Are writers born or are they made? Is there a gene for the artist or can anyone, with a bit of work, because a skilled teller of tales and inkslinging skill?
There has been a lot of debate, both recently and over more time, on this matter. It would seem that the prevailing idea (in our opinion pushed by those who can make money doing the motivating involved) that talent is in no way inherited or genetic. They continue that, essentially, those who have excelled in their field have done so through nothing more than motivated determination and hard work.
They tell us that You Too Can Suceed at Anything!
I disagree and I will explain to you why.
Let us first cover the background and then dig deeper into the meat, or appropriate and non-offensive substitute, of the matter.
There is quite an industry in the field of well-dressed person standing in front of crowd sharing the easy-to-learn secrets of their success. Usually there is a fee for having this secret shared with you or, at least, something to buy.
Let me draw your attention back to what I just said; there is a fee or service/product to be paid for. Think that one over for a moment and then let me extend it logically; said person is making money from telling people the secret of how they made money. Their success comes from people that are willing to pay for being as successful as they are.
Correct me if I'm wrong but why would they want that? Surely, if it worked, then they'd actually lose income due to hundreds of other people making the money they should be making. If the secret was that easy to learn, surely everyone could learn it...
Maybe they're just lazy...
Maybe snake oil is the thing everyone wants these days?
The Secret Behind The Secret
Here is my take on this; it does a lot more harm than good.
Let me explain; telling someone that all you need to gain success is to work really hard and do what is suggested to you is NOT going to fix people's insecurities and anxieties. Let's be honest, writers can be quite a neurotic lot to some degree, so giving them something else to worry about is not a wise move.
Telling someone they will be successful if they do X, Y, and Z (perhaps with a little bit of G and T) will be all the more crushing on their confidence when it doesn't happen because it will be their fault...
I didn't work hard enough.
I did too much X and not enough Y, hardly any Z....too much G & T as well!
I'm lazy and spoiled my chance!
On and on and on and on.
All because you're telling people anyone can be a successful writer.
The W Gene
So, I'm quite controversial, and probably a boomer to many, in that I believe we are born with different talents, it's actually basic genetics. Diversity and survival essentially, talents which may formally have been great survival traits are passed on and, in today's world, have found other uses.
A strong imagination, ability to come up with likely scenarios, to get inside other people's heads, and have a memory for details...that was probably very useful back in the day and got you some priestly or bloke-in-the-tavern job back in the day. Today, it's one of many natural talents that can make you a good writer, perhaps even a great one.
I've already written an article on what I consider to be writer traits and natural talents here so I won't belabour the point too much in this one but I am quite definite on this topic and have had an argument or two about it in the fora.
I believe anyone indeed can be a writer, maybe even a good one but the passion that can make you great, that comes from having a natural and inexplicable love of writing, of it being a part of you the same way your arms and legs are.
Some people have been found to have vocal cords that are naturally arranged to provide a better singing voice, a different larynx structure. Some people have naturally slightly superior stamina or strength, reactions, or reflexes. Some people naturally have the kind of mathematical ability that gets them guest appearances on TV shows or University scholarships at the age of 12.
The fact is, we cannot eliminate the existence of talent for the want of equality.
That is, I am sure, another part of it. Talent means superiority to some, it is not something to admired but coveted. Why can they do that when I cannot? It is unfair! I admire talent and simply marvel at those who carry out feats I know I could not do even were I to train for ten hours a day for the next five years. I know they were born with an advantage I lack and that's OK with me. Good luck to them.
The fact that I lack their natural talent has, coincidentally, given me no desire to focus on the activity they excel at.
Writers do naturally have an uncommon brain and thought structure, I am certain of this.
" You're brought into this world But they say you're born in sin Well at least they've given me something I didn't have to steal or have to win"
Bon Jovi, Blaze of Glory (1990)
Now we're getting controversial. I had a conversation the other day which has stuck with me, the gentleman in question told me that he thinks we're all born to do just one thing, we're here for a purpose; some of us might never discover what that is and some of us will.
