Strengths and Weaknesses

A couple of days ago I was talking with a friend about what makes a great writer. You know, if there’s a secret ingredient that helped James Joyce or Fitzgerald write they way they did.

I honestly don’t believe in talent, in some God-given gift, or stuff like that. I, in fact, believe that talent is something people have invented. It’s just a lazy way of thinking.

You tell someone, “You’re talented.” And you think that he’s so good at what he does just because he was born that way. There’s nothing you can do about it, nothing that other person did to acquire this “talent.”

So I told my friend  that great writers don’t stress too much about what they can’t do. They know what they’re good at and they stick to that. In a way, it might even seem like being lazy, but if you don’t have a certain skill to writing dialogue (which is not as much related to writing itself, but more to the way you observe the way people interact), odds are that  you’ll never be able to write brilliant dialogue.

Let me give you an example. Cormac McCarthy. Stylistically speaking, comparing him to, let’s say G.G. Marquez, it’s like comparing a five year old’s finger paintings with a Degas. But what McCarthy excels at, at least in my opinion, is dialogue. And he’s usually fantastic at exploiting this.

I mean, when you see the movie adaptation use the same lines, the same dialogue as the novel, that’s when you know you’ve got a master of dialogue.

I guess that this is where experience really makes the difference. I’d like to ask any writer who’s reading this to think of one scene or paragraph they really struggled with. And try to figure out why did they struggle with it. I’d bet that it was because they were trying to do something they couldn’t.

Let’s just overly simplify fiction writing and say that all fiction tries to convey a message. Well, the message’s got to reach the reader in a certain way. The way you choose to transmit your message makes the difference.

There’s this really great short story by Kurt Vonnegut, “Humbugs.” It’s the story of two painters, one who painted realistic landscapes and sold them to tourists and another one who received a lot of praise from critics for his abstract art. What I liked most about the story is that neither one of them could paint in the style of the other.

That’s where most people get it wrong. They think that style is a choice. It’s rarely the case. But like my previous example, I think it’s quite difficult to pick a winner between McCarthy and G.G. Marquez. They’re both masters at their craft, but in their own different way. They both wrote fantastic novels, and they both exploited their strengths in a great way.

If you struggle with writing description, by all means, don’t write page long descriptions. If you struggle with dialogue, make it so that there’s very little dialogue in your story. The alternative is much, much worse.

The key is figuring out what you’re good at.

I can’t think of a writer who was/is brilliant at every aspect of writing. There are only writers who are mediocre at all aspects of writing.

I think that I’m not very good at descriptive writing — which is something that for whatever reason people keep praising in my stories. Also, I understand why and I don’t try to be good at it. Because English is not my native language, my command of the language is not as developed as that of a native speaker. Also, I don’t think I can write powerful dialogue.

Like I said, the idea is to figure out what you’re good at and exploit it to the maximum.

If you’ve read Jazz, you might remember the scene in the opening chapter when the main character, Chris Sommers, tells Amber that he’s yet to find his voice. He says he’s just writing like a bunch of other people.

Finding your voice is a tricky thing indeed, because you have to know for sure what you’re good at. And I believe that this has to come from the inside more than the outside. No matter who tells you that you write great dialogue, you also have to believe wholeheartedly in your ability to write brilliant dialogue.

The more I think about it, the more I try to analyze the work of great writers, the more “ingredients” I find.

Like the fact that great writers usually don’t give a damn about the usual conventions of fiction writing. They break the rules, because that’s how they feel that story should be written.

Writing is like playing an instrument by ear. You don’t know why it sounds good, you don’t know how you’re capable of making it sound good, you just do.

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120 thoughts on “Strengths and Weaknesses

  1. You are oh, so right about "talent." To date there has not been any scientific evidence for the existance of such a thing. Basically I think it is not just sloppy thinking but ego protection that is behind the longevity of the concept. If the guy who beats your brains out on the tennis court does so because he was given more "talent" (however this is done) then you don't have to own up to the facts that he trained harder in preparation or worked harder during the match.

    Regarding "They think that style is a choice. It’s rarely the case." As an editor, my primary concern is to make sure that the author's voice comes through, that is that anyone who knows the author would hear his/her voice while reading the book. My inspiration was David Brinkley's book "Washington Goes to War." I was very familiar with Mr. Brinkley's voice as he was a national news broadcaster and when I read his work, the cadence of his speech came through loud and clear. I do not think anyone can change their voice (save some impressionists), so their style is fairly "preloaded" also. This is why I am always impressed when authors can make characters of the other gender come alive.

    Keep up the good work!

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    • I loathe to be the voice of dissension, but I do not believe your opening assertion is supported by your closing sentence.

      Talent is a special natural ability or aptitude. Certainly there is an element of 'talent' in anything in which someone demonstrates success. I will capitulate to the idea that 'talent' means nothing without practice, training, and skill development, but no amount of dedication to a craft will overcome the lack of that intangible capability or aptitude.

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  2. great points Cristian. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful insight. I could certainly learn a few things from you.

    I do go through phases when I write. Some times thoughts flow beautifully and seamlessly, on other occasions I'm shocked at what I write.

