Although the "Burgomeister" pirate stealing other people's novels does not seem to think so (see previous post), writing uses both talent and effort. A long-standing question has been: How much of each? Is talent inborn, do you have to possess innate ability to be a writer, can it be taught, how much of success comes from talent and how much from hard work? These questions have been applied not only to writing but to music, art, sports, chess, even business.
Geoff Colvin thinks he has some answers. He's the author of TALENT IS OVERRATED: WHAT REALLY SEPARATES WORLD CLASS PERFORMERS FROM EVERYBODY ELSE. He brings together an impressive amount of research in various fields to reach his conclusion: Talent is mostly a myth. What counts is practice, but practice of a very specific kind, and over a pretty specific period.
The period is ten years, at a minimum. Yes, people succeed at lower levels before that, but reaching the top requires steady, intense practice for ten years. If, like Mozart and Tiger Woods, you start before you're three, you get the ten years in earlier. What counts is number of hours. For instance, students at an elite music school were divided into three groups: (1)those seen by their instructors as potential concert soloists, (2) those seen as potential professionals but not soloists, and (3)those seen as potential music teachers but not performers. In all case, thousands of hours of previous practice distinctly separated the three groups.
But what of, say, the Beatles, who had a hit before ten years had passed? Colvin argues that their early music was not as original or important as what came after ten years; it was not world class. The same, in science fiction, could be said of someone like Robert Silverberg.
What I thought most interesting, however, was the kind of practice that produces excellence. It cannot just be hitting more golf balls the way you always hit them, or playing the same violin pieces over and over, or playing more chess, or writing more stories like your previous stories. It must be "thoughtful practice," in which you obtain feedback, analyze what is working and what is not, and deliberately work on extending yourself in your weak areas. It is, Colvin reports from his interviewee, "work, not fun, and exhausting." But over time -- enough time -- it produces results. He details how Tiger Woods and chess champion Judit Polgar did that, and "exhausting" does not begin to cover it.
I believe all this, or at least most of it. I know that at the three times my own modest career made significant advances, I was deliberately trying to do something differently than before, and as a direct result of feedback from people whose opinion I respected (once Gene Wolfe, once Bruce Sterling, and once Ralph Vicinanza).
Read this book and decide for yourself.