Talent is a dirty word.
It makes people who might be quite good at writing shy away from it, because they feel they don’t have enough. It makes others, whose writing needs help, become complacent and lazy, because they feel they have plenty, and that’s all they need.
Really, what is talent? It’s the innate affinity one might have for a certain activity. In writers, it’s an innate affinity for words or for story. It can’t be taught; if you don’t have it, you never will.
But it’s such a nebulous thing. It can’t be measured. How do you know if you have it?
You don’t. Stephen King defines talent as “eventual success.” That’s BS. Plenty of talented writers never become successful, and I can name a dozen writers, who have no more talent at writing than the eggplant sitting on my kitchen counter, who’ve become wildly successful, largely because of good marketing and enough knowledge of the craft of writing to get by.
But writers who cling to the idea of talent often neglect the idea that craft is important, too. You know, craft. The rules. The work of writing.
Writing well is not easy. It might come more easily for some than for others, but that’s not really a good measure of talent, either; some extremely talented writers struggle with things like spelling and grammar, and so producing polished work is difficult. Writing well, writing successfully, no matter how talented you are, takes work, practice and dedication. I have very little patience for anyone who says they have a passion for writing, but who say they can’t find time to work at it.
If you want to be successful, you have to take the time to work at your craft. You have to work at improving your grasp of the basics of storytelling: plot, character, dialogue, setting, voice, etc. It takes discipline; it takes practice. It takes work. Plain and simple. There’s no getting around it. A talented woodworker cannot expect to make beautiful furniture, for instance, without learning how to use his tools, and use them well. Neither can a writer make beautiful stories without learning how to use the tools of the craft.
If you have the passion for writing, you can make time for this in your life. It might take some sacrifice; you might have to forgo watching your favorite TV show, or playing softball on the weekends. You might have to give up the Friday night out at the movies, and sit at home instead with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard, working at improving your writing skills. But if you want to be successful, you can do this, because it’s extremely unlikely that you can be successful on talent alone.
A writer may not know if he/she has talent, but craft is something that can be learned. Learn your craft, then, and don’t worry about the talent.