From the FFC archives, reprint from May 15, 2009
I am not a patient person. Never have been. And when in the past (a rolling, long-ago past) I couldn’t master something immediately, I assumed I had no talent and no skills and I gave up.
No talent. No skills.
These are two distinct attributes. Having talent is terrific and it certainly makes following your passion rewarding, but talent is only half the formula.
Having skill is absolutely necessary (watch American Idol if you don’t believe me). But getting these skills isn’t an immediate process. And if you’re talking about becoming an expert at anything, you’re talking YEARS of practice. That’s where patience comes in.
Robert McKee (the writing coach whose book STORY is an excellent resource) said that all we can do is to “take out our little bit of talent,” push it around every day, apply our hard-earned skills and hopefully, that will result in something worthwhile. I’m sure I don’t have that quote exactly right, but you get the gist. It takes both talent and skill to become good at anything and skill takes patience.
Last night when I went to bed I was miserable. Things at the end of my current work-in-progress were not working out. The whole thing felt stupid and, heaven forbid, CORNY. In the old days, I would have felt doomed. I would have thought of quitting. I would believe to the depths of my being that my writing sucked. And I sucked.
But this morning, I remembered I have developed a skill-set to help me solve the problems in my story.
Hmmmm. Imagine that!
I read about two or three pages in the middle, did a little editing, and suddenly I knew how to solve the story problem at the end. My mind was asking questions that only an “expert” would know to ask.
I moved away from the computer and started to scribble notes of what exactly had to happen for the whole story to make sense. I was so shocked at how easy it was, I started doubting it would work. But in typing the notes, I’m sure it does work. And it isn’t corny. Maybe a little corny, but I still have time to fix that. Wow, it’s working!!!
I’m not saying here that what I do is brilliant or even interesting to anyone else. But it is to me. To see that I will allow myself to make mistakes, to go on tangents, to think I suck, and then get back to work. To take out my “little bit of talent” and my years of practice, and actually be able to have answers, know what comes next, delight myself with a surprising ending, that for me, is success. And when I discover the NEXT problem, I will have skills to solve that too.
This idea of having patience–and I suppose, FAITH IN THE WRITING PROCESS–is a gift to me. A gift I’ve given myself over the years by focusing on learning the skills I need to do what I want, and letting my little bit of talent take care of itself.