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  3. I'm unaware of what your native tongue is but you seem to be doing quite fine where English is concerned, better than some of the natives I find myself surrounded by ;-)

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  4. at the risk of sounding like a masochist,

    failure feels like a gifted harness to throw off our backs

    in that maybe it provokes determined run off

    and hopefully at some point,

    our water sees with its own zuni fetish eyes

    which seems to speak to what you say here about that elusive voice we all harbor.

    anything else is a dam.

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    • but i disagree on the talent thing.

      some people are simply more talented than other people whether it be in

      writing, checkers, or being the head don of a mafia.

      it's a hard lesson to learn, but we all can't be geniuses or great mothers.

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      • Steve, I agree with you. Some of us are born with innate intellect or abilities that others could never succeed at, regardless of equal or excessive effort.

        AND, i agree with Cristian that style is not chosen…again, our brain produces what talent it has been bestowed by genetics, Providence, or the cosmos.

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  5. This is a really great post and very true actually. I have yet to figure out what the hell I'm good at, haha. But my aim is to find out and hopefully become better at writing.

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  6. Yes, I agree. I think there is too much time wasted on 'getting the right formula', 'finding the right market' and such. The great anything is not in the fat middle of the bell curve but at either extreme. By definition the extraordinary stands out because it is not ordinary in some way or another, and "extraordinary" is very difficult to learn!

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  7. Well I don,t know if I can agree with you, about having a talent. There are a few writers, writing , so good..that too me it looks impossible to learn that way of writing. To me it seems they were made this way and born to do what they are doing. So there are some singers, some musicians, some painters, some writers, etc, who are just the best. Of course they also have to work hard to reach there goals. But to me it seems that they have a talent, that for a normal being is impossible to reach. I don,t know if you are acquainted with the writer Philippe Claudel , for me he is such a writer, writing so good, he has a way to build wonderful sentences, so wonderful that it has to be implanted in his brain somewhere, to make his stories this way.That does not mean that anybody else has to give up, on the contrary it should be a stimulans for all of us trying to be also very good in what we like to do that we love the most.

    I totally agree that we have to follow our own way of doing it and not trying to be a good copyist.

    That will never work.

    Your writing is a great stimulans for me, so thank you for that!

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    • A great deal of what makes writing can't be taught or learned. It's more about experience, about how life changes us, the way we perceive everything around us. Also, writing has a lot to do with personality, hence the different "styles" and so on.

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  8. Interesting post, but I've got to challenge you on your ideas about talent. ("I honestly don’t believe in talent, in some God-given gift, or stuff like that.")

    I'd agree that talent doesn't necessarily have much to do with success, or that talent isn't even a prerequisite for success. But talent IS very likely what leads someone to an occupation or avocation. Or, conversely, you're not likely to try your hand at something you find terribly uninteresting. At least, not for very long. Most people would consider that going against the grain.

    If you're looking for definitive examples of talent, try looking in places with extreme manifestations of talent. If you've never known a genius, for instance, you're missing out on a great experience in life. It's shocking when confronted with a genius level "talent" in any discipline.

    My background is musical. I trained at two of the finest conservatories in the world, and most people considered me "talented." My "gift" was more or less as you describe it here: I took what I could do, and did it all the time. Or, "take you got and make it work."

    There were always people better than me, and there were people not quite as good. But, in those times when I met a prodigy, it was a completely different ball game.

    I once sat outside a custodian's closet (one with a drain on the floor, cleaning supplies, mop bucket, etc.) and listened to a prodigy cellist learn a recital program, in nearly "real time." (Meaning, the amount of time it takes to play through the program once.) It was "nearly" real time, b/c it was, in fact, LESS time than it takes to play through the entire program. He practiced the bits he needed, and nothing else. When he finished, he was playing at a level I never achieved in my entire career, which was reasonably distinguished. When he came out of that closet, he was playing at a level that wins Grammys.

    Why was he practicing in the custodian's closet? Because there were no practice rooms available. He'd procrastinated learning his recital program which was to happen less than an hour later. The kid played a lot of hacky sack that summer. He'd never practiced a note the entire summer before that single practice session.

    Another genius I've known earned his PhD in Mathematics and DMA (Doctorate of Musical Arts) from IU by the time he was 16. Most people agree he's "talented" also.

    I believe that writing is similar to music. Musicians strive to play every note in tune, with good rhythm, while turning a beautiful phrase, etc.. if someone is too handicapped, it'll be tough to forge much of a career. It's hard to listen to someone play scratchy and out of tune for very long, for instance. Now, that person might find a musical career where "scratchy and out of tune" is less "offensive" and therefore earn a living. Their chances are remote, but it's possible. "Talent" would help. ;)

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    • That's why I hate Arthur Rimbaud so much. I mean, to be 16 and to write some of the best poetry ever written… some might say it's something he was born with. But you only need to read a simple bio of his and see the type of life he had during those years. A terrible fate.

      I'm sure that shaped him into the artist he was.

