No Talent for Writing

By Maeve Maddox

A reader writes:

I have all these great stories in my head, but no talent
what so ever … when it involves writing it down. Is there any advice you could give me or am I stuck?

Unless the questioner wants to become an oral storyteller and tell these great stories to a live audience, or record them as audiobooks, the answer has to be, “Yes, you’re stuck.”

However, I suspect that the person asking the question has made some attempt to put stories into writing, but is unhappy with the result.

Welcome to the tribe of fiction writers.

We all have great stories in our heads. Getting them out of our heads and onto paper is the hard part.

Talent is nice to have, but plenty of writers earn a living with a minimal amount of it.

Persistence is far more important to a writer than talent. A large proportion of the world’s population is made up of extremely talented writers who have been working on the same book, or thinking about working on a book, for years.

The word talent can mean simply “an inclination or a disposition” for something. Or it can mean “an innate aptitude.”

Anyone who has the inclination to write can do it. Writing is a craft. Like any craft, it can be learned, and it must be practiced.

Not everyone has the aptitude to produce a novel like Pillars of the Earth, War and Peace, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, but anyone who shows up at the computer every day will produce something. It’s in the rewriting that you’ll discover the extent of your talent.

The best advice I can offer to the questioner is, “Start writing.”

Pretend that one of the story ideas in your head is a movie that you’d like to tell a friend about. Pretend you’re writing a letter to that friend and then, start writing.

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20 Responses to “No Talent for Writing”

  • Spirit

    Such a good article and so true! People often tell me I have ‘talent’ but the truth of the matter is I’m just ‘there.’ Looking back over all my writing from back when I first started till now I can see where the practice really came into play and even now- as woman who spends every night clacking away at the keyboard I can see where I have room to improve.

    It’s all persistence and heart. Talent is just one of the goals we aim for along the journey as a storyteller, not one of the bricks we require to take that first step.

    Just go for it!

  • ana

    wow! great advise! i’ll start mine now…tnx!

  • Phil Dragonetti

    The way I see it, some writers, and music composers for that matter, are frustrated because they are not able to write good material extemporaneously. Both script writers and music writers are really composers. Although extemporaneous talent is nice to have it is not necessary for good composition. These frustrated composers should realize that the most important talent is that of discernment—the ability to be able to evaluate what is good and what is not.
    Why do I say this?—because discernment is what makes a composer go back and correct his work—and re-correct his work—until he is satisfied with it. And if he has a talent for discernment—he will eventually converge on “good” composition.

    It is legendary that writers spend an entire day on a single page—getting it right. To think one can extemporaneously write a good composition without a large amount of correction is folly.

    Sure, Mozart was able to write down his works correctly the first time. But that is super-natural. Beethoven had to write and re-write his compositions. Brahms threw out one-third of his compositions. I heard a rendition of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in a version that was not his his final. It really lacked the power of what we know of as his 5th Symphony.

    Therefore—do not be discouraged by your first draft. Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky were not discouraged. They just modified, and modified and modified.

    Phil

    PS: I am a male—so I always refer to the 3rd person as “he” or “him”—and avoid this “he or she” nonsense. If you are a female–use “she” and “her”—and it will be understood by the intelligent reader to also include “he” and “him”, as appropriate.

  • KS Chen

    Yes, you are right! We should start writing instead of just waiting. When i’m new in blogosphere, i will always worry about my writing. Thanks for sharing!

  • Vic

    To quote the great Woody Allen: Eighty percent of success is just showing up.

    Anybody can write, but not everybody can decipher what has been poorly written. Still, I wouldn’t let this dissuade you because it is possible for the value of your writing to be inherent in the exercise and not necessarily the final product.

    Write like the wind!

  • Mikes

    I think that in a lot of cases people aren’t good writers, but great re-writers.

  • Peach

    Maybe you should team up with someone like me – an excellent writer who was in the john when they were handing out creativity.

  • E

    I have the opposite problem: I want to write stories, I enjoy it when I do, and I am usually happy with how they turn out, but my ideas are so few and far between that I hardly ever get anything written.

  • Deb Kincaid

    This is excellent advice. Don’t worry about sentence structure, logical order, or even fulfilling the needs of all the senses (for lack of a better term). All that can be added later. I write in layers. The black-and-white skeletal version first, then I go back to add sensory details, and deepen my characterization, etc. I simply cannot do all the things all at the same time; I’m a linear thinker, I guess. Cannot multitask. Maybe this person is the same way. Plus, writing is hard work. If a person doesn’t want to do the work, then…well, that’s a different problem.

  • T.Vilaça

    Really great advice!

    Have you guys considered the ‘form X content’ balance?
    For instance, there are some authors I love to read because of the story they tell, regardless the style they use – the sequence of events is so thrilling that you can’t just go to bed before unreavel what’s next. On the other hand, there are some writters whose talent with words is so sharp that the interesting thing about their piece of writting is the writting itself! Whatever subject they choose it’s a pleasure to read. Why? If I knew…

    Of course the best case scenario it’s when they have BOTH talents:
    Interesting chain of events to tell AND style. I’ll cite some latin authors whose work is familiar to me (and who had their work translated to several languages): José Saramago, Machado de Assis, Guimarães Rosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
    James Joyce would be a very particular example. Depends on the reader’s culture, in fact.

