How to Be Good at Literally Anything
You ever watch a movie and a character does something that literally makes you cringe—makes you feel uncomfortable, even though it’s only make believe? I had that moment recently while cataloging several screenplays I’ve written over the years.
I currently have a script in play in Hollywood—a romantic comedy I finished over the holiday break. Whether it goes anywhere, who knows? But I was talking to a script-buyer for an actor you’d recognize and she asked about other projects. Truth is, I’ve forgotten many of the scripts I’ve worked on over the last three or four years. Life happened and I put them aside to focus on other opportunities. Now that I was being forced to figure out what’s in my backlog, I had to read through my files…and that’s when I cringed.
But I’ll get back to that…
The reason I bring this up is because of an email I saw from my colleagues over at Great Escape Publishing. It was headlined, “The Myth of Talent.” I instantly understood what that was about, and I immediately knew the column (this one) that I wanted to send to you.
I routinely hear comments from readers, people I know, friends, and attendees at conferences when I speak. It’s some iteration of a common sentiment, “But you’re talented. Not all of us are.”
Every time I hear that, I reflexively disagree.
See, talent isn’t prejudicial. It’s not like she runs around with a wand tapping the lucky on the shoulder and exclaiming in royal tones, “And unto you I bequeath the ability to bake the perfect soufflé!”
She’s equal opportunity—though she is demanding. She gives everyone the ability to be good at what they want to be good at. At pretty much any age. And with pretty much any skill set.
But—and this is the buried lead—she doesn’t just give away talent for free. You gotta work for what you want to be good at.
Which gets back to me cringing at myself…
I’ve noted in previous columns that I’ve wanted to write screenplays since at least the late-1980s. And at some unrecalled point in the past I bought a screenwriting program for my laptop. I can’t tell you how many times I opened that program and started to write something, but gave up after a page or two, convinced that what I was writing was pedestrian, hackneyed, over-indulgent, etc. etc.
And then I lost my job and I had idle days and I sat down and I started writing. I had ideas for a TV show. I had ideas for a feature-length movie. And I thought they were pretty good. Ultimately, I never did anything with them. Still, the joy I felt writing those early scripts compelled me to enroll in a screenwriting program at University of California, Los Angeles…where I quickly realized I had no clue how to write a compelling script.
So much of what I was writing—more precisely, how I was writing it—was so wrong. The story was good. The characters were good. The story-telling, however, was flawed. The technical aspects of the craft were flawed.
But I learned, and that’s the point. I learned to be talented.
So it was, then, that I was cringing as I was recently reading through some of my early scripts (I mean post-job-loss scripts in 2017 and what I thought at the time were better scripts I was writing in 2018). I sent this around to screenwriting contests?? I thought this was good?? Sweet baby Jesus, what kind of knucklehead am I??
Today I can say that, because of my progression from desire to talent.
As I noted in a column late last summer, I optioned my first screenplay—a sports drama based on real events—to an indie producer. A traditional Hallmark-style Christmas script garnered positive coverage from a production company linked to Netflix and gained a bit of traction for a short while inside Hallmark. And now I have this irreverent, When Harry Met Sally style rom-com for which a Hollywood script-buyer at a well-regarded production company has expressed fondness.
While this is my story, the fact is it could just as easily be your story.
It could be screenwriting. It could be travel writing. It could be photography, painting, carving, baking, sculpting, interior design…it could be anything.
The only thing it can’t be is unrequited desire. Like I said, talent will give you what you desire so long as you put in the effort to become good at what you enjoy. When you do that, a world of opportunities opens up for you to exploit your talent for fun or profit—or, like me, for both.
I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but this is your wake-up call. Go pursue your talent.
By Jeff D. Opdyke