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  9. I'm glad you wrote this! A lot of times when I write, I struggle with certain things like being more descriptive and, oddly enough, making it obvious whether my character is a boy or girl (in my stories people always think they're the opposite gender). But I guess it is better to just play on your strengths and not worry too much about what other people want you to do.

    I have to disagree about what you said about talent. I do think some people are born with a certain edge over others. For instance, some people are already great singer without having to take classes or anything. It doesn't mean the someone else can't be a great singer too, they'll just have to work harder to get to that point.

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  10. I don't want to merely be a follower here, so that said, I enjoyed your essay. Thanks for the pep talk. It will resonate to many. It is fun to read your posts, they remind me of sitting on old wooden church pews as a child thinking I don't understand everything the preacher says, but boy does he sound good. Then my mind would drift to the exquisite stained glass windows with their colorful images and wonder how in the heck, someone in Sheffield, Alabama could know what Jesus looked like feeding his followers fish and loaves of bread. I'd leave refreshed and ready to start my day, Thank-you.

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  11. I so agree. Talent doesn't come over night. It comes from a deep desire to be better at whatever your now "given" talent is. So many people say I have a great talent in drawing…I tend to shrug it off. Because ANYONE who starts with their "talent" at the age of 4 would, I expect seem to have a great proficiency for doing whatever it is that would now be termed as a "talent". As is said, practice makes perfect. Not to say you shouldn't take pride in your accomplishments. Just saying that anyone who gives a concentrated effort in an area will most likely come out looking like someone with "talent".

    Writing with flare and with a deeper meaning is something that is hard to come across these days. Keep up the good work and follow your heart!

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  12. I really like your idea of concentrating on what I already, intuitively, know how to do and I like the idea that the great writers are rule-breakers – I've read that it's OK for them because they are great and when you get great you can break rules too – but they had to start somewhere.

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  13. Great piece! To me, talent is another word to describe the uniqueness of your soul. Man in a physical sense has since put "his" spin on the word talent, and its perception is now twisted as you explain above.

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  14. This post really spoke to me, thank you. Im not a native speaker of English either, am yet to find my voice, and most of the time Im indeed writing like others. But I think the more you write, the more you discover where your strengths/weaknesses lie, so I guess the key is to keep writing. And thank you for liking my post :) It means a lot.

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  15. I totally agree with you. Do what you do well and do it a lot. Work on what you struggle with and then blend the two so that the reader can't tell the difference.

    My strength is my creativity and adding unexpected twists in the story. My weakness is description and a general lack of experience using words in written form. I have been told that I write with confidence because I think the combination of the two. I know how I want the story to flow and I generally use more basic words because that is what makes me comfortable.

    Great question and thank you for being open to discussion.

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  16. I love this insight and advice on writing. Don't spend too much time on your weaknesses and utilize your strengths to your advantage. It goes along the lines of: don't try to mimic someone else's style. Their style is theirs. Not yours. It's their voice, not yours. And then you're pandering to their strengths and weaknesses instead of your own, and that doesn't do anybody any good, least of all yourself.

    I needed to read this today. Thanks. :)

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  17. Some provoking ideas here! However, you start by not believing in talent and then talk about the particular talents of particular writers. Perhaps we should refer to gifts, agreeing that everyone is "gifted" in some way or other, leaving it to readers to choose what they like? However, I think it's often a good idea for writers to challenge themselves by trying to write in a way they consider less natural to their particular gifts or skills. Consider the case of Flaubert, who was not a fan of social realism but somehow ended up writing Madame Bovary. Of course such experiments may lead to embarrassing failures…It will be interesting to see how JK Rowling's attempt at an adult novel turns out!

    The mystery is why some works succeed, how some writers get perceived as "above the rest" in terms of attention, sales or other factors that are unimportant in some ways, but may decide whether an individual writer may be able to continue practising his or her art.

    Sometimes it's easy, sometimes hard to find one's voice and produce a satisfying piece of writing. Unfortunately, I think hard work and application may be the decisive factor in most cases, but what allows a writer to achieve real distinction is a complex matter – are they voicing something of immediate interest to their readers? Has their life circumstances given them a passion that strikes a chord with those around them? Can they fit into the culture that surrounds them, or challenge it in a way that elicits a welcoming response? I could go on but I may just be rambling, so will close by hoping you continue to challenge yourself and your readers with the fearless dedication you have shown so far.

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    • The writer's voice has a lot to do with personality. That's why you might be very fond of long, detailed descriptions, while I'm not.

      The way we perceive the world around us affects our writing in so many ways, from genre to tone, pace, style, etc.

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  18. Excellent post…I myself do not have a strong grasp of the dialogue aspect of stories, so like you said, most of what I write does not have conversations…most of it is descrptive. Thank you for yet another great post!

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  19. I believe in talent. It isn't enough, and this is where craft comes into play. I think voice is the talent, yes it has to be honed, developed, strengthened. But voice is where it starts. Everyone has their own. Whether or not people relate to it, want to hear it, read it, is where talent lies. My .02

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  20. This is great advice. I am an artist, write on a blog, do ebooks and maintain a website…use my own voice and simply have fun. I can relate to your thinking as in my art I tried abstract and just did not enjoy it and it showed. People thought it was earlier work. In writing I have never been good at dialogue. After reading your post I will stick to developing what I am good at and not struggle so much with what I probably wasn't born to do-and have a lot more fun in the process.

