I was scrolling through the Absolute Write message boards recently (a great Web site by the way) when I came across a very interesting discussion on whether or not writing is an innate talent or something that can be learned. Like many posters I have to agree that it’s a little of both…and it’s a little more.
I think anyone can learn to write. Like one poster said, it can be compared to throwing a football. Anyone can learn to do it and with practice and perseverance anyone can become reasonably good at it. But talent is what I think sets authors apart, just like it sets football players apart. While everyone on the field works hard to learn the game, not everyone walks onto the field with an innate talent to shine. Peyton and Eli Manning are good example of this. Presumably both have the same background, the same training and were taught the same skills. In fact, you could even argue that Eli, as the younger brother, might have had a little more training since the kinks were worked out with Peyton. Why then is Peyton so clearly the better player? Talent. Something that can’t be taught or learned. Peyton just has more of a natural ability for the game (in my humble opinion).
But I think there’s a third element we’re missing and that’s finesse.
I have a friend who is a professional skateboarder and during a recent discussion about many of the young up-and-coming skateboarders he mentioned that while a lot of them have skills, not a lot of them necessarily have the finesse that makes a really successful skateboarder stand out. I think the same can be said of authors. When you read a really amazing author, one that takes your breath away, it’s not the talent and it’s not the learned skills that wow you. It’s that author’s finesse. His or her ability to string words together in such a way that actually make you want to stop and read again.
Let’s go back to football. As a Minnesota Vikings fan I’ve been watching Randy Moss’s career from the beginning. Why is Randy Moss such star? Especially since he’s never even been to a Super Bowl (except as a fan) and he’s never really stood up to all the hype. Simple. Finesse. While many will argue that he might be one of the biggest jerks in football. Okay, maybe behind Michael Vick, none can argue that watching him play is like watching a ballet. That guy has style and when he makes one of those catches it will actually take your breath away. He has talent, he definitely has finesse, and now he just needs to spend a little more time learning the game and yes, you will have a true star on your hands (if he doesn’t get too old first).
Writing skills can be learned. You can learn to plot, you can learn to create characters and you can learn to string words together, but some of us have a talent for it. Some of us have an innate ability to string words together and don’t need to think about characters or plot because building both come naturally. And beyond that, there are a lucky few with real finesse. An amazing ability to wow just about anyone with their writing. And let me clarify, they aren’t necessarily literary authors. Finesse can come in many forms and in many genres.
So what are you thoughts? Is writing a talent or a learned skill?