    For me, the main question is(as a reader and a ‘writter wannabe’) :
    What makes you turn to the next page instead of going to bed?
    The story itself; the way it’s written, or both?

  • P.A. Hosler

    This is great advice and it is the exact problem I am trying to overcome. There is one other part to this of course, and that is READ, READ, READ. Read everything you can get your hands on. Reading is a great way to learn how to tell a story, how to pace a story, and best of all reading stimulates your imagination. Turn off that television and open a book, or point your browser to one of the many free websites that host your favorite genre. Most of all approach writing with a positive attitude and a sense of joy, leave that sense of dread and drudgery behind.

  • Lauren

    *sigh* I have the opposite problem. I can write, I’ll boldy say, but I usually can’t think of a topic.

    A new idea for a post, heh heh? 🙂

  • Deborah H

    Let me offer writing encouragement by way of my granddaughter Emma, who writes poetry, short stories, and love notes without fear, and with great joy:

    Der Gramo
    I wot to gif you a presis beos I love you.
    Love Emma.

    She gave me a chocolate, saved from her little box of Valentine chocolates. She wrote her note on an index card, enclosed it in a pretty envelope, which she decorated with an eye (for “I’), a heart (for “love’) and the letter U (for “you”).

    Write without fear, with great joy, and with love. Draw hearts if you need to. (Worry about the spelling, grammar, and punctuation later.)

  • DRF

    You forgot something. “Start writing” is good, but for this person, who seems to have already attempted it, “Get a partner” is better.

    I’ve written stories alone and I’ve written them with friends. Unlike our letter-writer here, I don’t have too much trouble organizing my ideas and setting them to words, but even so, other contributors can be great catalysts!

    You’ll have to share the credit (and any money you might happen to make) and you’ll have to deal with other people’s wills and desires, but it sounds like it could be a helpful thing to try.

  • Rita

    Hi, I’m the one who asked the question originally. My problem is not organizing I have no problem doing it. My problem is actually writing it down. It’s just not coming out right. Here is an example.

    “For the whole next week Rivka was too busy with getting ready for the holiday to continue with her mission, but it was never far from her mind. Every thought she had was about items on the list and how to make them public knowledge. Even back when she was a kid people did not believe half of those things were set up by Efraim, now they will dismiss them as figments of her imagination. So, Rivka needed a different angle. She needed people to listen to her and to believe what she was saying. There are only two ways to accomplish this. The first way is to marry an important talmud chachum (a promising rabbinical student) which is an impossibility for someone like her and the second way is to have a real job. Not something that is associated with religion or education, but something else, some kind of other job. People with real jobs were always treated with respect. They were always invited to the best events and they were given priority with food served at the table or the selection of the hotel rooms. Even at the store, people with real jobs were given priority by the store owners. “

  • DRF

    Then I had it backwards. Your situation could still be improved by taking a partner, but you would be the catalyst of the pair, providing the ideas and organization, rather than the person providing the smoothness and word-by-word of it. Somewhere out there is some sluggish wordsmith who would be glad to have you and Rivka cattle-prodding him or her into creative productivity.

    Your prose does look a little disorganized, actually, but it isn’t that bad, and a few more years of practice would take away a lot of its awkwardness, but if you want a project done soon, a collaboration could do it.

    If you want to try it out, just hop into any fiction forum and say you want to play a group story game. Propose any starting scenario and see who picks it up. If the game has more than a few players, you’ll be able to see which people’s styles and attitudes mesh best with your own.

  • mailav

    thanks for the information,very useful

  • vinay

    Great advice! i’ll also going to start mine, the qoute about persistence is excellent.

  • candybabz

    their is difference between loving you and being in love with you

  • Kyla

    People have such difficulty with the term “talent” anymore! I don’t believe writing is a talent. Writing isn’t a skill so you cannot have a talent for it. Writing does TAKE skills, and thus you may have a talent for those certain skills.

    I also believe every person on this planet has talent for at least one of the skills used in writing. I’ve started a list of the skills I believe a writer needs: passion (not a skill, exactly, but very important and some people seem to have a talent for passion), patience, perseverance, imagination, wordsmithery, psychology, empathy, marketing (you might not be selling a product, but you are selling belief. If the reader doesn’t believe what you say, they aren’t going to read it. For that, you must sell it), researching, technique (tone, verb usage, adjectives, etc.), and grammar.

    You can have talent for those skills, but you also must learn how to use them through practice and research. I think of natural talent like dirt you wish to grow a garden in. If you have a natural talent, you have great dirt to grow that particular skill in, with plenty of nutrients, air, and water retension to help it grow. If you don’t have good soil forthat skill, you can still grow a plant there, it just won’t be as healthy or as fertile as somebody who was born with good soil or natural talent.

    Does any of that make sense?

    Anyway, that’s my opinion about talent. Have a nice day and thanks for the encouraging article!

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