Tuesday, February 23, 2010


By Darrell James

Watching the young Olympians this past couple of weeks made me ponder the idea of talent. Is it God-given or simply the product of hard work and dedication?

I’ve always envied those who say they knew at an early age exactly what they wanted to be. Gifted individuals who seemingly recognize at birth some inherent talent. I always believed such kids came stamped with a capital “T” somewhere on their body. Talent, to my understanding, was something you either had or didn’t have. And there was clearly no T-endorsement anywhere on my person.

Still, I dreamed.

Early on, I dreamed of playing baseball. How awe inspiring my heroes of the day… Ted Williams, later Pete Rose, Johnny Bench. How vivid the dream of taking the field in uniform, acquiring fame and fortune doing the one thing I most loved. Baseball.

I was a pretty damned good actually. And fast. I could flash between bases, stop on a dime and give you eight-and-a-half cents change. I played through high school and into college. But I soon learned that being “pretty good” was something less than being talented. It gets a beer bought for you after the game, it doesn’t land you a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. So I moved beyond my dreams of the playing field and on to a search for my one true talent.

Inspired by such song artists of the era… Jim Croce, James Taylor… I picked up a guitar and taught myself to play. After a few years of practicing alone, I formed a group with two other like-dreamers and we hit the road. We played dive bars and American Legion posts. In our enthusiasm, I don’t think any of us realized how truly “untalented” we were.

Over the next two decades, I tried body building (with the dream of being on the cover of Muscle & Fitness). I road motorcycles cross country. I sailed the Caribbean. I took up acting and threw myself into community theatre…

An acting class at the local college had us write a monologue that we were to perform on the last day of class. The fictional character I wrote (not my performance) got rave reviews from the instructor and from fellow classmates. Something stirred inside me that day, something larger than life, and powerful. I had discovered the magic of words.

Infused with this newly discovered talent, I declared myself a writer and set out, as I had so many times before, to prove I had something to show. (Or maybe show I had something to prove.)

That was 1995. (I know this because I still have the envelope labeled “1995 Writing Receipts” that, in my naiveté, I was going to write-off against the wheelbarrow loads of money that I would make that very first year as a writer.)

In fact, it took eight long years of diligent, hard work and practice, before I got even my first short story published in Futures Magazine. It took another seven years, and twenty-three more published stories, to land my first book contract, a three-book deal with Midnight Ink. Had I found my God-given talent at last?

Some tell me so: “You’re a gifted writer! A real talent for writing! A master storyteller!!!” Maybe.

I do know that writing and story telling is the one thing that I will do for the rest of my life.

So, what made the difference? Is true talent divined? Or is it developed? Is it in our DNA at birth? Or is it the product of hard work and practice? Is it necessarily both?

Perhaps, if I had stayed as dedicated to any of the previous endeavors, as I have to a career as a mystery writer, I would have found the “talent” for those too. Or maybe it just took a lifetime of searching to find what was already inherently there?

A Zen saying says: “Sit quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”

I don’t know. All I know is that a lucky few people recognize a talent at an early age. Some, like me, take decades to discover it. Sadly, others never will.

What I do know is that it takes being a dreamer. A cockeyed optimist who is willing to throw labels and practiced-reason to the wind, and try. And, perhaps, if lucky, talent rears it’s beautiful little head along the way.

What’s your take on it. Is talent God-given? Or the result of dedication and hard work?

You tell me.


P.I. Barrington said...

Okay, this is great including the "cockeyed optimist" reference which Kramer called "Billy Mumfrey" on Seinfeld!
Sometimes talent is God given, say for a singer with a seven octave range--that's inherent talent and it only needs to be developed. Other talents as you say can be discovered and developed and some actually lead the way for another undiscovered OR undeveloped ability to emerge--such as Mike Piazza a slam hitter who couldn't run but played the catcher position in order to bat. I think it runs the gamut of how talent or ability appears and you seem to have been lucky enough to experiment until you discovered yours and at which you have deservedly succeeded! Loni (my sister) always says that no matter who you are there is always something else you wanted to do or be. She uses Garth Brooks as an example: He was a monster country artist(on my label Capitol)but HIS secret dream was to play baseball too. Once he gained enough success he attempted to play ball. But his real success came from music. I guess that's why they always say,"I'm an actor, but I really want to direct" or "I'm a director but I really want to act", LOL!
In any case, I'm glad you did find your talent and I hope others reading your post will find some inspiration (or patience or courage) to at least try for their dreams!
P.I. Barrington

Lisa Bork said...

Great post and an interesting question. I think talent can be developed or discovered. For example, some can play the piano by ear, others by reading music. Both can play the same song equally well. Developing talent takes longer to go up the learning curve, though. Developing talent requires practice and patience, too.

Great to have you join us here at InkSpot. Sounds like you've got a lot of stories to tell.

G.M. Malliet said...

What is interesting and kind of scary is that you discovered your talent almost by accident, in an acting class. What if you'd never signed up for the class? Although it seems to me that the talent would have emerged/been revealed to you eventually.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Welcome to Inkspot, Darrell!

We all have our special gifts or talents. I believe talent is a buried gem waiting to be unearthed. Sometimes you have to dig several holes to find just the right spot. Writing can be taught, but I'm not so sure the art of storytelling can. You can't teach passion.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think it's a little of both...and we can always get better with hard work. But the seed of talent needs to be there first. I couldn't be a visual artist--as much as I admire paintings, I don't have a bit of talent. I could improve, but couldn't ever be good *enough*.

Mystery Writing is Murder

G.M. Malliet said...

"You can't teach passion."
Amen, amen, amen, Sue Ann.

Jessica Lourey said...

Love this:

That was 1995. (I know this because I still have the envelope labeled “1995 Writing Receipts” that, in my naiveté, I was going to write-off against the wheelbarrow loads of money that I would make that very first year as a writer.)

Dreams and work, work and dreams. And a writer is born.

Keith Raffel said...

Good post, amigo.

I guess you need some basic level of talent. After that, I'll go with hard work, dedication, and a willingness to learn.

Cricket McRae said...

Welcome Darrell! Looking forward to getting to know you.

I think you have to have some kind of talent to start with, and hard work along with passion and willingness to learn can hone it. At the same time, there's the element of talent that I can only describe as instinct -- is that developed as the talent is developed, or is that what defines the talent in the first place?

Great guitar pic, btw. ; - )

Alan Orloff said...

Welcome to the blog, Darrell. Nice first post--you've set the bar high for yourself!

Talent is great, hard work is great. Each alone won't maximize the performance, but put them together and you've really got something!

GBPool said...

Very inspirational story, Darrell.

I think God plants a variety of talents in us all. Some people get large talents, some small, but then God expects us to use those talents the best way possible.

It is up to the individual to use our free will to exploit those talents and our dreams to the best of our ability.

You, Darrell, are an example of how to search for those talents, work hard, polish those talents, and see your dreams come true.

Thanks for being a great example to all us dreamers.