July 24, 2012

Talent vs. Skill

I ran into yet another post arguing that writing isn't about hard work and persistence -- it's about inborn talent.

That argument drives me nuts.  Not only do I think it's untrue, but the talent-or-nothing paradigm hurts writers.   If writing is about inborn ability, the writer has no accountability.  It's out of your control.  Good writing is something that happens to you...or not.  Bad prose?  Nothing you can do about it -- it's in the stars.

On the other hand, if writing is a skill, then improvement is in the author's control.  You can write another story.  Gets some critiques.  Revise, rinse, and repeat.  You can take action.  When learning is a possibility, you can ask, "What can I do to improve?"

I don't think anyone succeeds as a writer without a lot of hard work.  Maybe a bucket of natural ability will get you there a little faster, but it won't get you there.

As evidence that writing can be learned, I submit this episode of Writing Excuses (click here).  This is the opening of Brandon Sanderson's first, unpublished novel.  It's...umm, well, the Writing Excuses does a great job ridiculing it.  Between that and Elantris, something changed, and I'm sure it took a lot of hard work, practice, and skill-honing.  Brandon Sanderson's now one of my favorite authors.

As a footnote, in my experience, the best writing teachers are those who learned something the hard way.  The author whose lecture taught me story structure?  He used to fumble with it.  The author with brilliant posts on point of view?  I asked her -- and she struggled with POV.  Because they didn't do these by instinct, they can happily articulate their skills to others.

Yes, writers likely have something they're naturally good at -- maybe someone has an ear for dialogue, or a knack for description.  But dialogue and description can still be learned. 

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely agree that hard work can beat out natural talent any day.