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  21. I completely agree with this post. The concept that someone is born talented is more or less a figment of the imagination. When people begin a craft rarely do they do it so well people are amazed by it. Instead, what is a given truth is that talent is nurtured over the course of trial and error. Experimentation and failure, which ultimately leads to a true voice. This is especially true of writers.

    I have been writing since I was six. But my style did not fully develop until i had experimented in a lot of different areas. The genres of fiction I write in consist mainly of horror, thriller, and dark fantasy (or mixture of all three). These are the areas I most know in fiction. The areas I connect with, that enthrall and inspire me. But the main point of that is, it took time to develop. A great example of how talent is nurtured over time , especially in literature is Jack London. It took him years of study, immitation, and experimentation to perfect his craft. And he did in fact write some very fantastic works of fiction.

    On another note, with regards to struggling with writing a passage, I have done that plenty a time. The reasons either being I could not focus on that particular section, or other ideas came to mind as I wrote. So I completely understand writing something that is out of one's element.

    I really enjoyed this post as it is great advice to not only writers, but to people in general.

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  22. I had to smile as I read your last sentence: "Writing is like playing an instrument by ear. You don’t know why it sounds good, you don’t know how you’re capable of making it sound good, you just do." I think most of us "play" life by ear, understanding what is good from somewhere within us. Isn't that a God-thing? Speaking as a counselor, I learned a long time ago that "great counselors are not made, they are born." There IS something to being (dare I say it?) supernaturally gifted. However, steady practice, commitment and patience are necessary to develop true greatness on either side of the spectrum. The same goes with writers. ( :

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  23. Maybe one reason readers love your descriptive writing is because you don't think you're good at it and therefore don't overdo it!

    Sometimes if you're good at something (or just enjoy it!) the temptation is to produce more than is really needed. And then the story can get drowned in too much purple prose.

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  24. Interesting timing in getting the email about your post. I just posted "Inadequacy" which is somewhat related as I whine about my own struggles to find a voice. Thanks for this…it is another instance of divine intervention in my day today.

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  25. Hmmmm, in some twisted way, I agree with you that know person is born with talent. Talent is developed from interest then practice followed by execution, which isn't always good. Every the BEST have bad days. Talent as I'd like to put it, skill/ability without training is undeveloped. An you're right when stating that good writers don't stress too much about what they can't do. Actually, the only stress good writers have is writers block. Good piece. Keep writing. :)

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  26. On the talent point – I am fairly sure that talent exists. Some people have a natural ability at some thing; it could be writing, making music, being kind, giving hospitality, the list is endless. Talent comes in many forms. Unfortunately too many of us are picky the talents we value, rating some of more worth than others.

    But talent without effort, development and nurturing is nothing of value. Who is interested in the wonderful voice that is silent? No one can hear the story that is told in your head. Generosity to ones self? It is only by sharing a talent that it can grow and develop into something interesting. A talent hoarded and kept to oneself is of no value, not even to the person within whom it resides.

    And then of course we have to recognise the talent that we have. So what if I can draw brilliantly? What I want to do is bake the world's best cakes. My life is nothing if I am not the top cake baker; any one can draw. Anyone can raise children, all the children around me are happy, but I will only find fulfilment if I am a top class hairdresser. Recognising your true talent and valuing it, is as important as it being recognised by others.

    Some people are great communicators of ideas, but does that mean that they are good story tellers? Is a good story teller, necessarily a good story writer? The two can be very different.

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  27. I enjoyed your view on this, mostly agree. It is the effort, not the gift, which makes a talent. I would however challenge you, or any other writer, to "fingerpaint" like Cormac. Describing his work as such does not do his work justice.

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    • I was comparing McCarthy with G.G. Marquez. And only from a stylistic point of view. As a stylist, there's no other writer like G.G. Marquez right now.

      I repeat, only stylistically speaking. This doesn't mean G.G. Marquez is a better writer than McCarthy – also, I'd never say about a writer being better than another one.

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  28. From what i've read and experienced, i started off using various styles, each differing from the other. I tried experimenting with a lot of stuff, such as there was a time when i could write dialogues that made a bit of sense and in a way suspense, but today i can't o that so easily. I believe that when descriptions are talkd about as a whole, there are a lot of variations., such as describing an over the top action scene or the nature or the facial expressions of a person or something else. It is tough to excel at all of these at the same time since each requires a different type of imagination and thinking process. And i agree with what you have said about breaking the rules. Sometimes convention and to an extent practicality do hinder the writing and thinking process of a writer, whose main aim is to think outside the box and at times over the top.

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  29. There s a heart behind every word,

    written in form of a verse,

    it sends across the poignant thought,

    with feelings and emotions immersed…

    If it touches a string of yours,

    a chord that beats as your pulse,

    it is surely a piece extraordinary,

    the writer then represents a perfect one…

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  30. I think it's unfair to discount talent and genius. I believe in talent, but I also believe in discipline. Some people are born with traits other people don't have. I can't sing, and no matter how many voice lessons I take, no matter how long I study the craft, I'll never sing like Mariah Carey, her airy high register, for instance. But I also believe that Mariah Carey wouldn't be able to make and sell good music if she didn't practice her craft, if she didn't put in hours at the studio. I think writing can be learned, and talent must be practiced. Without discipline talent gets you nowhere. Some people will never be good writers because they just don't have the talent, though some people who aren't very talented go on to write best sellers. People who are talented might believe they have a God-given gift because maybe they were performing or speaking and they sang a note and formed a sentence that was so brilliant even though they hadn't practiced it, something no one else could produce because it was singularly theirs. They didn't know how they did it. They just did. They have no other way to explain it. A learned craft after awhile can become a talent. If you develop a special skill that makes you different than others, such as writing dialogue, it becomes a talent. There's a show in the States called "America's Got Talent." People had talents I never will. Like train dogs to do amazing tricks or contort their bodies or have extraordinary muscle strength. I can't even train a dog to potty outside the house. Talent exists. You can have talent but you also have to earn it.

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  31. I've always read that writers should write what you know. personally I write more when I am inspired and have done a variety of writing styles, but I know there are some learned writing skills that I need to improve on. That's why creative writing prompts are so helpful.

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  32. This reminds me of some writing advice I read by Orson Scott Card. It boils down to focusing on telling a good story, without adding what you think are fancy flourishes and style. Just tell the story as best you can, and you're style will come out.

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  33. Loved your post! So true in some ways. People who have specialized in something are usually those who have started very young at something they were attracted to and practiced many years until their " raw " style became more refined and polished. But I'm thinking of all these over talented kids we get to see on the internet nowadays and are sheer geniuses at what they do without having to polish anything. To me, that is being born with talent. Your advice at writing the way you're best at is, precious advise, I enjoyed every bit of this article. Keep it up !

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  34. I started reading this post….I couldn’t stop. Very impressive and I agree with you "I honestly don’t believe in talent, in some God-given gift, or stuff like that. I, in fact, believe that talent is something people have invented.” Gift is something we discover and grow.

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  35. Hi Cristian – This may have been said (I didn't read all 50 replies!) but…

    In my experience great writers have either had trauma, or a life outside society, which has made them observe life rather than only take part in it. A little 'disjointed' from the world they don't take for granted and so can question and observe the 'rules'. It is this lateral perspective which makes them interesting as writers.

    Talent is a many threaded idea. One may have a propensity to excel at writing, but will still need to work and learn some basic rules – just as a sculptor needs to learn which tools will produce which effect.

    However, I think there's a massive element of luck too. If the Bronte sisters, or Proust, or maybe even Joyce had been born in 1980 – and written their works (okay, I know they wouldn't have written their respective masterpieces because the social context wouldn't 'prompt the work' but go with it for a minute) then would anyone care?

    It isn't enough to have 'talent', or talent and hard work, if your talent is 'out of time'. In these vapid days of pickled sharks even Michael-angelo's David might be utterly ignored.

    But I agree with other comments, a certain something beyond hard work makes a writer. Perhaps having 'the right mindset for the zeitgeist' is a large ingredient – and perhaps this is what we call talent?

    ROS

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  36. "Like the fact that great writers usually don’t give a damn about the usual conventions of fiction writing. They break the rules, because that’s how they feel that story should be written.

    Writing is like playing an instrument by ear. You don’t know why it sounds good, you don’t know how you’re capable of making it sound good, you just do."

    Awesome way of putting this! I am writing a story right now that plays around with style, and I just decided that I didn't care anymore how everyone else wrote, I am going to write it how it is in my head. And I love the comparison to music. So apropos.

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  37. This is a great article, however, equating style of McCarthy to G.G Marquez as being a five year old compared to a Degas… NO EFFING WAY!!! McCarthy is stylistically breathtaking. I've never read more evocative landscape descriptions. Yes, it's true, his dialogue is his strongest point, but G.G Marquez? A Degas to McCarthy's five-year old finger paintings? I say "pfff!" to that.

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  38. I agree. My father is a carpenter, and as much as I appreciate his skills and tried to emulate them, my woodworking remains clunky and awkward, whereas he can "see" things in the wood that I may not. With limited schooling, he has an aptitude for mathematics, also, which aids his work. Writing? He struggles to complete a simple letter.

    On the other hand, if I dedicated myself to carpentry, perhaps I, too, could coax beauty out of lumber.

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  39. I really enjoyed reading this post. As a writer, it made me think about different ways of writing, but at the end we do always stick with what we're good at.

    I downloaded your book onto my kindle tonight. I can't wait to read it. :)

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  40. My son wrote his dissertation in part about Walter Benjamin and Goethe, and I think he even wove in a reference to McCarthy, although I'm not sure it made it to the final proof. There are writers and then there are writers. I am not in that category for sure. You always provide such thought provoking and well written posts. Thank you.

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  41. I did a course as part of my degree last year on comparative world literature. All of the books were translations and it was really interesting to note the variations on the authorial voice when some people in the class had a different translation of the novel. Flaubert, Tolstoy, Irmgard Keun, and Cervantes all had slight nuances of culture, irony, humour and voice that could be subtly changed by different interpreters.

