Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Talent vs. Skill

I feel as if I've done a post on this topic before, but the previous one was more about whether or not you can learn to be a writer... Hmmm.. when was that? (I found it. A post I did on my other blog in 2006 about whether writing is a talent or a skill. I guess a five year gap is enough time to revisit. ;)

Something recently drew this concept to mind again--and it was partly Stephanie commenting last weekend that she was now paying more attention to craft than she used to. And I'd already thinking about talent vs. skill.

A few weeks ago, I was walking through a bookstore with the fabulous Debbie Ohi and we stumbled on a woman doing a signing and we listened to a small chunk of her presentation. From what we could gather, her book was a cookbook, but also had personal stories about the recipes and some cartoon-type illustrations. Someone in the audience complimented the illustrations and asked her about them.

The author was a tad shy about her drawings and said she wasn't an artist or an illustrator by any sense of the imagination, but she'd shown them to the publisher and they wanted to include them. She also showed them to an artist friend at the time, to ask her opinion (should I really let them publish these?) and the artist replied something like: you don't have much skill, but you definitely have talent. That made me nod.

I think you can go a long way in many creative pursuits relying solely on talent, but at some point, when the going gets tough, or when something isn't working, or when you want to push yourself to do something different or better, or when you need to continue to produce more and more books, faster and faster, it sure helps to have developed some skill. :)

What do you think? Do you rely more on talent or skill when you write? Which is more important?


Eileen said...

I don't think I'm a natural at anything. I rely heavily on skill.

I have a friend here who went through a creative writing masters program and now her innate talent is highly polished with skill and I am insanely jealous of the beautiful work she produces.

When the two come together, the product is amazing.

Maureen McGowan said...

I'm the same way, Eileen. When I take on something new, I want to learn everything about it, because I assume I have no talent and therefore need to build up some skills.

Leah Braemel said...

I've had this conversation a few years back too. I think there are some people who are born "bards" who know how to tell a story and the technical side of writing is secondary. I don't think storytelling is a skill that is easy to learn.

I think there are people who know all the grammar and can write a technically perfect sentence but can't tell a story worth a darned, which may be able to be learned, but it's tougher for them because storytelling doesn't come naturally and the bard will always win out over the technically-correct writer.

Hmm, it sounds weird when I write it...

Sara Winters said...

I rely on talent, or I used to. I make it a point to always work on improving skills which is why I have oodles of writing articles bookmarked and stacks (or files) of various writing books. I don't think there's any writer out there who can't improve their craft in some way.

Maureen McGowan said...

I totally agree that some people are natural storytellers and I also think that some people are naturally better at composing interesting, compelling prose than others. (Grammar is different to me.)

But I do think that one can develop skills to improve all aspects. Even if you're someone who knows how to tell stories naturally, a little knowledge of structure and why certain stories work can really help develop serious storytelling skills.

I'm someone who can't always think too much about structure at the start... but boy has it helped me get back on course a few times when I've lost my way.

Anonymous said...

When the two combine is pretty magical. Really interesting question though.

Eileen said...

I remember judging a contest several years ago where several of the entries were technically very very good, but they were missing some sort of sparkle. It was very frustrating because I couldn't figure out what constructive comment to make. It was much easier to be helpful on the one that sucked.

I think all those people had skill and were students of their craft, but maybe didn't have that storyteller magic?

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, I do think it's about striking a balance. You do need to be creative and have an imagination, clearly... And some kind of instinct for it...

And I also just realized, thinking about this, that I didn't mean to sound as if "skill" means knowing all the latest terms or storytelling structures or various theories on craft. One can also develop skill by practice. Write, rinse, repeat. Or maybe I need to add Read to that list.

Eileen said...

And there are different kinds of talents and skills. I think there are people with an innate grasp of plot and structure and others with a natural talent for dialogue or setting or symbolism.

Jewell said...

Very interesting blog.

I'm a young writer who hasn't chosen a specific path yet, but I tend to lean toward nonfiction and journalistic styles, though I'm guilty of slipping back into my stream of consciousness dribble from time to time.

What I'm getting at is that this post pertains to all writers, regardless of style.

I think a lot of us get into writing initially because we possess some sort of knack fr it, talent if you must. But without honing in on the craft and technique, it can be difficult to deliver our stories or messages in salient ways.

Happy I stumbled upon you. I'm hooked. Always can learn from other writers.

Quick question. I'm considering pursuing a masters in creative nonfiction. Has anyone heard of anyone who has gone through one of the programs? Your feedback is appreciated!


Molly O'Keefe said...

Hey Jewell - welcome! A master's in creative nonfiction sounds like a dream. Sadly, I don't know of anyone - my writing teacher Joe Schuster did a master's in fiction, but he's the only one I know truth be told.

Good Luck and I agree - most people don't choose writing, it chooses them and while we can't always control how much talent we have, we can get ourselves some skills.

I know how bad that last sentence is.

Eileen said...

Hi, Jewell,

Most of the programs I know about focus on fiction. It might be because as a fiction writer, that's what I stumble across the most.

I have to admit, I've been tempted by the idea of going through one of the programs. There are several good ones out here on the west coast including some low-residency ones.

Good luck!


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