5 Things More Important Than Talent

Guest Blogger: Jane Friedman

In the July/August 2011 issue of WRITER’S DIGEST magazine, I have a featured article, “Revising Your Path to Publication.”

If you’re aiming for traditional publication, and you’re wondering how close you might be to reaching your goal, I highly recommend picking up the issue and reading my article to evaluate where you are on the path.

Most writers I know, at some point, feel like they’re making no progress—or that it’s just not worth the effort any longer. It’s difficult to keep trying especially when you’re not getting any professional, actionable feedback on how you can get closer to your goal.

Let me tell you a little story about my own writing life.

I have a BFA in creative writing, and when I was in college, I desperately wanted the professors to tell me if I had talent. I was never brave enough to directly ask the question, but I hoped they might take me by the shoulders one day, look me in the eye, and say: “Jane, you can’t waste this gift, you must write!”

Now that I’m a professor, I realize just how irrelevant that question is. I see both talented and untalented students, but the ones who impress me are the ones who are motivated and driven to work—the ones who push hard despite obstacles. I also clearly see who has a positive attitude, and who is apathetic.

So far, these other qualities have mattered more than talent.

Outside of the classroom, when I’m in my Writer’s Digest role, many writers ask me: “Should I keep going? Do I have any talent at this?”

Boy how have I come to hate that question!

Let me tell you the five questions I find more relevant and meaningful.

1. What makes you remarkable?

Each of us are remarkable. We each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. For some of us, it takes a while before we realize what it is we really want to do, what we’re doing here, and what we have to contribute in this world.

But each of us does have something remarkable to contribute, and I hope you’re gifted with the knowledge of what that is. If not, keep asking the question. The answer will appear.

2. What’s your community?

Your environment, and the people who surround you, are vitally important. Relationships matter. So what I want to know is: Who is your support network? Who is encouraging you? If you don’t have anyone positive around you, you need to change that.

3. What risks are you taking?

It’s the old cliché: Nothing risked, nothing gained. Playing it safe as a writer will lead to mediocre writing at best. If you’re not failing, you’re not shooting high enough. Which leads me to the question below.

4. What do you do after you fail?

Everyone fails. That’s not the important part. What’s important is what you do next. Are you learning? Are you growing? Is your experience making your heart bigger? Or is it shrinking you down, making you small? Beware of cynicism and bitterness, because if these emotions stick around too long, they will poison your efforts.

5. How do you deal with change?

The only thing I know for sure is that publishing will change. Are you going to tighten up and resist, or will you look for the opportunities?

With those of you frustrated with where the industry is headed, or how you are being treated by this editor or that agent, consider these words from Joseph Campbell:

Is the system going to flatten you out and deny you your humanity … or are you going to be able to make use of the system for uplifting and positive purposes?

Every problem we face only appears unsolvable inside a particular point of view. Take a fresh perspective and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear.

Jane Friedman is a former publishing & media exec who now teaches full-time at the University of Cincinnati. She has spoken on writing, publishing, and the future of media at more than 200 events since 2001, including South by Southwest, BookExpo America, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Jane has more than a decade of hands-on experience in using new media and technology to engage and grow both online and offline communities, and has been blogging for an audience of creative professionals since 2001. Her presence on Twitter (120,000+ followers) is often cited as a model for those seeking to use social media effectively.

Jane is the author of THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING: ENIGMA VARIATIONS (April 1, 2011), as well as the BEGINNING WRITER’S ANSWER BOOK (Writer’s Digest, 2006).





  1. Thanks for this, Janice. I think almost every time I’ve read one of Jane Friedman’s columns, I’ve felt uplifted and inspired. She’s done it again.


  2. Janice,
    Thanks so much for this interview. I was going to say which point I loved most but couldn’t–they all make so much sense, and reach to the very underpinnings of what it takes to be a writer. Tweeting this now–it’s a must-read.

  3. I’ve liked Jane Friedman since seeing her at a conference some time back. This posting is fresh, unusual wisdom. Thanks Janice!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *