View Full Version : Talent or Teachable?

08-09-2008, 11:14 PM
This is a debate I've had many times. Some people maintain that "real" writers have an innate talent which allows them to write well. Other people believe that anyone can be taught to write well enough to write for publication.

Which do you think is true?

08-10-2008, 03:21 AM
I would think that it is maybe a little on both sides. However i do not think that there is such a thing as a Real Writer, that can just write pure gold without starting somewhere.

My opinion is that some people do have a mind that is a lot more focused on the particular area that helps with writing, they pick up on the keys ways and points that tend to mean they become good at writing. However in the same vein i think that anyone who is able to follow a process and construct a sentence can be taught to follow a process in writing, which will give them output that is suitable for publication.

In my mind though just because something is suitable for publication does not always mean that it is good. For example i would expect that most every day news articles in newspapers, are not written by people who are naturally talented writers, most would be following a format to provide an article that conveys the information the paper whats it's readers to know.

On the other hand, how many very talented writers, have had books knocked back by many many publishers only to have one say yes and go on to sell millions of books. So maybe it just comes down to the quality of the writing is in the mind of the reader.

08-10-2008, 07:47 PM
I think it's a little of both too. Anyone can learn the craft of writing if they set out to do so. You can learn the rules of grammar and how to put together sentences. You can also learn the craft of writing stories or sales copy. How to write fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose.

All those things and more are teachable.

Still some people seem to get it and others don't. You can write perfect grammar and craft a story based on thousands of years of principles and guidelines and still have a story no one wants to read. You can apply every rule of copywriting you can find and still create a sales page or advertisement with 0% conversions.

There are some things in writing as in everything else where you simply need to pull some experience from your life and apply it to your craft. Otherwise your writing becomes mechanical. In some cases mechanical writing might be perfectly fine, but the person who can inject things from outside their specific learning about writing will ultimately write something better.

One of the reasons I often suggest people read great writers if they want to be writer's themselves is because by reading great writing you start to pick up on some of the undefinable aspects of writing subconsciously. You can begin to train the talent you have in ways that studying the craft won't allow.

Dan Furman
08-10-2008, 11:35 PM
Both sides of the fence in this regard. But I lean more towards innate.

I feel anyone can learn to write better than they do. And I can certainly teach anyone the basics of sales copywriting, etc.

But generally, only "writers" are going to be writers. I was writing stuff that people wanted to read since 1st grade. It was obvious it was just something I could do really well. Just like my first grade classmate (Heather) could draw, in first grade, better than I ever have my entire life. I hear she's a crack graphic artist these days.

I'll put it this way: Let's say that everyone has a skill level between 1 and 10 in writing. I feel most people's writing skill level falls between 2 and 5. "Writers" are 8+. In regards to learning, I feel anyone can raise their innate skill one. So maybe a few "7's" can be taught to write well enough to make any money at it.

This even extends to writers. I can't write fiction, for example. My fiction skill level is likely a 2. :) It's just *abysmal*.

08-11-2008, 12:12 AM
In many ways it's really like anything else in life. Some people have more innate ability to do one thing and some people have more innate ability to do another.

I've always thought we all have skill ranges. Like you say maybe writers are 8+ in the writing range. One person is born with writing skills that range from 4-7 depending on how much they learn about writing so maybe that person doesn't end up being a professional writer.

Another person is born with skills that range from 6-9 so they have the potential to be a professional writer, but may never spend the time to take their writing from 6 to 9. They may just stay a 6 never working at it while the first person works hard at writing to take his or her skill level to 7 and is ultimately the better writer of the two.

I've always seen the whole nature vs nurture thing in that way. We're all born with abilities that fall within a certain range and it's up to us to maximize where we end up in that range.

08-11-2008, 08:16 AM
I think there is something to be said for innate talent. I'm like Dan, I've been writing since I could put letters on paper and people have always liked my stuff. It's just something I haven't always been able to do.

On the other hand I could never be an artist, as I can't draw a straight line and have no sense of perspective. I could probably be taught to draw a straight line and create a passable picture, but I'd never be great.

I think anyone can be taught to be a reasonable writer, but it takes an extra spark of ability and talent to be great.

08-11-2008, 11:30 AM
Another thing I've noticed is that there are some folks who are writing articles and blogs because they've been advised that it's a good way to market their business and demonstrate their expertise. The problem is - they just don't like doing it.

I've seen quite a few ads for ghostwriters, but not everyone can afford one, so they do it themselves.

I love writing, but I hate sewing for example. I would rather pay someone $5 to sew on a button than do it myself. (You should have seen the badges I used to sew onto my sons' Cub Scout uniforms - it wasn't pretty. I usually managed to sew the sleeve together as well.)

I believe that someone who REALLY, REALLY wants to write can be taught the basics of style, grammar, punctuation, etc. - but if they don't enjoy it, I think it will reflect in the quality of their writing.


08-11-2008, 12:43 PM
Absolutely Karen. As part of your marketing I think a blog is a great thing to add to your site. However, you do need to have the talent and skills to write one or you need to hire someone that does have the talent and skills. A few too many people put up a blog because they think they have to and then neglect it or publish awful posts. Those people would often be better off with their blog since it's not really doing them any good.

08-11-2008, 10:52 PM
People who write usually have an innate inclination to express their thoughts through writing. This is why, for example, some accountants write books on accounting, while others do not. They have that inclination to write.

Writers, professional or otherwise, still have to learn the mechanics of writing, however. That inclination alone won't take them very far.