As an artist and an author who knows many other artists and authors, I’ve seen a recurring theme in the way people refer to what we do. “Oh, that’s such a natural talent.” “Oh, writing is your superpower.” “Wow, the way you paint is just like magic.”
These remarks are, of course, given with the best of intentions, and I never spit in the face of someone who gives me a genuine compliment—but I want you to know, it isn’t a superpower. Calling my artistic ability or my writing ability a ‘superpower’ takes away the thousands of hours of blood, sweat, and tears I put into honing my craft.
Calling it a superpower implies I woke up one day with a perfect grasp of grammar, of plot devices, of foreshadowing, of payoff, of character development, of subplot, of context. It implies I don’t analyze and tear apart every book, movie, and TV show I watch looking for what works and what doesn’t, trying to learn from every available teacher, trying to improve with every new sentence.
Calling it a superpower implies I woke up one day with a perfect grasp of the human form, of any form, of every watercolor technique, of every human face, of every different paintbrush, of every different method for using a pencil, for every different kind of pencil.
But it isn’t just that, either. It isn’t simply the fact that writing off a lifetime of hard work as some kind of ‘unreachable gift’ annoys me—the mindset itself perpetuates evils in other aspiring writers and artists. I’ve seen many blossoming young authors who believe they have this Superpower, and therefore they don’t have to work to improve on it because ‘it’s a writer thing.’ I’ve seen the reverse, too; many people who believe they weren’t ‘blessed with the superpower’ and therefore, why should they bother? Why should they try? Nobody has told them it’s something you work for. Nobody has told them it doesn’t usually come naturally, or easily.
I’ve seen people who long to draw or paint simply refuse to reach for a pencil because they believe they don’t have ‘the gift,’ and shouldn’t try at all. ‘The gift.’ The only gift you need is the desire to do it. If you could see the drawings I began with as a kid, they were just as bad and kid-like as everyone else’s. The only difference is that I loved it, and I wanted to keep doing it, and so I did; the crayons became pencils, the pencils became paintbrushes. It took a lifetime of work, and I still have so much more to learn and so many things to improve.
My writing, when I first began, was just as bad as anyone else’s when they first started. I didn’t know anything except how to string words together. I had no idea what makes a good story, or how to write themes, or how to navigate the complexity of a character’s personal growth. It was bad. But I wanted to keep writing, and so I did.
If you want to learn, then learn. Put in the work. Put in the time, the effort. I chose to give up riding and training horses in order to write, because I didn’t have time to do both, and that remains the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. You have to decide. Do you want to learn a craft, or do you not? It isn’t a superpower. Chances are, you aren’t inherently born with the ability to write, or draw. Especially not well. That takes work.
So please, for the love of years and years of hard work, don’t call what I do a superpower.
Just call it lots and lots of practice.