Creative Writing: Skill vs. Talent
Is successful and effective creative writing borne of skill or talent?
There has always been much debate about whether artistically inclined trades are a matter of learned skill or inherent talent.
On the one hand, there is the belief that some are born with an active and imaginative right brain and are therefore better able to manifest creativity. On the other hand, some argue that creative skills can be learned and mastered.
When it comes to creative writing, I believe that skill and talent work together. In fact, I would argue that almost every writer whose work is worth reading has some combination of both acquired writing skill and natural talent.
Creative Writing: Developing Skills
We are taught basic grammar and comprehensive writing in school, and each of us learns how to form a coherent sentence or paragraphs by applying these teachings. We must learn our letters, and there is no artistic talent required to memorize a set of symbols that represent sounds. Throughout our formative years, we are educated in language, including reading, writing, and comprehension.
Some of us loved those classes. We were drawn to the written word, to novels and short stories, poetry, and thought-provoking articles and essays. We welcomed the opportunity to build better writing skills. We trudged over to the school library during recess and experienced glee when the Scholastic newsletters arrived. Books! Stories! We absorbed them, and they etched into our psyches until we too yearned to spin tales and dreamed of the day when our own names would appear under a feature story headline or on the spine of a best selling — or dare I say — Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Yet there were those who balked at the thought of opening, let alone reading, an entire book. They preferred math or science, or perhaps art, or maybe they’d rather park themselves in front of a TV or video game console. Their reports and essays came back with low marks and someone said they lacked talent, something we aspiring writers had in droves. But what is talent if not love of one’s craft?
When I graduated high school and was faced with the dilemma of what to study in college, I shunned the idea of majoring in English, because I was already a voracious reader and several teachers had called me a gifted writer as well. Why study something I already had a knack for?
But a few years later, when no other major felt quite right, I finally checked off the box for English with a concentration in creative writing. Skill and talent combined to drive this choice. I finally realized that the very reason I should study writing was because I was already good at it. By majoring in English, maybe I could become great.
It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the semesters that followed, I studied the classics and learned writing nuances from my instructors and peers, discovering subtleties that never would have come to my attention otherwise. I learned the value of editing and revising, and I learned the merits of voice and style. Thankfully, I was given opportunities to explore areas of writing I never would have touched on my own: proposals, screenplays, and chapbooks. I even learned how to master the creative writing process.
It’s Not Skill vs. Talent; It’s Skill and Talent
I suppose artists, musicians, and other creative persons follow a similar path — a passion honed through years of learning and practice. When people suggest that writing cannot be learned, that grammar is unimportant, and storytelling or character development is the end-all-be-all of great writing, or that a writer’s creativity is magically manifested at birth, I am given great pause. For it is pride in one’s craft and true dedication that will result in truly wonderful writing: a seamless integration of love and passion, talent, and yes, all those mechanical writing skills that must be learned.
So what’s more important in creative writing — skill or talent? I say we need a healthy balance of both. What do you think?