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  42. Your post has given me a reminder to be true to my own writing voice. I think, finding your voice is critical. Our old piano has a deep, rich, full voice. It was made in the days when detail and quality were not spared. This beautiful instrument can never sound like my daughter's keyboard. They both have their place and function. I believe this is true for author's too.

    ~ Wendy

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  43. Thank you for this! It is a great post because it is true. I find myself writing a lot of depressing, dark, sadistic poems and stories, but from what people tell me, they are great and realistic. I try to write with a brighter perspective and about cheery things and moments, but I just can't. I have to stick to the suicides, the violence, the heartaches and affairs.

    Keep up the good work!

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  44. I think people are very different as each one, so we have different eyes, houses, memories.. So, maybe it's just some people can see that and others can't see that so others think those people are talented. I think everyone has a talent. :)

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  45. Interesting points in that reply.

    Your analogy of tennis raises a point – yes, someone who has trained harder will beat you but someone who was born with the right physique for tennis will beat him – so what you are born with really does matter. That's why long distance runners are wiry people and sprinters are chunky. They have the right DNA.

    I wouldn't stretch that too far but…when I read a great piece of fiction I feel as if I'm actually reading their DNA. Hemingway was a man of action, a larger than life character – his DNA is right through his books like a seam of copper.

    From my experience of writing (very limited)if I get into my 'DNA Groove' then the writing flys and some people who have read pieces have said 'that is so you'. I'm pretty sure I could fake other styles much the way an impressionist does famous voices, but it would only ever be that – a fake voice.

    Jim

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  46. Absolutely agree with you – talent is only of use if it's not squandered. You can be (potentially) the greatest writer/ painter/ sprinter/ etc in the world but if all you do is talk about it, or show off now and again, it's a dead-end. It has to be worked, honed and produced to be of any value.

    'To do is to be' Homer Simpson

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  47. I quite can not agree to you on this. I believe in talent. Some people, no matter how much they try can not paint good, but they can sing well whereas others can not. There is something to some extent in each one of us what we call as god gifted. But it's just not this gift, which makes it a talent, constant practice towards perfection of it do creates a talent out of it. But if just don't have it in you, you can hardly do anything about it. What do you say…

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  48. I totally agree with you on this one. I feel like writing is like socializing or weight lifting, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

    That said, it feels great when someone says you have talent… (using today's jargon) kinda separates you from the rest of humanity and makes you feel special

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  49. I think talent is a facility for learning, not a innate skill. Still, at some point, it's just a matter of semantics. I think it's hard for a writer (at least me) to know what they're good at. It's easier for others, with an outside perspective, to tell them what they're best at.

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  50. You certainly make some interesting points! I do believe talent is real, but hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. This is why I slightly disagree with your post… You say that talent probably doesn't exist, but writers should probably stick with what they are good at. What made them good at that thing in the first place? Having roadblocks in your way in terms of, say, dialogue writing for example, is the opposite condition of "having a knack for something," or in other words, talent. If you can have things you "just aren't as good at naturally," then you can conversely have things you are "naturally good at." It doesn't mean hard work doesn't go into perfecting these skills, either.

    While it's true that most people use the word talent incorrectly, I still believe it exists. Saying that Talent doesn't exist, and then turning around to say that there are some things you just can't do well and you should stick with what you are good at is a bit of a contradiction.

    And, just as talent doesn't replace hard work, hard work can give you ability in something you think you have less talent in, such as writing dialogue. Practice makes perfect, and only focusing on what you are good at can make a writer stagnate.

    Interesting post!

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  51. Thanks for the comment on "rule-breaking." Just completing my first novel, I recognized that my style breaks some of the rules that others try to impose. Were I to have boxed myself into these 'others-imposed' regulations, I would have become frustrated very early on – because I wouldn't have been able to be true to myself or my characters. The most ridiculous of these 'rules' are highly based on marketing, not creativity – marketing that assumes an ignorant audience (which we all should find somewhat offensive, or at the very least have some level of suspicion). Thanks again, Cristian.

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  52. I disagree…There is plenty of scientific evidence that shows talent to be a combination of natural attributes, early experiences, and, yes, a lot of hard work…We develop the abilities that match our strengths (and de-emphasize our weaknesses)…It's the most sensible life-strategy…

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  53. I agree. As a visual artist I hear "You are so talented" As if my will had nothing to do with it. I have spent my whole life studying, learning and working my butt off to paint the way I do. 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.

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  54. Great article, as usual. I completely agree that every individual has their own style, and shouldn't try to "fake it till they make it." Honestly, the best example I can think of his how people compare two actors in the same roles. Take the Joker debate: who is better, Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger?

    I take the easy way out and say neither. They each brought something completely different yet equally memorable to. Not to mention The Joke is a character that can easily be played as one-dimensional, for cheap laughs, yet each actor put his own spin on it that resulted in two masterpieces.

    This leads to the only time in my life I will ever agree with George W. Bush: trust your gut.

