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Dean Wesley Smith: “All my early report cards said I had no talent for writing”


I do tend to go on a little about the myth of inborn talent, but then, it’s an idea that’s been smushed deep into the fabric of our culture, like gum ground into a carpet. Still, my apologies to people who’ve heard me play this tune a couple too many times already.

To see what I have to say about talent, read my posts “Useful Book: Talent is Overrated” or “Why I’m Proud to Have Been an Unoriginal, Talentless Hack,” or “Do you have enough talent to become great at it?,” or my Futurismic column “Critique, Mentors, Practice, and a Million Words of Garbage.” Or else ignore me and read Dean Wesley Smith’s post, “The Myth of Talent,” a chapter in the book he’s writing called “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing,” in which he writes:

In school I hated writing because I was so bad at it. If I had listened to all the people who told me I had no talent for writing, I would have quit four decades ago. No, make that five decades ago, because all my early report cards said I had no talent for writing.

Now, after millions and millions of words practiced, many books and stories published, I get comments all the time like, “You are a talented writer, of course you can do it.”

Or one I got the other day. “You have the talent to write fast.”

Talent is something we build, not something that’s bestowed on us. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to build it naturally in the course of other activities, and other times we have to work like hell to get it, but what’s a little working like hell in the grand scheme of things?



  1. danielle  •  Aug 16, 2011 @1:15 pm

    I want to say Thank You! I have a 10 yr old son whom, according to his teachers and report card has difficulty with writing. I can hardly wait to show him this tonight to let him know that all is not lost, and it’s OK to have to work at it.

  2. Luc  •  Aug 16, 2011 @1:46 pm

    Thanks for commenting, Danielle, and I’m glad the post is useful!

    I’m just starting to give flute lessons to our two girls, ages 5 and 6 (actually using a Yamaha fife, which has an excellent reputation as a starter instrument for very young flutists), and of course the first thing they have to accomplish is actually making a clear note on the fife–which isn’t easy for anyone the first time. When they start thinking that they just can’t do it, they practically panic, but when they’re reassured that everybody needs practice to learn how, they keep trying–and were both making notes within the first half hour! I’m especially delighted that they’ll get the chance, if they decide they really love the flute, to excel in it because they’re starting so young. Ironically, if they keep with it, I’m going to expect to hear a lot of people marveling at their “natural talent” in years to come.


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