Are Writers Born with Talent?

This is a quick break from my normal blog posts.  Usually, I don’t focus on the subject of writing, but  recently there has been an article floating around the writing community in which a former writing teacher claims writers are born with talent.  The article also states that if an individual wasn’t writing seriously at a young age then he/she is not likely to “make it”.

The article making these claims is here: http://www.thestranger.com/books/features/2015/02/27/21792750/things-i-can-say-about-mfa-writing-programs-now-that-i-no-longer-teach-in-one

While I certainly respect the author’s right to his opinion, I strongly disagree with his conclusions.  I think the assertion that writers are born with talent is dangerous insofar as some really talented writers could be discouraged from pursuing their dreams if they tend to struggle with the process of transforming concepts into words.  I refuse to believe there is an ELECT group of writers out there who are genetically predisposed to writing well.  More importantly, I wouldn’t dare to assume that an individual cannot learn to be a good writer over time.

And what the hell is a “good writer” who can “make it” anyway?

I’m 40-years-old and can’t make myself finish Great Expectations, but I’m relatively certain I shouldn’t be criticizing that Dickens fella.  Dickens could write, but I don’t particularly enjoy his works.  Does that mean I’m not a good reader??  Should I blame genetics for that one?  And I’m not a great writer by any means, but does that mean people won’t be entertained by my books?

Several days ago, I was speaking to a room full of people and I said (truthfully) that I do not think I am a particularly good writer. The crowd was kind enough to disagree (I was speaking for free). However, I really don’t think I’m a “talented” writer. I DO think I can convey a decent story, but I think there may be a distinction between good writing and good storytelling.

Does a good storyteller have to have been born with talent?  What about a good musician?  A painter?  Where does it stop?

Regardless, I don’t think it matters one bit if writers are born with talent.  I was born left-handed, but I learned to use right-handed scissors. I made some bad cuts, but I learned from those mistakes and improved (although not much) over time. The fact the scissors were not designed for me does not mean I need to leave the cutting to the other 90% of the population. If you are one of the people who thinks I should… well, you probably shouldn’t be around me when I have a sharp object anyway.

Thoughts?

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
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https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

AVAILABLE NOW!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

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Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

Resolve

Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Are Writers Born with Talent?

  1. ngewo

    I agree with you on this. When I started college I was a terrible writer. I like to go back and read some of my old papers in order to see the progress I made over time. I did not just instantly get better, I just kept at it. I had people proof read every paper. Usually a friend would proof them, then I would take them to the professor during office hours to look over them. As time went on, I started to make less mistakes and found that I was getting better.
    Then I started writing my blog. Do I think I am a good writer? Nope, not at all. I read the work of others and think “I wish I could convey my thoughts like this person.” But that does not stop me. I keep plugging away. And as I go back and read those first posts to the posts now, I see that my writing has evolved.
    I think the first key is just writing. The second part though is reading. You have to read. I am constantly reading books, papers, articles…It does not matter the topic, I just read about stuff. I like having knowledge, but I think the more you read, the more you find an influence or style.
    Anyways, this is just a long way of saying, nice post!

    Reply
    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      Thanks, Josh.
      One of the big issues I have with the post in question is where the author states that if one doesn’t take writing seriously at a young age, they aren’t going to “make it”. I think I had one creative writing class in high-school and then I never wrote another word of fiction until I was in my late 30s. I don’t think I’m a particularly good writer, but I did manage to get a couple of novels published. Is that “making it”? I don’t know. Is “making it” being on the NYT Bestseller list? If so, are all of those writers considered fantastic wordsmiths? I doubt it. I’m afraid the attitude conveyed in the article is indicative of an attitude of snobbery that we can find in the literary world from time to time. If you tell a good story and people enjoy reading it, then keep on keeping on!

      Reply
  2. Gabrielle Bogan

    I had not seen this article prior to you writing about it but I disagree that writing well is a talent we are born with. If this was the case, why would they teach writing & comprehension in school?

    I believe that the comfort level in which someone has in expressing their words through writing is something that might be developed early on, but this is not to say that it can’t be a learned talent.

    In my opinion, writing well is more about how someone portrays their personality through words rather than how good someone is with grammar. I think as far as writing for the public is concerned that people want to be able to relate to the writer. They are not as concerned with how “well” something is written. They want to be able to hear the writer’s voice through the written words.

    Reply
    1. J.J. Hensley Post author

      Thanks, Gabrielle.

      I think you put it very well when you wrote, “…writing well is more about how someone portrays their personality through words rather than how good someone is with grammar.” A lot of the books I love are not considered great literature, they have prepositions at the end of sentences, and split infinitives every chapter. Personally, I think it’s beneficial to write more like people actually speak. It makes more of a connection with real readers. At least I hope it does. 🙂

      Reply
      1. Gabrielle Bogan

        Absolutely. The notion that things have to be perfect before doing them is one that used to cripple me. I used to think I had to write like an expert, or that I couldn’t promote a blog post that didn’t have the perfect picture.

        Now I believe that as long as you’re making the best effort you can towards what you are trying to create then the world is receiving something invaluable. They are getting your authenticity and that is something that will outshine good grammar anyday!

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