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  55. I find it annoying when people say you've got talent and that they don't have any as if you should feel sorry for them. What they don't have is a value for art, and as such they don't practice it. Nobody is "born an artist", they work at it, because it has value to them.

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  56. I would agree that it can't be taught, not in any clean or clear-cut sense of the word, but I would strongly disagree that it can't be learned.

    I thought, as you suggested, of something I struggled with. Transitions. I sucked at them majorly. I hated them. I was never able to make one scene flow into another, and I was never sure where or how to just cut (instead of flow). You can't just ignore transitions in writing, so I had to get better at them or– or just suck.

    So I studied transitions in my favorite works, I read and re-read and dissected them, I examined the mechanics of them, paragraph to paragraph, I learned how they worked. Then I began to apply them, painstakingly and entirely un-fluidly at first, but with practice, it became increasingly natural. Now I don't think about transition any more than I think about where to place a period. (Which is to say, only when I'm being very, very careful.)

    I have also guided a couple of writers to overcoming their own weaknesses in writing– one, in truth, to whom no aspect of writing seemed natural, but who wanted very much to be good at it. She's getting constantly better, as I guide (not teach) her through improving dialogue, character, description, plot, prose… if it can't be learned, why do the exercises I make up and suggest help her get better?

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  57. So many voices, so many responses, it is a little overwhelming to read, like when you walk into a busy bustling train station. Sometimes when someone writes at their purest the voice comes from somewhere beyond, possibly within, and bubbles through unfettered and unedited.

    Very thought provoking. Thank you

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  58. Yes, it is a thought provoking post I agree, unsure about the talent-thing, because some people definitely have a more natural ability in doing some things than others, although even if you have the talent, it doesn't stop there, you have to work at it! Always. I also really liked your example of the two painters – both masters!

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  59. I think there's certainly an ability: I find it really, really easy to write a text while other people struggle but can do anything chemistry related in seconds whilte it takes me ages.

    Talent is nothing without hard work, dedication and passion.

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  60. Great post and I love the depth of the comments thread. I do agree with you that it's not helpful to force yourself to do what you're not good at but rather find where you excel and then train that gift with commitment. I'm learning where my strengths are but haven't given up on my weaknesses yet. A work in progress…

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  61. "But talent without effort, development and nurturing is nothing of value. Who is interested in the wonderful voice that is silent? No one can hear the story that is told in your head. Generosity to ones self? It is only by sharing a talent that it can grow and develop into something interesting. A talent hoarded and kept to oneself is of no value, not even to the person within whom it resides." ~ Tiggy Greenwood

    I have read many comments in this string and this is the best paragraph yet. It sums it up neatly. I can't add anything more to it than thank you for sharing. ~ Ayanna Nahmias

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  62. I couldn't agree more! My life has been absolutely extraordinary, equally meteoric and abysmally tragic. But, if not for these high and low experiences which started in my childhood and continued until the birth of my son when I was diagnosed as Bipolar, I wouldn't be a writer.

    It is true that writer write, and I have been writing since childhood, and it is true that the more one practices, the better the product – music, writing, cooking, riding, etc.

    Bipolar helped me to live the experiences that enriched the tapestry of my life. If not for this, I wouldn't have found my voice, or developed my keen insight and discernment (which saved my life more than once), or developed and recognize the need to tell my tale. For me, being bipolar has been one of the greatest gifts.

    One of my favorite quotes is by Antonin Artaud ~ “No one has ever written, painted, sculpted, modeled, built, or invented except literally to get out of hell.”

    I am not in hell, but I have felt like I was at various times in my life. It has been through writing which is cathartic, coupled with a desire to help and encourage people to get up and keep going despite unimaginable odds, that motivates me. In the end, we are not here for ourselves, but for each other.

    I shall end with one of my other favorite quotes which applies to any 'talent.'

    “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” ~ Napoleon Hill

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  63. I agree that a writer should just do whatever they want. I also think though, that by only doing a limited number of things in their writing, authors stagnate. Working out into a new style or story structure can be quite confusing and will not go well for a while, but dedication will pay off. Your command of the English language will grow, and so with it the aspects of your writing you find not strong will too emerge greater.

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  64. Well stated. I stopped writing for years because I asked a teacher if I had to write poetry to be considered a writer. She said yes. I stopped writting, immediately. It was not her fault I stopped writing, I at that time, placed too much value on what others believed. Now I know that I write what I write, not because I want others approval (although, I know I still seek it), but because it is what I need to do. I wish I hadn't spent all those years believing I couldn't be a writer, because I didn't write poetry, too. Because those were years when I could have been building up the skills I did/do have.

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  65. Wow!!! This post was captivating, and the responses were cogent, articulate, thought provoking, or just plain complimentary. I can't think of a time when I sat and read through an entire comment string. You have hit the nail on the head with this post and it obviously resonated.

    I believe that writing is a talent, for example, like baking. My mother is a phenomenal baker. Even though she hasn't baked in a while, I can still picture her vigorously kneading a well oiled ball of dough before gently placing it in a glass bowl which she covered with cheese cloth.

