“Talent is B.S.”
The following passage comes from The Knowledge. The speaker is a version of myself, when I was driving a cab in New York City and struggling to learn the writing craft.
I have a literary agent. His name is Martin Fabrikant. Marty is ninety-six years old. That’s not a typo. Marty is Dutch. He speaks with an accent. He’s about four-foot-ten and likes to joke that he used to be six-four…
Marty is a death camp survivor. He’s got the tattoo. He never speaks about the experience directly (I only know through my friend Pablo, who originally introduced me to Marty) but he’ll make remarks from time to time whose gist is, “Appreciate life. Never complain. Work hard and do your best.”
Marty has one other mantra: “Talent is bullshit.”
“I’ve seen a million writers with talent. It means nothing. You need guts, you need stick-to-it-iveness. It’s work, you gotta work, do the freaking work. That’s why you’re gonna make it, son. You work. No one can take that away from you.
“And I’ll tell you something else,” Marty says to me now over the phone. “Appreciate these days. These days when you’re broke and struggling, they’re the best days of your life. You’re gonna break through, my boy. And when you do, you’ll look back on this time and think this is when I was really an artist, when everything was pure and I had nothing but the dream and the work. Enjoy it now. Pay attention. These are the good days. Be grateful for them.”
I really did have an agent who really was (or seemed to me at the time) ninety-six. He was actually in his seventies. His name was Barthold Fles. He represented Kurt Weill, Anaïs Nin, and even Carl Jung. Know what he said about talent?
The exact same thing Marty said.