Write great protagonists!
I'll be at LDSPMA
Tips organized by topic
Read about me
Editing Services
Read Testimonials
Learn the "bones" of story

Monday, July 30, 2018

What Does it Mean to Be Gifted?

A while ago, I ran into an article about Mozart by Mayo Oshin that was written toward creatives. You may have seen me share it on Facebook. It re-emphasized some of the worldviews that I have. I want to include the opening of that here:

In 1787, one of history’s most prolific and influential music composers had just arrived in Prague for a second time.

Over the next few days, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would oversee the rehearsals of the first performance of his new opera — Don Giovanni.

As the final rehearsals were coming to a close, Mozart and the orchestral conductor —Johann Baptist Kucharz, exchanged words in a brief conversation.

During their conversation, Mozart made a distinct comment:

 “I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent for Prague. Moreover, It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”

The premiere of Don Giovanni – then titled “Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni” took place at the National Theatre — in Prague on October 29 1787.

The opera was extremely well received by the audience — Mozart’s many years of deliberate practice on his craft was finally beginning to pay off.

“Don Giovanni” had such a profound impact — that up till today — this piece of work has been widely regarded as the greatest opera ever composed.

During his rehearsal conversation, Mozart acknowledged that his great work was simply a by-product of diligent and consistent hard-work on his craft for many years. It had taken Mozart more than a decade of developing his creative ‘talent’ to finally create this groundbreaking piece of work.

Yes, I added the bold. The more time that goes on, and the more time I spend in this industry, the more I seem to find true what Mozart said over 200 years ago. It drives me crazy when people act as if genius is simply born. As I've said time and again on this blog: Even Michelangelo had to learn his colors. Maybe some people are more "natural" at things than others, but in the end, what is natural can only get you so far. Everyone has to learn the rules and the techniques. And no one will tell you that becoming a master at anything is easy. 

You probably have some people in your life that are very talented or gifted at something. Have you ever had someone react to them as if they popped out of the womb that way? Has that ever happened to you? It totally devalues all the time and effort and practice and commitment that person put into their work.

One of the reasons I found this bit of Mozart's story interesting is because in over 200 years, human behavior has changed very little. "It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me," Mozart said. "There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied."

What Mozart is saying here is that even after a DECADE of diligence and consistent hard-work, he was still working hard: "I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent."

This reiterates something I've been feeling for a long time. Ultimately it's diligence, patience, and perseverance that leads us to succeed. I don't care how talented you "naturally" are, if you don't exercise and develop those three qualities, your success is going to be vastly limited.

Prolific author Kevin J. Anderson has a saying that I like. Anderson has written over 50 best-sellers and has done novels for Star Wars, StarCraft, The X-Files, and Dune. Whenever people remark how lucky he is in his career, he responds, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Likewise, I've had a scriptural phrase bouncing around in my head lately: "Many are called, but few are chosen." Growing up, this statement didn't make a lot of sense to me. Why call everyone and then only select a few? Is that fair? If everyone is called, why can't everyone be chosen? 

I'm taking the phrase out of context a bit to relate it to the point of this post, but lately, here is what it has been sounding like to me:

Everyone is invited to make something of themselves. 

But only a few are chosen.

Why only a few?

Because the harder you work, the luckier you get. 

If everyone is called, but only a few are chosen, who do you think gets chosen?

Those who actually took advantage of the opportunity, those who acted most on the invitation, those who made something of themselves, the most

It's like an open audition. Everyone is called to try out. But only the most talented, the most capable will be chosen. 

Who gets there? Those who are the most diligent, patient, and persistent. 

How do you become talented enough to be one of the few selected?

One choice at a time.

Writer James Artimus Owen has an amazing lecture called "Drawing out the Dragons," which you can actually listen to here. It was recorded live, so you have to skip to about 49:50. There are a lot of amazing statements in it, but one of my favorites is a story he shares. One time he was looking at book auctions online when he saw his own name listed, claiming the book was his first work. Curious, he clicked on it to see if it was Starchild, a comic which he had self-published in 1990. But when it took him to the new page, he saw it was something much older: an illustrated story he'd written as a child. He'd made several different "books" and had taken them around his neighborhood in a red wagon to sell to neighbors. 

So Owen decided to bid on it. 

But to his surprise, he kept getting outbid by another user. 

In response, he bid a ridiculous amount, thinking no way would anyone pay that much for a child's hand-drawn story book. But just before the countdown, he got outbid, by the same user.

So he messaged the person, explaining he was actually James Artimus Owen himself and that he'd love to have this book.

Turns out the person he was bidding against was actually one of his friends. "If I had known it was you," his friend said, "I wouldn't have outbid you."

"So can I buy it from you?" Owen asked.

