Last week while scrolling Instagram, a post popped up that declared, “Reminder that ‘writing talent’ is not a thing. Writing is a skill. It’s a muscle. You get better by writing more and more and reading a ton.”
My initial, gut response was total disagreement.
Then, I saw that the post had over a thousand likes with multiple comments saying things like, “Thanks for the reminder.”
WHAT?!? No such this as writing talent?!?
What about Tolkein or Jane Austen or Toni Morrison or…any number of incredibly gifted writers who began writing pre-internet, without writing classes and editors a click of a button away? They wrote masterpieces, and yes, they worked hard at honing their skills, but they also absolutely, unequivocally had talent.
Yes, you can get better by writing a lot and by reading. I spend my days teaching people and working with clients to do just that. But where we begin our writing journey also depends on innate talent.
Arguing that writing talent is ‘not a thing’ is like saying musical talent or athletic talent aren’t things either.
That’s just patently false. Innate talent exists in humans. And these talents should be celebrated, not denied in the name of making some of us less talented folks feel better.
Why are people denying the existence of writing talent?
I find it fascinating that writers would deny the existence of innate talent.
Does denying that writing talent exists make aspiring authors or writers feel better about their own writing? Or, about how hard they have to work to write well?
I honestly have no idea.
I get that we live in an aspirational world, we give participation trophies, and people love “liking” encouraging social media posts, but it’s also okay to not only recognize talent and greatness when we see it but to celebrate it. We come to this earth with talents and gifts and declaring that some of the people on this planet absolutely have an innate talent at something doesn’t diminish those who might have to work a bit harder to hone their skills.
The word “talent” is defined as a natural ability in a specific area. We all have talents in areas, some of us are artistically, or musically, or athletically talented. I am NOT musically talented. I know this. Everyone who’s ever heard me sing knows this. I’m okay with that.
But just because I lack the talent (along with many many many humans) does not justify my denying the existence of musical talent.
Even when it comes to writing, I know that I can write but I also know that I have to work hard to write well. In no way does recognizing writing talent in another upset me because they’re somehow “cheating” on learning the craft since words come more naturally to them.
They aren’t. They have to work to improve as well.
We all do.
How I Know Writing Talent Exists
I spent 15+ years teaching English and writing. I also taught AP Psychology, Creative Writing, and Speech, but the bulk of my teaching load was 9th grade English of all levels, from Inclusion classes with kids with learning challenges to pre-AP students. I’ve read tens of thousands of essays and assignments written by young teens.
Some of those kids could flat out write. I still remember their names and have honestly even googled those whom I’ve lost contact with to see if they ever did anything with their talents. They had a gift with words. At fourteen years old, they could convey their ideas and their perspectives in ways that I wish I could.
That’s raw talent.
There are a few that I still run into or am in touch with on social media, and they’re adults now. When I ask if they’re writing anything, they’ll get a soft smile and say something along the lines of, “No, but I still think about it. Sometimes I write a bit, but you know…life. Thanks for remembering.”
They know, and I know, that they have a gift for writing. They have talent. Whether they do something with it or not is up to them, but they could, (with possibly less work than some of us).
At this point, they haven’t chosen to put in the work to write or improve or publish which all of us (talented or not) need to do. That’s where the skill piece comes in, where we hone our craft and deepen our talents.
Those clients with whom I work now have chosen to improve, to expand their innate talents and become better writers, and I’ve seen so much improvement in some of them. It’s taken work, and they’re doing it. I can’t even begin to express how fun it is to watch and participate in their journey.
To become a better writer and build on your talent takes intention which involves study, practice, trying, getting feedback, and practicing some more. We all need to do this to improve.
Improving as a writer takes writing, but it takes more than just journaling thousands of pages every day for years. Writing in and of itself doesn’t necessarily make one a better writer.
It means taking the time to polish some of those pieces, to craft them, to study structure and understand how story and books work.
It means reading and studying why the words and books work (or not).
It means writing and revising, and writing, and revising. It means adding and cutting and rearranging.
It means working with a writing group, a writing coach, an editor, someone who has a clue about writing, and getting their feedback to help you improve.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery says, it means working until, “You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.”
You start with talent. You become better with studying the craft and honing your skills.
Becoming a better writer is hard work, but it’s absolutely possible. I’ve seen it time and time again. In fact, I read pages from a client yesterday that were SO MUCH BETTER than when we first started working together. I love seeing that improvement and growth.
She’s building on her talent by improving her skills.
I’m curious what you think. Is writing talent a thing? Does it exist?
Or is writing well the result of hard work and perseverance with no talent?