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Do you need talent to be a writer?

4 November 2021 | Writing Comp

Written by Chloe Higgins – Author and Writing Coach

A lot of people believe that authors are born with some innate talent.

I call bullshit.

In fact, I don’t really believe in talent at all.

Instead, I believe in hard work and I believe in discipline. I’m not saying that everyone comes to writing with the same level of skill. Skill, in my opinion, is not usually based on a natural ability but on how many hours you’ve poured in. Some people have spent their whole childhood reading, for example, and so they’ve naturally trained their ear to the sound of words on the page. But that doesn’t mean they have talent, it means they’ve put in a lot of hours reading other people’s work, and thus developed an eye for craft, intentionally or otherwise.

It’s not surprising that many of us feel like we lack this mysterious ‘talent’. We spend so much of our primary and high school education writing—reports, assignments, essays—and so when we start diving into creative writing we think we should know how to do it.

But think about how many hours it takes to learn a new language. You wouldn’t take a single Spanish class or even a week of Spanish and expect to be fluent. And yet, you’ve been speaking your whole life. So why would you sit down for five creative writing sessions and expect to be good at it? That’s not how it works.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re going to suck for a while. Everyone sucks at the beginning. Acknowledge this and use it to free yourself of the heavy burden of having to have ‘talent’ from the get-go. Give yourself time to grow.

The question that’s most important when it comes to considering whether you’re going to have a career as a writer is not whether you have natural talent, but rather: how many hours are you willing to pour into this thing? Are you willing to go through an initial stage of producing work that sucks? Are you willing to keep showing up until it doesn’t?

The only way to get better is to show up. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you think your work sucks. Even when you could be at the beach.

That voice of self-doubt? It’s always going to be there. But it’s also not always a truthful voice. Students come to me all the time with work they aren’t happy with and which they think could be better. So often, when they show it to me, it’s the strongest piece I’ve seen from them. At other times, a student will tell me they’ve got a piece they’re really happy with and I can’t help but internally cringe. Usually, it’s not their strongest work. You cannot judge the quality of your own work.

Your work will always need editing and you’ll always want to improve it. So, when that voice starts up and tells you that you’re no good, acknowledge it and then let it go. Every time you open the laptop, or put pen to paper, you’re learning something new and honing your craft. Acknowledge the voice, acknowledge the process of growth, and then let it go. Continue writing anyway.

Do you need talent to be a writer?