East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Talented and Successful

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I’m posting two Stephen King quotes here.
King is not my favorite author, but I respect his professional skills and I enjoyed a few of his books.
Basically, when someone sells the number of books King sold, any critical analysis, any evaluation of skill, talent, technique or whatever becomes an exercise in futility.

The reason I’m putting these two quotes here is because I’ve was involved (marginally) in two discussions in the past few days, about two words that are often used when talking about writing, and that cause me a certain amount of unease, so to speak.
These words being talented and successful.

The successful bit came from a snarky observation by someone, about

those that pretend one can write a successful novel in four days

Now I don’t want to get once again in the whole story of writing fast – writing fast can be done.
The boy in the striped pyjamas was written in two and a half days, so there.
No, my problem here is with the successful tag.
How do we define success for a book?
Is success defined by critical acclaim?
By media coverage?
By the number of copies sold?
How many copies? 1000? 10.000? 100.000?

So I looked for a quote I remembered from King, and here it is – but the guy lets me down in the end… he talks about a successful writer.


… but King does introduce another variable in the discussion – talent.

As for talent, I stick to my version of the story: talent is like the luminiferous aether of old.
Just like luminiferous aether, talent has no color, no shape, no taste or smell, and cannot be detected by our physical instruments.
It is, because we need it to justify our perception of the universe.
And should I give you a book, and ask you to read it, and tell me if the author is talented or not, if it’s the ineffable talent the source of its quality, or if it is hard work, that would be the start of an endless discussion.

But we get a King quote on that too, and I can agree and subscribe to it.


And you out there?
How do you measure – if you do – these two parameters?

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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