Susan K Perry Ph.D.

Creating in Flow

Am I Talented Enough?

Ask yourself the right questions when pursuing an artistic dream.

Posted Sep 27, 2017

Cristina Chirtes/FreeImages
Source: Cristina Chirtes/FreeImages

I get letters. Once in a while, a letter from a reader of this blog suggests itself to me as a perfect subject for a post. Here is one of them and my response:

Hi Dr. Perry,

I understand that there are three parts to success in any field: talent, passion, and working hard.

I love writing short stories. I'm 48 and only started four months ago. I wrote six so far, although almost all are just the plot.

I want to be either a professional writer or at least to supplement my income with my writing. If I could, I'd spend the whole day writing. I see a story everywhere I go.

So, passion and hard work I have. I just don't know if I have talent because, so far, the people who say I do get paid to work with me in various capacities, so I always think that they're biased. How do I find out for sure whether I can make some money by publishing or whether anybody would even publish my stuff?

I have led a somewhat tragic life beset by mental illnesses, such as bipolar I and three addictions, and I have survived to talk about it. I have a great sense of humor.

Finally, is creativity, especially in the arts, innate or can it be practiced and learned through hard work?

Thank you in advance.



Dear Tim,

Your questions inspired the following thoughts. I hope you find them helpful.

1. There are no guarantees. You can never be "sure" that your efforts will result in publication or monetary gain. That is something you work hard at and learn by doing. It took me a couple of years, at least, before I earned more than the cost of stamps to submit my work. Luckily, today the internet will save you a lot on stamps.

2. Skepticism about one's talent is warranted. People you pay to read and help with your work may not be the best ones to believe about your talent or lack thereof. Friends, too, may enjoy your work primarily because they know and like you. You should not even give editors, who may turn you down for any number of weird reasons, the power to determine your belief in yourself.

3. Artistic creativity can be enhanced. You can learn to open your mind, stifle your inner critic, pursue a goal one step at a time, read the most successful practitioners at whatever you want to be good at, and practice resilience. There are countless books available about every single aspect of being a writer. I have discussed many in this blog, including this one and this one, as well as my own book for writers. 

4. Plot is (usually) necessary, but not sufficient. If most of your stories thus far are "mostly plot," then it's time to take apart some other writers' stories and see what makes them work. That can be very hard work if what you love most is to write out the framework of a story but have little interest in the huge amount of fine-tuning and revision that is called for. I'm referring to dialogue, character, setting, all that other stuff that makes a story enjoyable reading.

5. A combination of motivations works best. You would write all the time if you could, but would you keep writing if it turned out that selling your work wasn't happening for quite a while? It is often a long process of learning to write, and another long process of learning to sell.

6. Give yourself time, but be willing to consider other options. It's never too late to learn a new set of skills, and doing so can be deeply rewarding on many levels. Give yourself at least a year or more to become a selling writer of some kind. Don't fret over whether you have talent. There's no sure and quick way to know the answer to that question.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Susan K. Perry, author of Writing in Flow and the novel Kylie’s Heel