Thursday, August 25, 2016

Talent—Innate or Learned?

In his Tuesday entry, below, Rick pondered the question of how much one actually needs to know in order to successfully write a novel. He concludes that howsoever much one studies the craft, a basic talent for storytelling has to be present in order to begin a novel.

I, Donis, find this a fascinating concept. I do believe that one can learn the basic precepts of writing and with practice become very competent at it, even successful. But it does seem to me that some people just have it—the natural ability to craft a tale that rises above the rest. A few years ago, I wrote an entry about talent on this site that addressed this very concept, which I reproduce below with a few modifications:

Do you believe in predestination? Are we born to write, to act, to paint, to be mommies or accountants? Or is it Karma? Is this our reward, our fulfillment? Perhaps our punishment. In his wonderful little book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says that basically every human being is born with God-given, unique talents, and if you don’t use them, then you are a wastrel and an ingrate. (I paraphrase.)

Therefore, if you are driven to write (paint/parent/account), you must write, or fly in the very face of God.

How’s that for motivation?

Like most authors I know, I began writing when I was a child. In fact, I can’t remember when I didn’t write little stories. The earliest piece I remember clearly was called “The Black Cat”. The protagonist was a little girl who turned into a cat every night. I don’t remember what she did. I don’t think she used her powers to save kittens from storm drains, or any other catly heroics. I only remember her drinking cream from a saucer on the floor. Apparently she didn’t retain her human moral values when she transformed.

I loved to make up stories mostly because I loved to read stories. When I was a girl, the world in fiction was as real to me as my actual life, if not more so. Before I could read, I adored being read to - and here’s the key – I was read to, continually. I was given picture books when I was more interested in chewing on them than looking at them. I therefore learned to read very early, and consequently began writing very early. Bless you, Mama and Daddy. You gave me a gift that influenced and enriched my entire life.

Now, being an avid reader doesn’t necessarily make one want to be a writer, but I think it is a prerequisite. I do think a healthy self-regard is extremely helpful. Listen, learn, be guided, and practice, and never think you can’t improve, but never let anybody write your book for you, either. There is something each of us has to say or do that nobody else in the long history of this wide world can say or do, and if you don’t give it a try, you deprive the rest of us of your singular talent.

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