Why talent is a myth, and the 3 things you actually need to be a bestseller

Why writing talent is a myth, and the 3 things that can actually help you become a bestselling author.


I was scrolling through my Instagram feed on Monday when something stopped me:

“I’m afraid I’m not talented enough.”

It was a caption on a pretty photo of a journal, and it was by a young writer who wasn’t sure she should keep going.

I could almost picture the real scene. The paralysis and anxiety about opening her manuscript. The embarrassment and self-criticism over what she’d written already. The fear that it was all for nothing. The escape to social media so she wouldn’t have to face those hard feelings.

I know it all, because I’ve been there, too. Who wouldn’t rather watch panda videos instead of doing the hard work? (She says as she Googles for panda videos…)

But anyone who’s ever written anything, from a novel to a blog post to a pitch letter, has had those same sinking feelings.

What if we don’t have what it takes? What if we’re not talented?

This nagging fear crops up everywhere, and it makes us wonder if, no matter how much effort we put in, we’ll just never be any good. We say we want to write, but then life gets in the way. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, what’s really keeping us from writing?

It’s us. Our own fear.

The fear that we’re not talented enough.

how to become a bestselling author

But here’s what I’ve come to realize, after nearly a decade of working with writers and successful authors: that person who seems “talented”? They just have more experience.

It may seem like talented is a natural state for some, but that’s because all we see is the output of today and not the inputs of their entire lives. It’s a totally bogus construct. Most likely, that person began paying attention to writing before you, or maybe, through luck and circumstance, they have more time each day to pay attention to writing. They’ve simply accrued more hours on their experience meter, or they’ve had higher quality inputs. They’re not innately “better” than you–I promise!

What do I mean by inputs? I know we’re not machines, but I’ve always found it helpful to think of the creative mind like a container, one which has both inputs and outputs.

The output—the quality of your work—can only be made with the inputs that already exist in the container. Inputs can be anything. A creative mind is like a sponge, and it sops up anything and everything it finds interesting, even if it has no immediate use for it.

Inputs can be:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Art
  • Music
  • TV shows
  • Advice
  • Classes
  • Research
  • Nature
  • Conversations

See? Anything. But the key is:

The more high-quality inputs you have, the higher-quality your output is.

If you started reading The New Yorker at 7, you will be a better writer than most people, simply because you’ve absorbed the cadences of good writing. If you’re reading US Weekly and corporate memos most days, your inputs are mucking up your mind, and you may have to unlearn some bad cadences and turns of phrase.

Since we can’t see most people’s inputs, we assume their superior output is coming from someplace else: their talent. Instead, it’s coming from their superior inputs.

Which, trust me, is great news: it means all you have to do to up your game is fill yourself with the best writing, reading, and other inputs you can.

But fears are like whack-a-mole. You finally stop worrying about whether you’re talented, and then you start worrying about whether you’re self-disciplined enough. Or smart enough. Or clever enough. Or literally [any adjective] enough. Instead, we need to unplug the game and go get a drink at the bar. Um, I mean…stop letting the moles run the show.

That’s what separates bestselling authors from struggling authors. They know that the fears will always be there, but they don’t let them run the show.

Instead, bestselling authors have 3 deep beliefs about themselves and the world that make them completely unstoppable.

That’s why I believe that part of the work of being a writer, blogger, or creative of any kind is character-building. Without methodically developing these 3 beliefs, just like you methodically develop your writing or photos, you can only go so far.

Here are the 3 beliefs that separate bestselling authors from the rest:

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These 6 cookbooks are your ticket to the cheapest vacation ever

The best new international cookbooks for cooks who love to travel!


 

How was your Labor Day weekend?

Jarrett and I spent the long weekend in Chicago, and it was an amazing one: we did The Bean, Lakeshore Drive, Millennium Park, The Art Institute of Chicago, a river cruise architectural tour, the Chicago History Museum, and we even had enough time to relax and enjoy time with some family & friends.

best book blog

Our gorgeous view of Millennium Park and Lake Michigan from the top of The University Club.

But is it weird to say that I’m ready for a vacation, even though we just had one?

Usually I love getting back to my own home and routine, and I love feeling productive after a few days off. But there’s something about that August to September transition…

If you’re also daydreaming about a vacation but have to sit tight through September, here’s my little secret: a cookbook staycation!

