June 4, 2010

Are talented writers just born that way?

Whenever I watch Glee, I can't help but think about my own show choir days in high school. Show choir might seem really cheesy to some people (ie, my husband), but man, it was so much fun! Tap dancing...flapper dresses...performing on stage. It was an absolute blast.

Unlike Rachel Berry, however, I never landed any solos in my choir. See, my voice wasn't up to snuff. Sure, I could sight-read like a mofo and I could blend my voice pretty well, but I didn't have enough talent to belt out songs like "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "All By Myself." (Jazz hands!) No matter how hard I tried, my hours of singing and practicing could only take me so far. After all, it takes a certain amount of natural talent to become a great singer, and I was born with only a slighty-above-average voice.

This made me wonder...does this line of thinking apply to writers as well? Are some people simply gifted with the art of writing?

Hmm. I can see both sides of the coin for this one. On one hand, I think certain people are naturally gifted at writing. Jhumpa Lahiri, for example, blows my mind with her prose. *Swoon* The way she conveys a scene and develops her characters--it's simply masterful. Whenever I read her stories, I truly believe I'm reading a piece of art. It's just that good.

Read this book!

Yet, I also realize that many great writers become great after years and years of practice. It's easy to read a masterful book and think, "Whoa! This is mind-blowing!" But we often don't see the dozens of revisions that went into the manuscript or the dozens of rejections the writer faced to get to this point. Some people may be born with great writing genes but most of us have to toil to improve our craft.

Um yeah, I'm definitely part of this latter group. A couple weeks ago, I read an old draft of my book and--whew!--it was smelly. (I actually laughed at some points at how bad it was!) At the same time though, I also realized that I've learned so much about writing and plot and dialogue in the past couple years. With every paragraph I write, I get better. With every book I write, I grow. Well, at least I hope so!

So what do you guys think? Are some people born great writers? Or is great writing something you have to learn?


  1. This is something I've been giving a lot of thought to lately. I think anyone can learn the nuts and bolts of writing- don't use a gazillion adverbs, stick with "said" and "asked."

    But the rest of it? That's where I think talent comes in.

  2. I think "voice" is something that can come naturally, as well as creating beautiful prose. The nuts and bolts though most likely need to be learned through lots and lots of practice. By the way, with your show choir background, you may be the BEST person to beta read Harmony's Song. Check out our site: www.songbirdseries.webs.com. We have about 60 pages left to write so we'll be looking for betas in the next few weeks!

  3. Stephanie, that's a great point! I totally agree that most people can learn the do's and dont's of writing (Show don't tell), but talent goes a really long way.

    In my mind, I think the most gifted writers have some kind of innate penchant for writing. That's why I'm in awe of people like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jhumpa Lahiri. There's a reason why they win Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes!

  4. Julie, I really like this part of your comment:

    "I think "voice" is something that can come naturally, as well as creating beautiful prose."

    Yes, exactly! Voice is definitely something that can stem from natural talent. I keep bringing him up, but Gabriel Garcia Marquez's voice is SO distinct and unique.

    As for Harmony's Song, I'd love to help out in any way that I can! I read the first chapter online a couple weeks ago and I really liked it! I absolutely cringed when Harmony was brought on stage and opened up her box. Cringed!

    I have to finish up beta-ing a novel for a girl in my critique group, but I should be finished in a few weeks. Let me know what I can do!

  5. I've been thinking about this for a while now. Is talent inherent or is it acquired? Hmm... I'm usually a 50/50 girl when it comes to most things in life, so I guess I'll stick to my motto and say that it's the best of both worlds. Writers may be born awesome, but they get awesome-er with practice.

    At least, I hope... :D

  6. I think the common view that great writers are just born that way keeps a lot of people from putting in the effort that could make THEM great writers. In my opinion, while writers are born with differing amounts of talent, that just means that some people have to work harder than others to get to the same level of 'greatness'.

    I am with you on rereading earlier drafts/novels. It's hilarious and inspiring to see how far I've come. Here's to hard work and getting better!

  7. Writing is an art open to everyone and anyone interested. That being said, some people are born with a natural gift for it and some people aren't. That's just how things work with art. I've always invented stories since I was a little boy, and I'm addicted to writing like it's my life, even though I haven't even tried querying. I don't even care about getting published as much as most aspiring writers do. I'm not saying I don't want to get published; first and foremost I just want to write stories, and I want to keep learning the art.

    Those who are keen enough will learn the rudimentary guidelines, apply them, and produce something good.

    But you will always be able to tell the gifted from the "I'm simply interested".

  8. That book is gorgeous and one of my favs. She's amazing.

  9. I think it's definitely a combination of both to be able to write really well.

    If you read some of Virginia Woolf's earlier novels, you can see she had talent, but really they're nothing special. But later, after she worked so so hard on her theories and went a little bit crazy? That stuff takes my breath away every time.

    Just one example, but even people with natural talent can totally squander it if they don't work hard.