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12.4.08

Am I made to hear people talking in my head? No I’m just an author.

I, like many other authors, belong to a number of chat loops and on one of the loops this week there has been a lively debate around the question:

Can you tell if you have talent?

It made me think. I think what the questioner was actual asking was, is there a test assessment that a person can take that will tell them on maybe a percentage scale if they are going to get published. I'm afraid there isn't.

I don't think writing talent can be identified like eye-hand coordination or a musical ear but I do think that although writers vary hugely in background, education and life experience, I think there must be an inborn ability at play somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind. I think to understand if you are a writer, it would be better to ask yourself:

Can you give up writing?

And I think to succeed in a terribly crowded business through to publication you need to have shouted a resounding ‘NO’ at this blog by now.


Of course that doesn’t mean if you’re sitting alone on you computer tapping stories out you’ll get a publishable novel. If it were that easy everyone would succeed.

I do lots of talks to readers groups and the like and the one question people always ask me is how I can make up such vivid and interesting stories. I always counter by asking, ‘Doesn’t everyone?’

My head is constantly full of stories and characters playing out their stories. I actually see the scenes as I write them. Of course I can make me see mad, hence the title of his Blog because I constantly put the kettle in the refrigerator and load the washing machine and not turn it on because my minds been stolen away by a new twist to a story.

  • * In my humble opinion there are a couple of other traits that are definitely required.
  • * A burning, almost obsessive, desire to tell people the stories that are dancing about inside your head.
  • * A dogged determination to persevere no matter what and for however long.
  • * You MUST have the ability to take rejection and maintain your belief in yourself and that's not easy when you have a file full of photocopied rejections letter starting 'dear author'.
  • * It helps to develop a thick but receptive skin. You must listen reflectively to criticism
  • * Add to that again in IMHO you MUST continue perfect your craft. I don't think I'll ever be able to just think 'Oh well, I'll just dash off another one, ' I'm sure that on my 50th novel- if I live that long-I will still lay awake worrying if the dialogue is right, have I got the motivation for the H&H believable, is this and that plot devise plausible and have I got the heroine in a crinoline in 1855 when they weren’t introduced until 1856.

  • * You MUST be able to taken critical reviews of your work, because every author has their work sent back from an editor with comments and suggested changes, so get used to it and learn from it. I love my editor Janice, she is the best, but I do have just that moment of heart sinking when her email arrives in my box with an attachment.

Also, just to warn you, it’s not a laugh a minute. It’s hard. I agonize over almost every word I write. I am an inveterate editor and will fiddle with things forever.

Sometimes it goes so smoothly that I’m laughing at my own lines and other times each word has to be dragged out.

Also I always lose my place in the story. Now that might sound funny as I’m actually making it up, but consider it. So take my new book Hunting Diablo as an example.

You, dear reader, start chapter one where Phoebe and Nathan meet on the day Hunting Diablo is published next month, because it’s such a fantastic story you ring in sick to work and read through to Chapter four. Phoebe is now having very unmaidenly thoughts about Nathan and has found out very unsavoury things about her missing fiancé.

That might take you three hours to read but it’s taken me four weeks to write. So you can appreciate by the time I get to the middle of the book—because of all the things whizzing around in my head—I can forget what they said at the beginning of the book.

So don’t be fooled into thinking that some people can just do it without effort because they can’t. I love starting a story but 100,000 words is a long journey when you’ve only go the first 1000 down.

You might have inborn talent but it won't carry you through because, as the well know historical author Elizabeth Chadwick quite rightly said,

"Basically talent has to be honed. You have to develop inbuilt critical faculties that apply to your own work i.e. you have to learn to know when to see wood amongst trees."

Here endeth today’s lesson.

Love Ellie

2 comments:

Catherine Chernow said...

I think you can learn to do anything through lots of hard work. Talent's not an elusive quality you're born with - I think it takes years of striving towards a goal.

: )

Catherine Chernow

LynTaylor said...

Great blog Ellie. I wish I had the talent to work out a plot. I've dabbled with writing over the years and found that I tend to step in somewhere in the middle of a scene. That scene is usually the first kiss. Then I have to build a story around that which becomes too tedious for my short attention span, LOL!

I also think the talent lies in sitting your butt down and not being turned off when you hit a rough patch.