Now, I've been studying a lot of religious scripture in researching The Chronicles of Enoch and I've also read a lot of writing done by those who are more cynical, shall we say, in regards to religion and I have come to this conclusion;
Let us say that, in theory, some of those ancient writers were onto something. Let's say that they were truly inspired somehow (God, Allah, aliens, magical spirits, medicinal herbs and/or plants) or reporting real events.
If you were to travel back in time one hundred years and be able to take a cell phone with you. You then show 'the natives' how it works and then ask them to describe it, I guarantee you that they'd describe it as something like this;
"A magical far-talking box which can capture the souls of good men, contains all the forbidden knowledge of the world and can change a man's appearance so as he resembles an unholy admixture of man and dog!"
Or something along those lines.
The same people would describe aeroplanes as 'screaming iron eagles which swallow hundreds', and so forth.
Let us also say that these ancient writers, being from a pre-scientific age try to describe scientific principles such as genetics...
Original sin....the sins of the father...curse in the blood...genetics. Alcoholism, depression, addiction, myopia, a weakness to certain environmental factors (allergies)...all these things are inherited and genetic. Some people say that psychopathy, bi-polarism, autism, and other neurological conditions can also be inherited.
If your father/mother was a drunk, you'll be a drunk...you'll pay for the sins of your father/mother...it's in your blood, literally.
So, you may ask, the ancient writers were talking about genetics when they didn't even understand that dirt caused sickness? Yes indeed!
And now, how about you guess who it was that got them thinking in the right direction? Writers, that's who! The creative manner of explaining the inexplicable actually had a purpose!
"Wait, wait...wait!" you now exclaim. "Are you trying to say that writers have been responsible for saving the world now?"
No necessarily but how is it that we know about the ancient world at all? Because there were a group of people naturally disposed to writing things down who did exactly that. Nobody really thought that it was important at the time and those individuals were probably considered a little weird at the time but we remember their names thousands of years later...
It's All Gone Metaphysical!
So, that long exposition had a point, you see!
Those people who wrote down what needed to be written down had a natural talent which, in time, has benefitted the human race as a whole. Knowledge which would otherwise have been lost is retained, discoveries preserved, and the mindset of a society captured in time.
Maybe that's our purpose here, to capture how humans of today think, behave, and believe in our metaphorical amber to save for later generations to enjoy, study, and dissect.
Talent has a purpose and a reason to exist.
Now, there is, of course, another point.
So, we accept that talent exists. Now, let us come back to my conversation with that fellow about our one purpose here on Earth. I didn't forget him, I was saving that for now.
Remember that he said now everyone discovers what their purpose is here?
Well, that leads nicely into my concluding point.
Talent is, indeed, built-in and genetic, I think there is nothing that can be used to deny at the least the possibility of that. People trying to sell books, DVD's, courses, seminars and so forth will surely try to find some and possibly try to accuse me of some kind of discrimination or other but I don't care.
I am not saying any certain gender, race, sex, neurological group, community, ethnicity, or so forth is in any way genetically predisposed to be better than another because that, my friends, is what we like to call bovine ejecta.
Writers, just like sportspeople, chess grand masters, mathematical geniuses, ground-breaking scientists, etc. exist in all colours, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life. Some humans have a different genetic, psychological, neurological make-up than others.
Now, that is not to say that one cannot learn and improve.
Michael Jordan would not be a major basketball talent without training like crazy as he did. Not one single person who has an outstanding talent achieved success in its application without an awful lot of hard work. They did, indeed, become more proficient at that skill somewhat easier and faster than other might have done, but they had to work at it.
Natural talent does not mean you don't have to put in effort. It does mean, though, that because you can see that you're good at it, you enjoy doing it more than someone who, say, has to work harder at it.
You have the passion to carry on when it's rough and that does indeed drive you forward where others might flag, that certainty that, if you don't succeed now, it's only a matter of time...
Now, let's hear your arguments for talent not existing in the comments below, please.