Thursday, June 11, 2009

Skill Versus Talent

One thing you're going to hear me say a lot during this discussion about writing is that there is more than one way to do to [fill in the blank.] My way is only what works for me, and might turn out to be total anathema to how you write best. Use my methods, etc., only if you wish. Also, writing is, for me, one of life's Great Mysteries. No matter how often I teach in-person classes, take them, or read books about writing, a lot of how it actually WORKS remains opaque to me. I think this is one of the reasons most people tend to think that you can't actually TEACH writing, but that writing is a talent you have to be born with.

I believe you can teach anyone to write better. Not everyone will write at the same skill level by the time they die, but, I believe everyone gets better with practice. I know this for a fact. Not only have I seen students improve exponentially, but I've also noticed growth in my own work over time (and I can always see room for improvements).

Practice really does make perfect.

And, IMHO, writing really is a skill, like any other, that can be learned. I think, in the end, what REALLY separates the writers from the non-writers isn't "talent" so much as persistence and determination and discipline. If you have those three things they will carry you much farther than if all you have is so-called talent (which to me is better labeled "proficiency" or "skill.")

I'm not saying, however, that people all start out in the same place. But when I noticed one of my students at the Loft who seemed very polished and professional right out of the gate, I asked her a simple question: "Do you read a lot?" Are you surprised that the answer she gave was a resounding: "Yes, of course!"? And it wasn't just that she read, but that she read a lot in the genre and type she was trying to emulate, ie fantasy novels.

I think that people who get labeled as talented writers are often people who have developed a strong ear for storytelling through reading. Even though they may have never put paper to pencil (or pencil to paper as the case may be), they are folks who have been practicing their art unintentionally by absorbing the ideas of structure, plot, dialogue, etc. Of course, there are still plenty of avid readers who struggle when they write their first story... or second or third.... But I think the more you read what you want to write, the more you might (perhaps at first, perhaps eventually) have the jump on your colleagues.

Or maybe not. The important thing to remember is that you can learn to write professional quality stories. I believe anyone who wants to be published, can be given enough time, energy, and luck. And if I could only have one of those three, I'd go with energy. Energy to keep at it. Energy not to quit when the going... goes. Energy to look at a malformed piece of writing and willingly tear it apart and recreate it. Energy to dump parts that aren't working, and milk the ones that are. Energy to say: I will try again tomorrow, when all you want to do is sob in frustration or escape into hours of "Bejeweled" (guilty!)

That's the real talent, if you ask me. The talent to keep pushing, like Sisyphus, even when it all just seems to crumble at the summit, as it were. And you have to start over. And over.

But you know what? The hope here, IMHO, is that you can do it, if you work at it. I believe in you.

1 comment:

SaturnMoonie said...

Thanks for the great post. It was a pep talk for me, and I really needed it! :D