Talent and Skill in writing

Skills and talentThe terms “talent” and “skill” can often be heard, banded about. I see many young writers, new writers who speak in awe of someone else’s talent. This is often followed, I am sad to say, by talk of “I’ll never be that good” or “I wish I was that talented.”

It is so easy to get disheartened in the creative arts. When I was younger my writing would suffer horrendously every time I read a great book. As the wow factor of the book faded, it would be replaced by a bitterness at myself and my work. This led to my own novel festering away alone as I refused to “waste my time” on it.

Thankfully I have grown out of that annoying habit and while I do still read books that wow me, they are now just a measuring stick by which I can gauge my own development.

But lets get back to the topic at hand – Talent and Skill

Talent (by my thinking) is innate, it is what you have, what you are born with some might say. Now, let’s get something straight, talent has many levels. One of my old bosses was an artist, she showed me pictures she had drawn when she was 6. They are so unbelievable, that some of the best artists I’ve seen who have had YEARS of practice aren’t at the level she had when she was little. So, her talent level for art was high.

I say this, because I have known many writers, and each of them had talent. After all you are usually drawn to the things you enjoy because there is some deep down talent for it, that needs to be expressed. Their talent may not have been as strong as someone elses talent, but that didn’t stop it from BEING talented.

Now many of these writers I knew considered themselves pretty rubbish at times, especially when measured against someone else. They would wish they had “so-and-so’s” talent, all the while being completely ignorant of their own talent.

So, are you one of these people? Do you see talent in everyone else and not yourself?

I guarantee if you have a passion for writing, you have a talent, the ideas, the stories, the characters, the plots – you might not write epics, you might not have expansive ideas but there will be talent within your writing.

Rule 1 – Notice it! Acknowledge that your love of writing is fostering a talent.

To Do – Find something you have written that you like, and read it. REALLY read it, smile at it, remind yourself why it’s good. Is it the imagery, the character designs, the way it makes you feel when you read it, the fact it reads like a published novel…. whatever the reason, identify it and then bask in it.

Too many creative people put themselves down and it has to stop. If you want to be a good writer you have to acknowledge yourself as a good writer, then you can become a great writer.

Let’s be clear – we don’t need arrogant twits, just honesty with yourself. Yes you will write some shit at times, yes you will look at something and go “damn, that’s awful” but that’s not everything. After all if you didn’t like your writing you would have given up by now and so wouldn’t be a writer.

Okay, let’s move on.

Skill is what you acquire, it comes from learning, practicing, applying. You are not born with skill, you develop skill.

Now this is the important part – Skill is what develops talent.

You can have a great talent, but if you do not continue to learn, adapt, practice, improve and apply your growing knowledge, that talent will remain stagnant.

You could have a high natural talent for writing, but someone who maybe didn’t have the same level of talent as you could surpass you because they worked on what they had, they honed their talent and grew their skill.

This is why it is so wrong to look at someone else and go “I wish I had their talent”. After all you don’t know how much skill is driving that talent, how many hours they have poured into it, how they have analysed their work until they corrected the flaws and strengthened their weaknesses.

You want to be a great writer then you take the talent you have and you develop your skill. You learn from others, you read other novels and learn from them*

So far I’ve never met a writer who didn’t read. Why? Because to be a good writer you should read! You should have a love for the written word and enjoy writing. (that’s my two cents!)

Reading is great for taking a break from your own work, it can also inspire you and it can help you. If you read, then you have a reader’s eye. You will know when reading what works – does a character in a book seem a little flimsy, can you even remember anything about their appearance, was there a plot line that fizzled out and the author never went back to it? Are there sentences that don’t flow?

This is your critical reader – as a writer you will start to do this automatically, but feel free to give it a push now! Enjoy reading by all means but if something really works, savour it, think about it – why did it work, what made that bit perfect. If something doesn’t work, analyse it, what error do you think the author made, what would you have done differently.

Then take that back to your own work – view your work with your critical reader eye. Think like a reader.

All this helps to develop the skill you need as a writer, all this coats your existing talent and expands it.

If you think you are going to write the next Booker Prize novel in 100 days, think again. You need practice, focus and development. It will take time, rewrites, temper tantrums and criticism to get your work up to even publishing standard never mind beyond.

If you want the skill, you have to be willing to work for it. Talent alone will never see you through.

And finally… you are your own worse critic, but you should also be your biggest fan. Love your work, then make it better!

Happy writing


* Here’s a note, just because a book is published doesn’t mean it’s perfect. There are many books that publishers took on at a risk and they failed. (Worse, some did well and I personally can’t understand way – but that’s just my opinion :p ).

A writer should strive to be better. So when I say learn from books, I mean see the good and the bad – is there something you just read that didn’t work, remember it, make sure you don’t make that mistake.

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