What is a Waste of Talent?
Updated: May 27
At the moment, I’m between Big Projects. The printed first draft of my memoir sits ominously on my desk, awaiting judgement in the form of multicoloured pen scribbles. My novel has just been longlisted for an agency prize which has given me enough of a boost to start shunting it out to agents again. I have a massive three short stories coming out over the next couple of months, one of them in Litro. There are good things happening.
So where does that leave my daily writing? I find myself in the strange position of having no immediate pressure to produce something, a few ideas simmering but nothing I’m driven to spend lots of time on, and the odd moment of freedom to write things down. What on earth do I do?
Green is for structure, blue for style and red for errors. Makes the editing process much easier.
I find myself, strangely, thinking of The X Factor. There’s one episode that really stuck with me. In the usual ‘here’s the emotional backstory’ part, one of the contestants was lamenting the fate of their poor mother.
‘She used to sing all the time,’ they said, between sobs. ‘She had such a beautiful voice.’
In this context, the tragedy is of course that the aforementioned oh-so-talented mother never got to sing in front of Simon Cowell/land a massive record deal. At the time, I shared her horror. How awful! To be talented and never have an audience, people to appreciate you. The horror!! I think I was still dreaming of being an actress/singer at the time and I hated the idea that the same thing might happen to me.
This is as close as I got to singing fame…
And here I am. Forty, singing all the time, and Mr Cowell has never knocked on my door. Funnily enough, I don’t feel as down about that as I thought I would. ‘Talent’ is a strange phenomenon. While it’s often perceived as some sort of innate, there-from-birth asset, in order to actually become the actor/singer/writer/artist you wanted to be, there is an awful lot of graft and grunt work.
The other implication is that if you have it and the rest of the world doesn’t get to see it, then it’s wasted. But who exactly are we talking about here? For the X-Factor mum, I’m sure she gave her daughter and the neighbours a wonderful experience when they heard her voice floating over the fence. Did she perhaps get more joy from her talent by using it to accompany her daily life?
Then we get into the tricky area of what ‘recognition’ actually is. Performing in a theatre above a bar gives you an audience in the same way a performance at the West End does. Who decides which is more worthy and important? Maybe the best thing you can do with whatever talent you are nurturing is use it, in whatever form that takes.
I’ve added an index to the back of my notebooks so I can find the weird cat piece again if I need to…
It occurred to me that I didn’t need to write something that had an intended ‘audience’ at all. That I could play, scribble, have fun. After all, there’s no point having a talent unless you enjoy using it, right? I’ve long ago decided that the image of the tortured artist is nothing I want to aspire to. With that in mind, I’ve recently written history from the point of view of water, a cat wreaking revenge on its human and a love letter to my feet. I’m thinking of it as the writer equivalent of singing while hanging out the washing (which I’m also doing).
The corporate model of talent shows would have us believe that our voices are useless unless a stadium is listening to them. I like to think that, even if we’re the only ones listening, a talent blooming will always be a lovely thing.
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