Yesterday at Sunday dinner, my mom mentioned that she took my ARC to church to teach the young women about developing talents. Apparently I am a good example of this, which feels weird (especially since some may not think my novel is church appropriate, but that's a story for another time).
My reply to this news was something along the lines of, "Well, I don't know how good I am at writing, but I'm sure good at working my butt off."
And this is largely true. When I put my mind to something, my boar-like stubbornness tends to take over and I just keep going even when all logic says to stop.
I've never really seen myself as exceptionally talented in anything. As a child I was fairly good at a bunch of stuff. If I put my mind to something else, I imagine I could be a swimmer or animator or flautist instead of a soon-to-be-author.
Because what I've really become good at through all these years is working. And my advice to anyone in any pursuit would be just that—get really, really good at working.
What makes a good worker? Two things:
1. Work Hard.
2. Work Smart.
You may have heard the phrase "Don't work hard, work smart." No. If you really want to get good at something, you need both.
Working hard is usually associated with grunt work that gets you nowhere, but this is not true. Sure, it is foolish to work hard at something while also refusing to improve at it. That would be like writing novel after novel without editing a single word, without trying to learn more about the craft. But no matter what you know about writing, putting in the hours of hard work to make your story into a novel are necessary. Just because you improve doesn't mean you should stop working hard.
Working smart gives off the impression that you can work less if you learn how to do things more efficiently. This might be true, but it also smells like laziness in sheep's clothing. Yes, your writing becomes cleaner when you study grammar, but that doesn't give you a pass on edits. Yes, taking classes or going to conferences could help you learn how to plot better, but if you never practice it will do nothing for you. You can't cut corners because you've grown smarter.
The true worker knows that working hard and smart propels you forward faster than doing just one. There is never shame in busting your butt for something you want. And it is certainly okay to really suck at something but have the desire to improve. It took me ten novels to figure out this writing thing. A lot more than many published writers. But I did it through a lot of hard and smart work.
If you really want something, the first thing you need to do is get good at working for it. Very few things fall into people's laps while they're sitting doing nothing, but you'd be surprised what opportunities you run into when you get up and get to work.