After all, the best part of getting away is eating like a queen, right?

best cookbooks for cooks who love travel

And there are some pretty great cookbooks out this year that will help you cook straight past that wanderlust and make you feel like you’re right in the thick of dinner at that dream destination. According to my calculations, it’s approximately 785% cheaper and easier to do a cookbook staycation than a real-life, haul-yourself-to-a-plane-train-or-automobile vacation.

So here’s what I would do: Cancel everything on a Saturday or Sunday. Fake sick if you have to. Tell the kids/spouse/dog that it’s Cookbook Staycation Day, and they’re going to be part of it. Then wake up at a luxurious hour, have some coffee, read your cookbook in bed, make your shopping list, then stroll—don’t rush—through the store until you’ve piled up everything you need.

Then come home, find an on-theme Pandora station, put any willing hands to work at prep, and cook, cook, cook. Eat, eat, eat, exhale happily, and (if you’re feeling ambitious) watch a movie themed around the destination. Or just go to bed and dream happy, faraway dreams.

But before we can get to all that, start with this list of the best new cookbooks to take you away—with one of these on their way to you, you’ll soon be just as relaxed, rested, and gloriously well-fed as post vacation you has ever been.

6 new cookbooks for cooks who love to travel

Excerpted from The Kitchn.

With the last days of summer still ahead of us and the heat sticking to our backs, you might think grilling, grilling, and grilling are your only options for dinner. But picking at grilled chicken while scrolling through everyone else’s vacation photos is a straight path to lunacy.

So put down the grill tongs, step away from the envy, and have yourself a deliciously rollicking staycation, where you can be eating salsa-dipped chorizo and potato sandwiches in Mexico one day and Streuselkuchen in Germany the next.

Bangkok cookbook review

1. Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand by Leela Punyaratabandhu, $35

Bangkok is one of the top-ranked travel destinations in the world, and this book will slip you into the busy city and take you on the food tour of a lifetime. The beautiful photography captures a busy city — a monk looking out the window of a commuter boat, hands turning skewers of grilled meat at a market stall — but leaves out the over 16 million tourists that crowd the city each year.

Opt out of the tourist herd and opt in to a staycation with Punyaratabandhu, who will guide you through the essential and the innovative recipes and show you the pleasures of sourcing and cooking Thai ingredients every day, instead of just vacation-binging on them.

Nopalito mexican cookbook review

2. Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán and Stacy Adimando, $30

Admit it: You may be in a taco rut. But you don’t have to save the diverse miracles of Mexican food for nights out — Nopalito will usher you into a kitchen in Mexico, where anyone can master the fundamentals and extract them into unexpected and delicious weeknight dinners.

Let this gorgeous book pull you into the food and culture of Mexico, then walk determinedly into your kitchen and make those salsa-dipped chorizo and potato sandwiches.

taste of persia cookbook review

3. Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid, $35

Not every revered cuisine has a pin-on-the-map destination, and Persian food is one of those. Persia was once the world’s largest, most powerful, and intellectually advanced empire, and although Persians as an ethnic group are now mostly in Iran, it’s a culture and a cuisine that flaunts modern borders.

It’s hard to find a more ancient or humbling culinary tradition than this, and just a few nights eating at the table with Taste of Persia will inspire the same feelings of awe and curiosity that only the world’s greatest wonders can.

Click here to keep reading this list on The Kitchn!


What To Read This Week

3 Lesser-Known Books to Help You Understand, Manage, and Overcome Anxiety (Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy): Anne struggled with anxiety onset by 9/11, and here are the 3 books (originally recommended by mental health professionals) she wishes she’d had when she was stuck in the mess of anxiety. I’m a big believer that books can help us heal and untangle ourselves, and these 3 books are a great start for uncovering what’s really going on with anxiety.

8 Ways to Spark Agent & Editor Interest in Your Book (Linda Sivertsen of BookMama): “Other than writing a RIVETING page turner of a book, no matter your genre, you can guess my answer. Uh huh. Build. Your. Platform. But before you head for the fridge, hear me out. The process will grow you and your writing and make you infinitely more magnetic. Here are eight of my favorite things you can do, including resources and tactics I’ve tried that have made a big difference in my career.”

