I would bet that someone, at some point in the past, maybe when you were quite young, once pronounced you “talented.” This was probably after you’d created something spontaneously in a spirit of enthusiasm, inspiration, or joy.
This declaration of talent likely felt good at the time but also would have introduced a feeling of self-consciousness—plus an awareness that such declarations were bestowed by others rather than oneself.
A declaration of talent can be the initial encouragement that gets us to commit to a creative path, but it can also keep us hungry for outer acknowledgement. Some writers spend much of their time chasing opportunities to experience that other-bestowed good feeling again and again, seeming to need reassurance that they are still talented.
I’ve been wondering if the idea of “talent” is problematic. When the word is interpreted as natural aptitude or skill, it can be relatively neutral. But when it’s used to separate creators into categories of high and low status, it can create unnecessary trouble.
Interestingly, the word originally referred to an ancient unit of weight and currency, so it’s long been associated with “value.” A talente or talentan was a physical thing, and it has retained its meaning as something one “possesses.” The word eventually became commonly associated with natural endowments connected to athletics, creativity, and intelligence. This added notion of naturalness implied something new: not only was talent something to have and to be, it also pointed to an inherent or innate value that could be developed.
Whoever suggested you had some talent for writing, and whenever that happened, you were the one who made the choice to develop it. This is all any of us can do.
“Am I talented? or “Do I have talent?” are the wrong questions to ask. If you’re reading this newsletter, you have it, because you already have a natural inclination to create. If you need to hear from others that you’re talented, that could be more about needing approval and permission. The only question you need to ask is: How do I develop what I do have?
Belief in your own talent is sometimes a good thing, because it’s hard to stick to writing unless you believe in yourself and your work. But believing in the work is much more important than believing in yourself. (I’m embarrassed to admit how many rabbit holes I ran down in search of ways to “believe in myself”—whole industries are devoted to this!)
The more you believe in the work itself, and the more you show up and actually do it, the more you will develop into the person who can deliver the work, and this is the best way to reach the state of believing in yourself. And it’s the only way you can express your talent.
Talent emerges as you write, as you practice, and as you make things, and then more things.
Many of us start out writing with joy and enthusiasm when we’re young, perhaps encouraged by someone who recognizes some innate talent. Most of us take long detours through adolescence and beyond. Then later, as adults— and after we’ve picked up the underlying social message that “anyone can write”— we might find our way back to writing and be surprised by how hard it really is (to finish things, revise, publish, etc.).
So we start questioning ourselves and our talent. We go in search of other people and other experiences to reassure ourselves that our natural impulses aren’t in vain (and there are whole industries set up for this, too). This searching journey isn’t all in vain—we meet kindred spirits, set up networks, and hone the craft. In the process we develop a writer’s life, and in the midst of that life, we think less about having talent or being talented, because we are focused developing it and expressing it.
Your talent is innate, and it’s rooted in your own joy, inspiration, and enthusiasm. Outside influences may trigger these states, but ultimately only you can sustain them.
To be talented and to have talent is dependent on the choice to develop talent.
Go forth and develop your talent!