Recently, on the FWO forums, the subject of talent came up–and how much it matters versus skill.
This is all generalization, of course… but I think that for the majority of writers, a large part of writing is acquiring skill sets–language, grammar, how to structure a story, and (perhaps most important) your own creative process. In my experience, just learning how to get inspired is something I’ve had to really grope after, not something that has come to me like some magically bestowed talent. However, I do think that seed of talent is essential–it’s what not only makes us predisposed to storytelling, but what makes us want it.
Here’s my take on the difference between the two.
I’ve always had a knack for art. For a very long time, it required no actual effort on my part. I just did it, and it came as naturally as tantrums to babies. Any art class I ever took was an easy A+.
When I was about 20, I hit a plateau of sorts. I stopped progressing, and it took me a long while to realize that it was because I had come to the limit of my natural talent. Not that my talent wouldn’t enable to me to continue to learn perhaps more easily than some others, but until that moment, it had propelled me without any real work on my part. For the first time in my life, if I wanted my art to get better, I had to actually buckle down and STUDY. I had to do it even when it wasn’t fun and easy, focusing on the things I found the most difficult in order to master them.
Also, I had to learn to allow myself to produce less-than-inspired work. Before, if something wasn’t working, I’d abandon it and find easier prey. In order to learn, I had to fill up sketchbooks of failed attempts at drawing hands and facial expressions before I started to occasionally succeed. I discovered, to my amazement, that it wasn’t the doing-and-succeeding that improved my work, it was the just-plain-doing.
I feel like all of this applies to writing as well. You can just skate by, to a certain point, on your talent–but then, you have to start putting in a little work. That doesn’t mean the fun and games are over, and it’s all a PITA from here on out (I still love art), but an element of study has to be involved.
Just like with my drawing, I’ve also found that sometimes I just have to write through the crap. For me, there’s between 500-1000 words I have to get through before the really good stuff starts coming. Some days its less, and some days I admit I give up after hours of sheer self-torture, but usually, it takes 500-1000 words of “meh” (or even “ew”) before the needle finds the groove. But the important part is that I’m writing–and even if I don’t love what I come up with, I never feel like that’s wasted effort.