The Ingredients of Writing: Talent…?

When I was little, I thought a lot about the talent argument; about whether or not it really, really mattered. I’m not what you call a genius – nope, you don’t want to see me grocery shopping. That said, I grasped things faster than some – at school, my grades were good, I was pleasantly athletic, remembered details better and could study less than some classmates with better results. At the same time, I was never the #1 student, the best at any sport or the most effective at studying (pfffftttt! Don’t get me started!). Still, I admit people mostly saw me as ‘smart’. I used to think the talent goddess had shined quite nicely on me.

At those introduce yourself group activities, they tend to ask about something you’re good at – a talent. I usually say that I can juggle just to make myself look a tad less geeky. Then when people ask me how I do it, I tell them “I had no life as a kid and spent a lot of hours chucking hacky sacks at my face.” Seriously, how many hours did I spend trying to keep two balls in the air with one hand? How many days did I kill trying to do three with two hands? It was a lot of hard work, you know!

Oh wait, then I guess that’s not a pure talent that I was born with… writing then? I’m pretty good at writing! Well, not brilliant but it’s my greatest hobby and I’ve been writing since I was just a wee little-

Hang on. I wasn’t born a good writer either (evidence). Does such a thing exist in the first place? I clearly remember writing tragically bad not so long ago, and hey, I actually had the most fun then! I loved tripping over my own amateur feet and climbing back up standing a little taller than I had before. It was a lot of hard work. And you know what? I don’t think – actually, I know – that I’m not the only one who had to put in the effort.

We’ve all heard it before: talent is useless if you don’t use or practice it. I agree! But what is talent anyway? In the same vein, what’s ‘writing’? What’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? You may have an easier time with a task than some others – is that talent, experience, luck or just individual differences? My boyfriend is terrible with theory but he can reverse park a bulky 4WD into a tight spot with one sweeping movement – and one hand.

But then there are some geniuses out there. Plenty, actually! Geniuses at the big things; the scientists, the artists, the inventors. Then there are geniuses at small things; haggling for a good price, coffee art, juggling. There was a guy on TV years ago who could sculpt an elephant out of chewing gum in his mouth without looking.

Is it talent? Sometimes! But not always. Why am I being such a rookie philosopher about an age old topic?

Because writing is often such a personal and solitary experience, it’s hard to imagine how the successful authors did it. This insecurity is everywhere. Of course, we know they had their share of hard times. Many well-known authors were penniless – some say they still are. So I’m not trying to say anything new. We know this stuff. But it doesn’t hurt to remember it, over and over again:

The authors we look up to are normal people, just like us. Writers. They’ve just been where many of us want to be, that’s all. And is it talent?

Sometimes – but not always :)

Have a look at this nice post by Emily Temple at Flavorwire of Famous Authors’ Handwritten Outlines for Great Works of Literature. It was actually the whole reason behind this post but I got sidetracked as I always do (sorry you had to dig through so much babble to find the good stuff, haha). See JK Rowling’s outline? What about Joseph Heller’s for Catch-22? Lots of work involved – that said, the outline is a metaphor for effort here. I’m aware that pantsers work just as hard with great accomplishments!

Good results don’t just fall from the sky – you have to climb up and fetch them yourselves. Some people are born closer to the clouds than others. But if you build your ladder carefully, with good foundations, you can be right up beside them just the same.

So keep writing! Keep chasing those dreams step by step, and remember to love what you do!

My favourite is William Faulkner’s outline, written on his wall!

18 thoughts on “The Ingredients of Writing: Talent…?

  1. “Good results don’t just fall from the sky – you have to climb up and fetch them yourselves. Some people are born closer to the clouds than others.”

    I love that! Such a great post.

  2. I don’t know if you saw MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, but it deals with the very issue you mention–talent versus perspiration. Reading your post and watching that movie really confirm the need to practice even if you’re naturally gifted. Gifted musicians practice. Behind the practicing is a love of the craft. Writing is the same.

  3. I’m so glad you said all this. It’s important to work hard when you write. Not just for you, but for your readers. We get to share our work, that’s the goal, that’s the whole point. So why wouldn’t we work at our abilities to make sure the reader gets the best? We’d want the same when reading a book. These days it’s so easy to write something and get it out in the world and unfortunately there are lots of people who get so excited that their work is out there that they don’t even bother learning the basics or revising. I always find that kind of selfish, because as long as you keep your writing to yourself you can do whatever the hell you want with it, but as soon as you bring it out there, for people to enjoy, I think you could at least bother to tighten your story even if it requires an extra month of work.
    I know not everyone is this way and I’m glad you’re one of those people. Writing is a beautiful thing, it should be shared and it should be practised, in fact, it’s fun to do so! It helps to have talent, but most of it can be learned. Which is something that should give hope, not make us give up.
    So let’s keep on writing and look forward to the day our books are on the shelves. :)

    • You’ve said some of the best words I’ve heard on writing so far! You are so right; that is the best writing philosophy to have and the most effective motivation to hone our craft. We owe it to the readers and to our characters. Let us march onward with that motto! Be sure to let me know when I can buy your book off the shelves :)

  4. Pingback: Faith | createdbyrcw

  5. Been practicing my craft since I was six years old – my great-grandmother knew before I did that I would be a writer. Good or bad, talent or not, it’s the love of writing that’s important, and the more you write, the better you become.
    Great post.
    J.G. Chayko

  6. Hey, I’ve just taken a look at your blog as a whole. I think that it’s really good; the posts are very thoughtful and inspirational. I’m a writer and blogger too and I certainly found this blog a great resource. Keep writing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s