Tuesday, September 06, 2016

In the learning of an art, just how far will talent get you?

by Rick Blechta

Continuing on my topic two Tuesdays ago (How much do you need to know to successfully write a novel?), and building on what some of the other folks here on Type M have contributed in posts and comments since, I’d like to consider what the title of this week’s post suggests: if you have a talent for writing and storytelling, what else do you need to realize your ability?

Aline spoke about “nature and nurture” yesterday, and that’s a concept very important to this conversation. Take it from me as both a writer and a musician: you can have all the ability in the world (nature), but you must also study and work hard (nurture) to have any chance for success.

For those who may argue that there are any number of musicians or writers who were completely self-taught, “And doesn’t that blow a huge whole in your argument?” I would answer, “Sure they were self-taught, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have to study their craft diligently and work hard to get to any sort of level of excellence.”

As an example, no one says to themselves, “I think I can be a great guitarist!” then picks up an instrument, walks onto a stage and the world falls at their feet exclaiming on the sheer brilliance of their playing. Believe me, you have to spend many, many hours, slaving hard to master any instrument. Whether being guided by a teacher or picking things up on your own, you have to train muscles and memory to excel as a musician.

It’s much the same with writing. Whether you take creative writing lessons, work with a “master writer” or editor or simply take careful note of what other writers (good ones) do to tell their stories, time must be put in, analysis of the results made, and then multiple revisions undertaken to polish the prose so that the story not only comes out the way the author wants it to, but that it’s also intelligible to readers. That takes (learnable) skill and dedication.

So the bottom line here is, for any art form, the artist must be willing to put in the many hours needed to learn their craft. Can many of the fine points be taught to someone who has little or no natural talent? Sure. When I was teaching instrumental music in schools, I had whole classes filled with kids who had little natural ability to excel on an instrument. But if they would work hard, all of them could learn to play at an acceptable — and dare I say pleasant — level.

It works the same with writing.

Anyone who’s willing to learn the ins and outs of grammar, syntax, sentence construction, etc. can be taught to write workmanlike and understandable prose if they apply themselves. In other words, most people, given enough tutelage (taught by others or self-taught) can become competent in their field

But in the above two examples, can everyone become great musicians and writers? No. The innate talent also has to be present.

To answer this week’s question, if you have talent, you can be brought to a level that will allow you to realize that talent (and there are certainly different levels of talent), but anyone undertaking this must be willing to put in the hard hours studying whatever art form you undertake to learn. To my mind this means that there must be both nature and nurture to realize the potential that you carry within you.


Eileen Goudge said...

Well said, Rick. A point Stephen King makes in "On Writing." Practice can make a so-so writer better, but it takes innate talent to be great. You also need humility, because there's always going to be someone who's more talented than you (often with the attendant book sales).

Rick Blechta said...

I’m fond of saying, “We can’t all be Mozart, but we can improve at it.”

Donis Casey said...

I guess because everyone uses words they think they can write, but I had the same thought about learning music. You can think up the greatest tune (story) ever conceived, but it takes a lot of skill in your art to be able to pass it on as beautifully as it exists in your head.