I want to share another delightful writing gem from Ryan Lanz at A Writer’s Path. We all want to be talented, but he points out that being skilled can be just as important and give us even greater appreciation for our craft and the work it took to get there.
by Ryan Lanz
- tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
- skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.
What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?
It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.
What does each really mean?
This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.
This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?
Which is better?
Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.
Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.
Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill
The combination of the two
If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.
Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?
The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.
I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.
If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.
Guest post contributed by Ryan Lanz. Ryan is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
3 thoughts on “Skill vs. Talent – Which Do You Have?”
One of the best ways to improve one’s writing without endless hours of practice is by reading more well-written books. I am convinced that many people who are labeled great “natural writers” were first great “natural readers.”
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Good point! The more we read, the more our inner writing ear improves to recognize good writing when we read it (whether we wrote it ourselves or not).
Stephen King said that talent has the same value of table salt, because the true worth of a writer resides in the skills.
I agree with that. But I also think that talent does make a difference.
I do believe that skills may make up to talent when a writer doesn’t have any (and that’s the majority of us). I also believe that storytelling is a talent, and in fact in my life I’ve met at least two natural storytellers that weren’t writers. One of them was a swimming couch who mesmerised me with the tale of how his wife discovered a lick in the kitchen tap and called for help. I’m not kidding. He wove such a story out of that very dumb matter that I’d have listened to him for the entire day!
That’s talent, if you ask me. But he had chosen a different path in life and so never went about honing that talent. In fact, I suspect that if he had tried to write the same story down, it might have come out a lot less interesting.
Because that’s the point for me: while storytelling is a natural gift, fiction is a craft, and you are not born knowing how to do it. You have to lean and that’s the ‘skill’ part.
In my opinion, talent is not enough to become a good writer, but skill is also not enough to become an excellent writer. A writer that hones his/her skills and has talent will always have that ‘something’ that other don’t have, no matter how skillful they are.
And honestly, I don’t think talented writers are less appreciated for their efforts. There’s no difference in the amount of effort a non-talented writers puts in to learn the craft and the amount a talented writer does. The difference doesn’t recide in the effort (both will have to learn the same skills), but in the results. The talented writer’s work will have that particular spark that other works don’t have and that no one can explain.
This said, I think talent is very very very rare, and so most of us have to make do with skills. I certainly have to 😉
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