing "feeds my soul", as Ron McLarty said, I will keep inviting the daimon of genius in and working at my craft.

Amy said...

I've been beating my head against a wall asking myself that very question lately. In all honesty, sometimes I want to know the answer...sometimes I don't.

Ash. Elizabeth said...

the people who say there's no room for improvement and that they write skillfully. . .those are the ones who don't get published. there's room for improvement. everyday there's something new to learn about the craft as long as you're out there looking for it.

thoughtful1 said...

I think the question is how do you measure talent? Is being published the measure? Sorry. Not possible. I prefer the notion that if you write you will find an audience? So being published is more likely a measure of your perseverance and public relations skills.

So what is writing talent? I would say from the writer's point of view it is to find an alternate reality (story) that is impossible to let go until it is clearly accessible to a reader whom you ask to critique your writing. Do they react the way you want them to, ask the questions you want them to ask, smile when you want them to, cry when you want them to. And since the publishing industry is about sales, well, then only those stories that appeal to many will sell well. That sounds like purposeful writing, not talented writing. If you don't care about how many get it, you have talent if you succeed in how the story is perceived by the few. If you want to be a best seller, you have to find a story by luck or through multiple efforts, that hits on a theme many people want to visit. And the audience is fickle.

Laura Martone said...

As Scott said, "good" is very subjective. Do I have talent? I don't know. But I'm willing to keep trying until my story sparkles like Edward Cullen.

(Note: Just to be clear, I'm not a Twitard. I think sparkling vampires are silly - but sparkling stories, that's another thing entirely.)

Nick said...

I don't. I mean, there are people who never much liked me who've read pieces of my works and said it's good, but even them I don't fully trust. But is talent really a factor? I guess what I really mean is, isn't talent subject? I think Charles Dickens was a godawful writer (now please excuse me while I fortify my house against snipers) and yet he is considered by many to be a very damn brilliant writer. I think Stephenie Meyer can't write for crap, but apparently a lot of people think she can or else her books wouldn't sell near as much as they do.

So, if you want to published, I say find a writers' community, a local group or an online board or something, and post stuff, see different responses. I'd be more than willing to wager there will be those who don't like it, and those who like it a little, and those who love it.

My view on it is: Just forget about it. Don't worry about whether you have enough talent to be published. Just write. And when you're done writing, submit. Submit until there's no one left to submit to.

This stems moreso out of the fact that I make every effort to avert stress in my life (which so far has worked out fairly well, but I'm a presently unemployed nigh-eighteen year old, so what do I know?) but I think it's a good strategy nonetheless. Focus only on your writing when you're writing. Don't even DREAM about sending it to an agent or a publisher or even your own mother until it's done. And then take the time to polish it, and when you feel it's been polished enough (not necessarily finalized, but to be more presentable) start submitting, and don't think a damn thing about your writing. Now I don't mean abandon it, but don't start ragging on yourself, calling it a piece of crap and the like. Someone, somewhere, will always think your writing is good. You just have to find that someone.

Susan Quinn said...

Nathan -

Let's go with a percentage basis, then.

Unfortunately, those numbers are more slippery. Hmmm . . . do you know how many debut novels are published each year?

I understand your point (the odds are long, you need some innate talent), but I have a hard time believing the odds are the same in pro-basketball as geting published.

Maybe because I would hesitate to encourage a child to pursue a dream of being a pro-basketball player (I think the odds are higher that you will win the lottery), but I would encourage a child to dream of being a novelist - because I think it's more attainable, and I think the lessons learned along the way are more useful in other areas of life, even if they never publish.

Sarah said...

I'd say you can tell if you have talent if:

-Ffolks who know what they're talking about tell you so.

-You improve. If you can take what you learn from classes, conferences, beta readers, magic 8 balls, etc. and make your writing better, you have talent.

-Your butt is consistently in your chair. Hard work is the engine that drives talent.

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