Talent or Persistence – Which is more Important for a Writer?

Most people would agree that writing well takes talent. Some people are gifted with a great singing voice, some people are gifted with a mind for numbers and equations, and some people are gifted with words.

But is talent or gifting the only requisite to becoming a great writer – or even an average writer? The most talented singer out there had to learn how to carry a tune, the most talented mathematician wasn’t born knowing how to count to one hundred. And the most talented writers started out by scribbling down a poorly-spelled variation of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Talent is important for an inherently artistic pursuit like writing – whether you’re writing poetry, science fiction, or blog posts. But you’ll probably never be a great writer – or a famous writer – without persistence.

Let me tell you a story (since I am a writer, after all) about the talent versus persistence thing:

Once upon a time, back in the early 1900s, a young girl named Adele and her little brother Fred began performing vaudeville acts on stage. The children’s act became popular, and by their later teen years, they had grown into full-fledged Broadway performers with their own show. The sister-and-brother duo grew in popularity during the 1920s, but most critics and fans agreed that Adele usually outshone her brother on stage. It was generally agreed that Adele displayed the bulk of the dancing and singing talent of the two of them, and she was well sought-after by playwrights and composers.

Then in the early 1930s, Adele got married, and decided to stop performing. Her younger brother Fred had a choice to make – find a new career, or strike out on his own without his talented sister? He chose the latter – first by starring in Broadway shows without Adele’s name to help draw the crowds, then by going to Hollywood to try his luck in movies.

Fred and Adele Astaire, 1919

Fred and Adele Astaire, 1919

You’ve probably heard of Adele’s little brother, the boy of only average talent: the dancing legend Fred Astaire. He starred in over twenty films, set the standard for the Hollywood musical throughout the 20th century, and is most famous for dancing with Hollywood icon Ginger Rogers. Not bad for a talented but average man who was often outshone by the superior talent of his sister.

Most of you have heard of Fred Astaire (and if you haven’t seen one of his movies, go watch one as soon as you’re done reading this post). But how many of you had heard of Adele Astaire before now? Why not? One simple word – persistence.

So what’s the moral of this story? Talent is important (in Fred’s case, if he hadn’t had at least some dancing and acting talent, the children’s vaudeville act never would have gotten off the ground). But to be well-known, to make a viable career of your talent, requires persistent effort.

If you consider writing success to be finally finishing the first draft of that novel you’ve been working on for years, or getting that one short story sold to a magazine, that’s fine. I am not judging anyone’s career decisions. Just like Adele Astaire’s choice to stop pursuing a career in show business, if you choose not to pursue a career in writing, there is nothing wrong with that. You are free to choose your own life.

However, if you do want to grow in your writing, or make money, or become a famous author (however you define those things for yourself), realize that it will take more than talent. If we learn anything from this story of Fred Astaire, it’s that continual practice and pursuit is where high achievement comes from.

So no matter what your experience level is, or how talented you think you might or might not be, don’t quit. Just keep writing, and good things will happen.

“More men fail through lack of purpose than lack of talent.” ~Billy Sunday


8 thoughts on “Talent or Persistence – Which is more Important for a Writer?

  1. Encouraging, terrific post. I see each as two sides of the same coin in many ways. Both can propel you forward, but rarely as far if the other doesn’t factor in at least some of the time (both in terms of being a writer and with life in general).

    Happy writing!
    ♥ Jessica


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