    Hours later I would eagerly peer into the warm oven and see that the dough had risen just above the rim of the bowl. I raised my eyes in response to squeaks that wafted in through slatted windows, where monkeys striped breadfruit from our Baobab tree.

    Though I loved breadfruit, it could not compete with the promise this dough held. Gently, my mother removed the cloth and punched the risen ball which exhaled in a yeasty whoosh.

    Next, she pinched bits of dough and rolled each into balls. Three to a bun until all was done. Into a preheated oven she slid the roll pan, and then the house filled with an intoxicating smell.

    Thirty minutes or so later, perfectly brown, fluffy and hot, she removed the pan and quickly tumbled the rolls onto the cooling rack. Before they crusted, I grabbed one and then another, slightly burning my finger tips as I buttered and gobbled them up.

    This is a memory from my childhood in Africa, one which I have tried to recreate for my son several times without success. Baking is her talent, writing is mine.

    Writing my memoir is challenging, so I break it up by posting to my blog almost daily. Blogging hones my skills, my vocabulary, and expands my interests in the world in which we live.

    In the end, writers write out of need, at least for me. Writing everyday provides me with release and I feel more at ease and better prepared to dive back into the still waters of my life.

    Great post, keep up the great work! ~ Ayanna Nahmias

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  66. The music analogy here is great. I always think that playing an instrument isn't about writing music, it's about finding music. The music you want, it's already there, in the room, in the atmosphere, in you – you search for it and you know when you find it. does the writing analogy stretches that far? Possibly – especially if the aim is to write what you feel should be written.

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  67. "Like the fact that great writers usually don’t give a damn about the usual conventions of fiction writing. They break the rules, because that’s how they feel that story should be written."

    This is why, when an editor or critic tells me to change my writing because "no one does that", I figure I'm doing something right. Nothing great was ever accomplished by meekly following convention.

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  68. Hi, That you so much for your writing, it really inspired me, i wish you could read spanish, i hardly i have just started my journey in writing, i wish you could give me your opinion, just in case if you are able check it out,…. You are great anyways!!

    ana

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  69. This often means this person has grown up experiencing difference, which can be quite a difficult road…not fitting into the mould. It seems in our society, until the genius has proven themselves, they often considered "weird" at best and often treated as an outcast. Of course, once they've been "found" suddenly how things change…

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  70. I have an interesting perspective to offer here. That of the taxi driving parent. I have watched my kids participate in a range of activities and yet every time it's the same. There will be a couple of kids in front of the pack and a couple at the back and the rest somewhere in the middle. When those at the front develop a passion or obsession for this thing, they just take off and the gap gets wider and wider. They don't need to be told to practice. They need to be told to stop!

    I have also read a fascinating book called "The Outliers", which I would strongly recommend!!! It mentions a scientific study which shows that it's the hours of practice which distinguish between a mediocre violist and a professional. 10,000 hours is the magic number of hours of practice required. It also talks about the Mathew Effect where you lose a talent if you don't use it.

    I accidently started learning the violin at the start of the year when my daughter took it up and put this theory to the test. It's working for me some of the time but the violin has a temperamental soul. If only I could just play it by ear!!!

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  71. every time i read one of your articles on writing… i feel a new inspiration building up in me! its so rejuvenating to realize that writing though hard, has no hard and fast rules. so it makes writing more fun for me, which i think is the way it should be for a writer.

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  72. I agree with you. Talent is a man made invention. Hey, Einstein was reading Kant and Euclid at the age of, I think, 8 years old. Michael Jordan is thought as the most best player ever and it is well known that he practiced harder and longer than any one else. I've had friends with Aspergers who have extraordinary memories, but I think it's the way they process information. I really think we, as people, discount the power of the brain. Everything you do will eventually reap something. That's my opinion.

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  73. I agree wholeheartedly. At about the age of 55 I reallized I had a voice through writing. The skills I learned from writing on a blog site and then later writing on my own blog site, helped me reallize that I love to write. My speciality is story telling, whether it be a person's life, an event, or an old story or legend. I enjoy the challenge and the thinking that goes into writing. You are very insightful and articulate. Your English is excellent from your writing!!

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  74. I think "talent" has been abused. We are all talented in our unique ways, we just need to find what we are good at like you said. I've tried and tried to write a novel, yet I end up writing poems. I am not a 'talented' poet, I struggle with words and I bend (a lot of) rules. I truly agree with you. We are limiting ourselves by trying to fit into a particular field/style.

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  75. The carpentry thing sort of touches me. During a spell in my life, i dedicated two years in a carpentry workshop, working mainly on carving. I used to think it was a matter of talent and only went because I had to but suprisingly, i got good at it and other people started saying am talented in it. I think it all boils down to dedication. Just think how many people who claim they cant write to save their lives often fill the crossword better than you?

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  76. “great writers don´t give a damn about the usual convention of fiction writing”. Couldn´t agree more, and I may add ass a personal note; mediocre writers shouldn´t either, write because you love to do it.

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  77. “Talent” is derived from the Parable of the Talents in the Gospels, which instructs us to use our God-given resources in a fruitful way. In the NT, a talent was a very large unit of money. (John Calvin was a major force in that understanding.)

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