How to Run a Successful Blog as a Partnership (Rachel Tiemeyer and Polly Conner on Food Blogger Pro Podcast): My smart and sweet authors, Polly and Rachel, are chatting with Bjork of Pinch of Yum about how they run their blog together. And yes, they wrote their book together, too! (You have preordered your copy of From Freezer to Table, right?) 🙂

You Can’t Edit Your Own Book and Here Are 7 Reasons Why (Blake Atwood on The Write Life): Yes, yes, yes. You really can’t edit your own book. I’ve been an in-house editor at book publishers, and I still want someone else to look at anything I write. It’s not about skill—it’s about perspective. Fresh eyes are the best eyes.

The Odor “Wheel” Decoding the Smell of Old Books (Eric Grundhauser for Atlas Obscura): “It’s official. Science has decided that old books smell ‘smoky,’ ‘earthy,’ and more than anything, ‘woody.’” It’s almost like they’re made from trees, right?


What We’re Eating This Week

As an act of mercy (i.e. so I don’t bore you to death), let me tell you about what we ate in Chicago instead of the nonexistent dinners I’ll be having in NYC this week.

Friday: We had the most spectacular meal at North Pond! I loved the Arts and Crafts feel of the dining room, and we had a perfect view of Lincoln Park and the pond from our table. The staff even gave us a little shout-out on our version of the menu for our anniversary! Aren’t we spoiled?

best book blog

Saturday: I love, love, love when good friends cook for us, and we had some amazing Ropa Vieja at our friends’ Charley and Catherine’s house. Also, there were Hemingway Daiquiris. I felt both literary and literally stuffed.

Sunday: Again, we were treated to a great home-cooked meal of grilled salmon and potatoes and broccoli and salad by our friends Rob and Sherry. It was that perfect mix of last-bit-of-fresh summer cooking yet buttery enough that we knew we were still on vacation. It felt indulgent, so I did, in fact, indulge.

Monday: Well, we might have eaten a meat-lovers pizza and then Chicago-style Char Dogs with all the fixin’s at Midway. But don’t we all need one last binge before we’re back to the real world of respectable eating?

Tuesday-Friday: Respectability ensues. (Just kidding. I want tacos.)

Cheers!

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How is your writing going?

It’s our anniversary on Sunday! Jarrett and I are off to Richmond for the weekend, which is where we met and got engaged, and I’m crazy excited to stay at the new Quirk Hotel.

quirk hotel in richmond

Isn’t it pretty?

I may also be a complete lunatic and pack up my wedding dress to wear in the room…or around the lobby, if I’m brave enough. It’s just that I adore this dress, and it’s not fair that I’ve only gotten to wear it once.

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So I’m taking a cue from this smart chick and wearing it again. And yes, Jarrett’s wearing his suit again. We might even recreate a few of our wedding photos. And we will definitely be eating the Dexter Cider Mill donuts (our “cake”) that are stashed in our freezer.

Did I mention that I can’t wait?

But in the meantime, I wanted to ask you a quick question: is there anything in your writing life that has you completely stumped lately? We talked all about our reading lives a few weeks ago in our survey, but now I’m curious to know how you guys are feeling about your writing.

For me, I’m feeling stumped about how to balance it all—I adore working with authors, writing + editing proposals, writing here to you guys, coaching my authors through the publishing process, and writing for The Kitchn now and then. I just want more time. Someone package me up and send me a bundle of time. (There’s a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

So I’d love to hear: what’s your biggest obstacle in your writing life right now?

I’d love to hear all about it, and the more details you can give me, the more I can try to help you out!

No fancy survey today—just email me at maria @ cooksplusbooks . com and let me know what’s on your mind. I LOVE hearing from you guys, and you can bet I will read and respond to every single one of your notes.

Can’t wait to chat!


As a thank you…

I’d buy you a drink if I could, but let’s go for the next best thing: a cocktail recipe! Here’s a Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet recipe Jarrett developed a few weeks ago. It was GOOD. Really good. And it’s exactly what you need for soaking up these last few weeks of summer.

Cucumber Jalapeno Gimlet Recipe

cucumber jalapeno gimlet recipe

Makes 1 cocktail

For cocktail:
  • 5 slices of cucumber + more for garnish
  • 1-2 slices of jalapeno, seeds removed (optional)
  • ¾ oz. lime juice
  • 2 oz. cucumber gin
  • ¾ oz. mint syrup
  • Club soda
For mint syrup:
  • 5-6 mint leaves
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
For cucumber gin:
  • 3-4 cucumber slices
  • 1 cup gin
For the mint syrup: Add 5-6 mint leaves to 1 cup of water in a small saucepan. Add 1 cup of sugar and heat over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Let steep until cool, then strain out mint leaves.

