Monday, December 10, 2012

Be Talented At Working

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.


  1. As someone who is coming up in their last semester of graduate school, thank you. I needed this reminder.

  2. My oldest daughter had a "work smart" teacher in fifth grade, and I told her it's justification for being lazy, that even if her teacher was telling her she could take shortcuts, she shouldn't. They weren't math shortcuts. They were "Oh, you don't really have to read all of a reading assignment to get the gist of it" shortcuts. If you want to be a writer, you have to write, and then you have to write it again and again and again (because it doesn't come out right until you've been over it many times). Thanks for working hard and being persistent. :o)

  3. This is something we see a lot in the sports world, where some athletes are lauded for their 'athletic gifts' and 'natural talents', while others are praised for their 'work ethic.' Who's to say that working hard isn't a talent of some sort? And in a way, the 'great talent' tag, while it's meant as praise, often comes across as dismissive of the work these people have put in to achieve success, be they artists, athletes, musicians, etc. I don't think it's meant that way, but it can be seen that way. Sorry for the derail.

  4. Hard work and determination is definitely key!

  5. "it is certainly okay to really suck at something but have the desire to improve." Very well said. Thanks so much for this post! Like Ashley (in the first comment), I'm also on my last semester in graduate school. I'm working on my thesis and this post inspired me to really work hard and yes, work smart. :)

  6. Yes. Thank you.

    That's one thing people tend to forget about being a writer- it's not easy and we work for years to get it right.
    I may be a teenager who wrote a book two years ago, but that doesn't mean it's ready for publication just because I wrote it (my friends have difficulty understanding this). I spent three years gaining the skills to write that book, and two others popped up during that time, and I'm still going through editing.

    Hard work and smart work have to work together to churn out something worth anything.

  7. Yup. I think the "hard work" part is lost on some people. Finally finishing the first draft felt like pulling my teeth out with pliers, so that must have been all the work needed, right? Nope, now I need to revise that draft, try to hate my story, and "kill my darlings". That will feel like pulling my teeth out with my fingernails.

    But it pays off! A short story of mine is going to be published! This is my first! I was ready to trash it and call it an "exercise" because I didn't want to work on it anymore, but now I'm glad I put in the WORK to make it good.

    See to see my Snoopy happy dance!

  8. We tend to associate the idea of working hard with working at things we don't like, expecting that our enthusiasms and pre-glees for dreams and aspirations will deliver up the magicstuff from out of nowhere sans lift of littlest finger.

    As far as I can see it, most things are difficult in the end to some degree (even when there are nacho prizes attached). I suspect, however, that it's much easier to go and climb someone else's mountain than it is to climb your own, which is why I consider that anyone involved in any kind of (useless, trivial, whimsical, non-essential) artistic endeavour has the best kind of guts to splatter about the grindstone.

  9. I think I'd like to show your post to my students, so that they can see how important it is to work hard. Some of my favorite students are the ones who put in the most effort; they dedicate themselves to their work and show that they really are trying. It isn't just about the grade for them.

  10. Love this post.
    I've been a figure skater for twenty plus years and people say to me all the time that they can't skate. Well, at one point, I couldn't skate either, and I simply say it just takes hard work and practice. Same goes for any sport or artistic pursuit. Very well said Natalie.

  11. Amen! Your years of blogging and persistence in getting published prove how hard you've worked.

  12. Working hard to me has always implied discipline and intensity in terms of the effort you're putting into it.

    And you're right. Both are needed.