The question here is essentially this – is it hard work or simple talent that plays the biggest part in shaping the final product of a great writer’s labor? The answer of course is contained within the question itself. But first, what exactly is a great writer?
Literary greatness is a bit of a misnomer if you ask me. To be great one’s work must exemplify certain benchmarks of quality that are collectively agreed upon by the majority of adherents and aficionados alike in the greater art world. For our purposes here we can take measure of these benchmarks and throw them into two distinct categories – commercial success and critical acclaim. However neither of these hallmarks on their own serve as an accurate judgment on a piece of writing’s inherent and so called greatness.
Take Stephen King as an example. Is he a great writer because he has sold millions of copies of his over forty novels? Fans, as is their way, would say yes. Yet when he was given the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution there was a very public outcry from the literary elite. Is he not a great writer then because he commands only the smallest amount of critical praise?
Alistair MacLeod, author of No Great Mischief, has been met with critical acclaim the likes of which few ever see. Yet other than his many awards and what you might call decent sales of the aforementioned novel, he hasn’t had much in the way of commercial success. Is he himself not a great writer then due to lack of commercial viability? Or is he truly a great walking among us, as heralded by the elite?
There are no answers to these questions that come close to being even remotely correct. Only by combining both commercial and critical success can we accurately identify any piece of writing as being better than most. Even then many tend to disagree, to hold their own opinions above any sort of general consensus. So perhaps it’s better to use your own arbitrary yardstick to determine greatness and to look only to general consensus as the starting point from which to begin your search for the best. In the end, it’s the only truth you’ll find.
As to the question before us, no final product of publishable quality comes about with ease. From a deceptively simple poem to the chicanery of a deceptively complex novel, all things published bear the sweat of their creators.
Mere talent alone can only enable a writer. It’s effort that gets them published.