Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Talent plus Skill

From dictionary.com

a special natural ability or aptitude: a talent for drawing.

the ability, coming from one's knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well: Carpentry was one of his many skills.

The essential difference between a talent and a skill is whether it comes naturally or whether you built it from scratch. Some people will argue that arts are talents and sciences are skill. But I beg to differ.

Some people can instinctively hear a song, pick up an instrument they've never played, poke/strum/bang out a few notes, and then they're playing like Alicia Keys. Others practice an instrument forever and play beautifully, but are never able to play by ear or compose. People in the first instance have a talent for music, people in the second instance have a particular instrument as a skill.

The same thing happens on the flip side. Science is often a skill, with hours, days, years, of filling your brain with knowledge. But inventors and cutting-edge researchers need an innate ability to see and understand connections. You know the type: that dude in your Physics class who'd just read a theory in the book, and get it. That's not skill, that's talent.


In my very, very, very humble opinion, every writer has talent- whether they've published 9,000 epics or they're writing their first sentence. Writers all have a natural curiosity- a yearning to answer what if? This curiosity facilitates an ability to naturally see possibilities. Through this, writers can become philosophers, or combine the concrete and the imagined.

Want scientific proof? On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (an indicator based on inborn preferences), the N (intuitive) represents only about 30% of the US population, while it's counterpart S (sensing) makes up about 70%. That's apparent from the fact that the majority of society tends to be quite happy with facts and concrete stuff. Intuitives prefer theories, abstracts, and getting creative. Yet, even though the N's are a tiny minority, the overwhelming majority of actors, writers, and other creatives are iNtuitive. Creatives are therefore, almost by definition, people who have always been able to see possibilities.

Other talents that a writer may have:
A knack for the right words.
A knack for telling stories.
An understanding of grammar.

And on the technical elements side, a writer may be talented when it comes to:
Story structure


The pros of having writing talent are obvious.

Things come easy to you.
You work faster.
You don't have to correct as much.

Cons are a little harder to think of, but they certainly exist.

Relying on talent robs you of opportunity to improve. Talent can and should be honed.
The temptation to lean towards the elements you're good at, and ignore the ones that don't come easily.


Writing is not just about talent. There are many non-creative skills that writers need to develop. Writers need to work on discipline- dragging themselves to the keyboard when [insert anything other than writing here]. Writers need to stay organised- not neccessarily with colour-coded charts (so not happening), but they need to develop a system for their work. More and more, writers need to be professional- not that we didn't always, but everything is so much more public now, and one unprofessional mishap, could mean the death (or maiming) of a career. These are not necessarily talents that many writers are born with, but they are definitely skills to cultivate.

There are also creative skills that writers need to work on. As I said, I believe the only universal talent of writers is the way they see the world. Apart from that, some writers have certain talents, and others have different ones.

For example, I'm told I'm great at voice and good at character. But all the things under the "possible talents" list are required for writers. For me, that means that if they're not talents, I need to develop them as skills. Noone's ever said it, but I know I suck at plot. So it's something I have to work at, and study.


Skills have their perks too!

Work on a skill long enough and it can become second nature. Noone's born with a talent for walking. (Granted, some of us (points at self), still fall over for no particular reason.)
A well-developed skill can look better than an un-honed talent. We all know someone with a natural affinity for something, who ended up going nowhere. Talent isn't the only factor.

But of course there is a downside.

You can work on a skill forever, it will never look as good as a well-honed talent. I could go to a million vocal lessons, I will never be able to move in Mariah/Beyonce/Madonna/Rihanna's circles.


People are always going on about Talent vs. Skill. I think that's the wrong equation. A year ago, I wrote a formula for success, and I still stand by it.

Success = Talent + Effort + Luck

I'm substituting "skill" for effort, because really most of the stuff you work on are skills, to arrive at a new and improved formula:

Success = Talent + Skill + Luck

(The inclusion of luck might be a tad depressing, but think of it this way. If success is a constant, then the bigger the value of talent and skill, the less luck is involved.)

It's not a matter of talent vs skill. Since no writer is an island, it's all about talent plus skill!

I've seen arguments for and against whether you can teach writing. My position? You can teach skills, you can't teach talent. If your plot is derivative, you can be taught how to fix that (or so I pray-lol). If your characters are flat, there are lessons for that. There are even workshops out there that help you find and cultivate your voice.

The more talents on the "possibles" list you possess, the easier the writing road is likely to be for you (unless you fall into the trap of ignoring your weak areas). But if you really want to be a writer, you can learn all of those things. It will be a long and difficult road, but I believe it can be done.

The only that absolutely can't be taught is the writer's way of looking at the world. Believe me, I've tried time and again to explain the way I see things to people. Some don't undertand how 1 + 1 would make 11. Some can't can't see why it should. But if you're actively trying to be a writer (for any reason other than the million dollar checks and the fame - snicker) then you've probably already got a writer's mind.

Also check out this awesome vid by an awesome actor. There's a bit in there on talent and skill, but it's just generally motivational, especially for creatives.


Michael Offutt said...

I loved this post, especially all the really cool motivational posters that you found on the internets. hehehe. You have a talent for it!

Marsha Sigman said...

You hooked me with The Hoff, made me laugh out loud about you randomly falling over, and then clinched it with my long time love of the Fresh Prince.

Damn your awesomeness!!!lol

You (and Will Smith) are absolutely spot on with this subject and I couldn't agree more.

Glam,Glitz&Gut said...

Great post :)

Kelbian Noel said...

Very cool post! What a great inspirational kick! Thanks :)

Holly Thompson said...

success=effort+persistence+determination+improvement+sweat+drive+a love of words

E.J. Wesley said...

Wonderful post, Claire! Just simply awesome, and totally correct.


Sidrah said...

i Like! =)
very informative.

辣妹護理師俱樂部影片 said...