Talent is an Asset

Maybe you shouldn’t be a writer after all.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing their dream, but not everyone can be successful in the world of art (and yes, writing is a creative art). snoopy-writing

I’ve thought about this a lot (especially when I look at my own work and get depressed). In one previous blog I wrote about how you need talent, hard work, and connections to be successful. You don’t need them in equal amounts — if you have great connections, you don’t need as much talent, for instance (which is the only way to explain the success of some writers, musicians, and actors).

But assuming you’re an average person who wasn’t born into a well-connected family, talent is pretty much a necessity. And by “talent” I mean that creative spark that gives your work uniqueness and originality.

There are just too many creative people out there who, well, aren’t very creative.

Come on, you know it’s true. They may have all the skills but there’s still something missing.

In the past few years, as I have attended writer’s conferences and readings and so on, it’s becoming clearer. There are so many aspiring writers who know their grammar rules and understand the concept of what makes a good story who just don’t have that extra something that makes a story real. And yes, during my moments of self-doubt, I worry that I belong to that group.

I don’t know how to teach talent. I sometimes think that is something you are just born with.

When I was in High School, I wrote a musical comedy that our drama club put on. It was a silly western called “But I’m Allergic to Horses.” I got my musician friends to play for us, and I also recruited some of the students from the music department to help. There was one girl who played piano who, if you put the music in front of her, could play it without a mistake — something that always impresses me. I never learned how to read music other than the very basics. When we practiced the songs, I would give her the chords and ask her to improvise, and she was absolutely lost. She had no creative skills at all, despite her mastery of the piano in all other respects.

And there are some writers like that. They write much better than I ever could, but their stories lack originality, surprise, excitement. They have the technical part of writing down pat, but their work is predictable and boring.

Obviously, what you need is mastery of both the technical part of writing and the creative part.

But at least one of those, you can learn.

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7 Responses

  1. Mike – I can’t tell you how many times I feel just like you–that I’m not creative enough to be a writer. I hear people like our buddy Jonathan Maberry pouring out ideas like a broken water main, and I think, “I have trouble thinking of 2 or 3 ideas.” Of course, I can only write one thing at a time, so maybe that’s not a bad thing. Or I struggle and struggle to make my worlds “real” on the page, only to have someone say, “I don’t buy this character.” And then I just want to throw the computer across the room. But I paid a lot of money for the laptop, so I don’t.

    The thing is, though, I think that aside from, you CAN learn creativity–or at least strengthen what creativity you innately have. When I determined that I would write a blog post once a week, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to think of topics. But now, three years on, I have not missed a week, and it is easier to think of topics. When editors ask me to “flesh out” stories or even thinking up new ideas, I have less trouble doing so than I used to. Because I am practicing creativity by constantly.

    And as far as success in creative writing goes, Anne R. Allen had a good blog post this week called “8 things more important than talent”. Here’s the link: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2014/11/is-talent-overrated-8-things-that-are.html

    Kerry

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  2. This is great food for thought! As a music teacher (and especially for teaching jazz), I think creativity can be encouraged and inspired in different ways. Like technical talent, everyone is born with different amounts, but like ear training, it is something that can be worked on and improved.

    For example, there are improv teaching exercises that involve restrictions, such as playing on only one note to encourage rhythmic exploration, then playing only one rhythm and exploring scalar ideas. With enough practice of the building blocks, the aspiring mind is forced to explore beyond the familiar and push boundaries, then eventually can put it all back together with a higher comfort level of exploring more creative spaces. It happens even faster when the student listens to and imitates other jazz masters as an extra inspiring building block.

    Not sure if it is the same for writing, but that “comfort level” idea is HUGE for musical creativity. Fostering confidence first will help creativity flow, in my experience (as a teacher and player).

    Good post, Mike!

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  3. I argued with a young lady I dated, some time ago, on a similar topic: can leadership be taught? Just as writing has grammar and structure rules to learn, there are things leaders do that can absolutely be taught. Similarly, as writing has a creative something-something mojo to it, truly good, effective leadership also has some sort of spark that can’t quite be quantified into a lesson plan.

    She held that it could not be taught; you were either born a great leader, or you were not. I countered, just as I will with the question of teaching creativity, that some of the best leaders I’ve seen were schmucks at earlier ages, so they had to have developed it somewhere.

    Basically, I believe that what can be taught in lesson plan format should be taught in lesson plan format. That which cannot–and creativity is one of those inner thingies that I’d agree belongs in this group–can still be developed through other means, if the subject is willing to stretch and learn.

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  4. I believe at the core of it all – you are either a storyteller or you aren’t. If you ARE then you can learn to craft it well – if you aren’t then you may never have that “oomph” that others do. And above all, you must be open to learning and changing and growing…otherwise you will remain stagnant as a writer.

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  5. Great observations, Mike.

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