Talent vs. Craft

Talent is a dirty word.

It makes people who might be quite good at writing shy away from it, because they feel they don’t have enough.  It makes others, whose writing needs help, become complacent and lazy, because they feel they have plenty, and that’s all they need.

Really, what is talent?  It’s the innate affinity one might have for a certain activity.  In writers, it’s an innate affinity for words or for story.  It can’t be taught; if you don’t have it, you never will. 

But it’s such a nebulous thing.  It can’t be measured.  How do you know if you have it?

You don’t.  Stephen King defines talent as “eventual success.”  That’s BS.  Plenty of talented writers never become successful, and I can name a dozen writers, who have no more talent at writing than the eggplant sitting on my kitchen counter, who’ve become wildly successful, largely because of good marketing and enough knowledge of the craft of writing to get by. 

But writers who cling to the idea of talent often neglect the idea that craft is important, too.  You know, craft.  The rules.  The work of writing.

Writing well is not easy.  It might come more easily for some than for others, but that’s not really a good measure of talent, either; some extremely talented writers struggle with things like spelling and grammar, and so producing polished work is difficult.  Writing well, writing successfully, no matter how talented you are, takes work, practice and dedication.  I have very little patience for anyone who says they have a passion for writing, but who say they can’t find time to work at it.

If you want to be successful, you have to take the time to work at your craft.  You have to work at improving your grasp of the basics of storytelling: plot, character, dialogue, setting, voice, etc.  It takes discipline; it takes practice.  It takes work.  Plain and simple.  There’s no getting around it.  A talented woodworker cannot expect to make beautiful furniture, for instance, without learning how to use his tools, and use them well.  Neither can a writer make beautiful stories without learning how to use the tools of the craft.

If you have the passion for writing, you can make time for this in your life.  It might take some sacrifice; you might have to forgo watching your favorite TV show, or playing softball on the weekends.  You might have to give up the Friday night out at the movies, and sit at home instead with pen in hand or fingers on keyboard, working at improving your writing skills.  But if you want to be successful, you can do this, because it’s extremely unlikely that you can be successful on talent alone.

A writer may not know if he/she has talent, but craft is something that can be learned.  Learn your craft, then, and don’t worry about the talent.


9 Responses to “Talent vs. Craft”

  1. 1 chughes April 26, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    i have always struggled with talent/craft as i’m not sure i possess either. But i write everyday.

    i don’t think people realize that writing is work- every type of writing, choosing words, arranging them just so.

    Craft is essential to writing well but talent is what creates great writers.

    Enjoyed your writing.

  2. 2 pyrogyne April 26, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks, Christine, and welcome.

    Yes, I agree that talent is what creates great writers; however, craft alone may be enough to create a commercially successful one. I certainly don’t have enough objectivity to judge whether or not I have the talent to become a great writer; I think that most writers don’t have that kind of clear-sighted view of their own work. Worrying about whether or not I have talent is counter-productive; instead, I do my best to be a skillful one.


  3. 3 David Claud April 26, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I agree with Jerry Cleaver (Immediate Fiction / The Writer’s Loft): great writing will never save a bad story, bad writing will never keep a great story from being told. I interpret this to mean that the ability to craft a good story trumps talent all the time.

  4. 4 prospectus April 27, 2007 at 8:10 am

    Hi David, I’d agree with the first part of that, but not the second. If the writing is bad enough, it can leave me not caring about the story, because there are just so many obstacles to negotiate before I even know what the story is. Bad writing can sabotage a good story and prevent it from being told.

  5. 5 writerchick April 27, 2007 at 8:45 am

    You’re right, you really can’t cheat the writing. It may seem that some do and get away with it – but they don’t.

    My favorite quote about writers is: A writer writes. It’s clean, simple and true. A perfect sentence.

    Good post.

  6. 6 krkbaker May 29, 2007 at 8:36 am

    First let me say, this was a fabulous post. I really relate to it in so many ways. I began my blog here on WordPress for one reason, and that was to get better at being a writer. I purposely put myself out there to get constructive feedback, to try to get better at my craft. I often force myself to write things that are what I call ‘out of my comfort zone’-which was the title of the blog I used to have on Livejournal. It’s helped a bit. But I just realized the other day that in order to be a successful writer, you have to treat it like a full time job. Just as I go into work at my ‘real’ job, I have to clock in as a writer also. Thanks for posting this. We all need reminders. kim

  7. 7 David King July 23, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Hmm, I found you through Chughes’ page, and already like what you have to say.
    I couldn’t agree more, and I’m glad someone can say it so clearly. I’ve known one-too-many of my classmates who expected great writing to come to them just from putting a pen to a page, and far-too-many hardworking souls who could be fantastic, but are too afraid of their lack of talent to work for it.
    Would that people could understand that art is made through blood and salt water, not genius.
    I think I’ll take a minute, and poke around your fiction.

  8. 8 Idetrorce December 15, 2007 at 11:26 am

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  9. 9 Exacelexuacle January 23, 2008 at 11:53 am

    Hi there,
    I’m new! Any news?


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