His friend hesitated. "Well . . . I would, but now I have a complete collection of James Owen books!"

Owen goes on to explain something: The only reason that handwritten, stapled packet of papers a child wrote was valuable was because of all the choices he'd made after it. 

It was the accumulation of choices--the accumulation of choices that led him to where he is today, living his dream as both a writer and an illustrator.

Similarly, I've heard several people remark how amazing it was that Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to pick up a 800-page biography of Alexander Hamilton to read while on vacation. But that decision in and of itself is really not that amazing. It might seem a bit of an atypical choice for recreational reading, but surely lots of people buy biographies to read. The only reason people are so wowed by that moment is because of all the choices he made after.

The earliest (that I'm aware of) video you can find of what would become the most-nominated musical of all time is a clip of when Miranda sang a song he was working on at the White House--six whole years prior to the musical hitting Broadway. I have kind of a love/hate relationship watching the video, because the audience laughs AT it--including the president. Sure, they are polite and give him good applause, but they still laugh AT it several times (in fact, they literally laugh at parts that people applause at today). Miranda is clearly passionate about what he's working on, and doesn't let it get him.

Compare this to when he returned to the White House post-musical to sing THE SAME SONG. For the same president. No one is laughing anymore.

Is it because the song is magically different? Not really. It's the same song, albeit with a multiple singers now.

Why is the reaction different? Because of the accumulation of choices that Miranda made which led him to where he was six years later, which led Hamilton to what it became--a huge success. Small decision upon small decision. (Thank goodness he had the passion and intuition to stick to his vision regardless of others' reactions--which is another lesson of trusting your vision.) It was his diligence, patience, and perseverance. (The song starts about 9:00 in.)

Every day we make choices. Seemingly insignificant choices. Over time, those choices accumulate to get us where we want to go. 

When Stephen King was asked how he wrote, he answered, "One word at a time."

I bet you can look at where you are now and look back and see choices, some of which were small and made over and over again, that got you here. If you don't like where you are, guess what? You can get somewhere else, one choice at a time.

Furthermore, as Owen (and Anderson) has observed, when you make those choices consistently, others will see what you are doing and will provide help or opportunity when you desperately need it. They will not let you fall.

In a talk I heard recently, it quoted former Senator Dan Coats of Indiana, who wrote: “The only preparation for that one profound decision which can change a life, or even a nation, is those hundreds and thousands of half-conscious, self-defining, seemingly insignificant decisions made in private.”

Mozart wrote one of the most revered operas of all time. Behind that performance in Prague was hundreds and thousands of decisions he made in private. 

So what does it mean to be gifted? That you rolled out of bed and wrote Don Giovanni by noon? 

It means making small accumulative choices of hard work, diligence, patience, and perseverance.

Boiled down, that's all you really need to be one of the chosen ones.



Hey everyone! I'm excited to say that a book I did editing work for is now on sale! It was a very fun project to work on, and I love the way Charlie writes. 

Here is the description:

Fablehaven Meets Wizard of Oz

Open the door. We’re off to see the genocidal wizard.

After fires kill thousands all over the world in an instant, the few survivors are left with a symbol scorched into their lives and more questions than answers. Nick falls into the system. Cindy moves in with her godmother. They try move on, to forget.

But then water begins stalking Nick around high school, awakens latent synesthesia, and applies scents to the colors of a magic he didn’t know he had. Cindy, a weaver of fire, knows more, but not enough to prepare them for the appearance of a living portal.

They will cross this threshold to find answers to their parents’ murder, what their gifts mean, and what plans a magical serial killer has for the world. With the help of a feisty sylph and a sentient door, they just might make it, but only if they can survive the angry nixies, bloodthirsty redcaps, bone-crushing trow, and the friendship of a fairy queen who may not want them to succeed.

Check out The Blue Door here!

In other news, for the first time in *ten months,* I have made it through my editing queue! So if you are interested in me doing some editing work for you soon, now would be a great time to follow up on that. You can learn all about my editing at FawkesEditing.com


  1. For some reason this article made me cry?
    I'm currently in a transitional stage in my life. I will move to another country in a few months and I'm trying to build a portfolio in order to work there as a graphic designer.
    I love graphic designing but when I write it's just... like I'm on heaven. No words can explain the happiness I receive from it.

    I actually have a novel idea I really want to write and I frequently catch myself thinking that I'm not so sure what to do anymore.

    Either way! This article was very motivational (alas nerve-racking for me because of my current state haha).

    Thank you for writing it! :)

    1. Glykeria,
      "when I write it's just... like I'm on heaven"--yeah, that's pretty much how I would describe it for me too (except when it's more like . . . the other place sometimes!)

      Good luck with the transition! And hey--lots of people have written novels while working other jobs.


I love comments :)