For the cucumber gin: Chop 3-4 slices of cucumbers and place them in a glass with 1 cup of gin. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, then strain out the cucumber.

For the cocktail: Pour the mint syrup into a shaker along with 5 slices of cucumbers and 2 slices of jalapeno (optional). Muddle, then add the lime juice and gin. Add ice up to level of liquid, and shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. Double-strain into chilled coupe (or a Collins glass filled with ice, if you prefer); top with a splash of club soda. Add a cucumber or jalapeno slice for garnish.

Cheers!


What I’ve Been Reading This Week

Your Literary Twin, According to Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type (Carolyn Stanley for PureWow): Here’s a fun one for the weekend! I’m an INFJ, which means my literary twin is Jane Eyre. Who are you?

How to Write Your Book and Blog at The Same Time: 7 Strategies for Succeeding at Both (Chad R. Allen): I get asked about this all. The. Time. I’ll let Chad answer it this time–he has 7 great actionable steps you can take right away to get this issue sorted out. I think you’ll find this really helpful!

The Secret Life of a Book Manuscript (Thomas E. Ricks for The Atlantic): I love the subtitle for this piece: “A best-selling author submits a draft to his editor. Hijinks ensue.” I remember that feeling of getting a manuscript in from an author and realizing it was not the book you had signed up. It still makes me shudder. This is such a well-written and fascinating look at what happens when you need to take your manuscript apart and put it all back together, and how this can happen even to bestselling authors. So don’t stress if editing is tearing you up–you’re in great company.

How the Silent Book Club Gave Me Back My Reading Life (Maggie Downs for Literary Hub): Would you go to a public space to read silently with others? Here’s what Downs thought of it: “There aren’t enough words to convey how good this feels. I’m the mother of a toddler, and carving out reading time for myself has been a challenge. During the day, I’m either working or playing with my child. At night I can’t crack open a book without the crushing guilt of the dirty dishes or the overflowing laundry hamper or, hell, my actual professional work.” Me? I would totally do it.

The ‘New York Times’ Books Desk Will Make You Read Again (John Maher for Publisher’s Weekly): “Its chief critic took a buy-out. It’s consolidating like crazy. But the Gray Lady’s books team is neither flailing nor failing. Here’s what it is doing.”


What We’re Eating This Week

We were normal! Yes, we ate some pretty normal and home-cooked things this week, for a change. Nothing fancy–just the food, ma’m.

Monday: Mondo burrito bowls with charred corn and ground beef that Jarrett accidentally seasoned with thyme. (There HAS to be a cooking joke in there somewhere.)

Tuesday: Creamy Miso Fettucine with Brussels Sprouts from The Love & Lemons Cookbook, but with almonds instead of cashews, broccoli instead of brussels, and umami paste instead of miso, because apparently I never have the right ingredients for anything. It’s the thought that counts?

Wednesday: I am still crushing hard on these lentil bowls. My plan is to make them every week until I get tired of them and ruin a good thing. Hooray!

Thursday: Wine for dinner. I mean. We will order food, too. But we’ll be at Maxwell for a friend’s birthday, and you know how Thursdays go. #EntirelyMadeUpRationale

Friday: PIZZA NIGHT! I’m not excited except that I am, and it’s been months since we’ve had a shameless Friday pizza night. There will be plenty of salami and arugula on my pizza, plus my favorite roasted broccoli from Back Pocket Pasta. Yes and yes and yes.

Happy weekend!

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The results are in!

I LOVED hearing from you last week through the reader survey. You all are so fascinating.

I was trying hard not to peek at the survey responses before they were all in, and then I finally sat down with them on Tuesday morning, riding the Amtrak train from DC to NYC. Which meant I was giggling and nodding like a lunatic on the train, and also having way more fun than is allowed on Amtrak.

what kind of reader are you survey

Your responses were witty and insightful and thoughtful. Thank you immensely for taking that time out of your day—I know how busy you are, and I don’t ever want to take your time lightly.

Speaking of which, Allison S. is the winner of the surprise $20 Amazon card that was tucked at the back of the survey! I didn’t want to bribe you all, but I did want to give you a thank you gift for giving me your time. So, Allison, I hope you buy yourself something perfect to read with the gift card! I’ll be contacting you via email to get it to you.

So, are you curious about who your fellow readers and writers are?

Here’s who you’ll find in our little cooks & books community:

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