Creativity, talent & brussel sprouts
I’ve been on-and-off following a digital conversation about professional writing courses – it started with Ryan Boudinot’s article. Chuck Wendig’s open letter followed and then last week I’ve read this.
At the heart of this debate is the question: can writing be taught? Or is it a (some kind of magical) innate talent you’re simply born with. The proponents of the latter argue (in my interpretation): if you didn’t grow up surrounded by books and art and such, chances of you having a literary talent are zilch. This statement makes pretty much all professional writing courses unnecessary/useless (if you have this elusive, magical talent you don’t need to be taught to write!) On the other hand, if you don’t have the talent, universities are taking money from you for something you’ll never learn/attain. This is not a new conversation, but a recurring one
Some things from Boudinot’s original article put a cringe on my forehead, deep enough cringe for me to come out from my writing/querying blitz to comment on what was being debated.
Here are my thoughts on the subject
Writers are born with talent
Maybe… Nope… Don’t think so…. Such a difficult question! Absolute statements like this one make me frown. Probably because it’s not all clear-cut and easy to label.
It’s not just about talent but also skill, resources, support available and cultural capital, among many other factors. I completed my PhD researching cultural capital (within a wider topic of inquiry). I looked at how university students from Indigenous Australian backgrounds succeeded academically. Something that I found is that many of my participants came from families where higher education was a given. But many did not. Both groups created narratives of academic success. The difference between them being, one group was already academically successful when they came to university and the other became successful after going to university.
I think, one might have a penchant for creativity, a desire from the young age to make up stories and such, but this creative urge will remain just that, an urge, without practice, support and resources to develop and grow it. As I’m writing this, Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule comes to mind and the recent challenges (also this) of this concept. What this tells me is that the question of talent, skill and practice is complex. And when dealing with so many factors and variables, it is wise to abstain from making black-and-white statements and just admit that some people end up writing professionally and others don’t.
From self-analysing my own writing/publishing experience, I can tell that for me it came down to this: first step, I had to admit to myself that I wanted to make writing my career. second step: I developed a great interest in a specific genre (young adult). third step: i started writing in this genre. As a result, sometimes I stay awake thinking about plot twists, dreaming up character dialogue. Sometimes, ideas set me on fire… But I’m also persistent, thick-skinned (PhD research made me immune to pride-wounds inflicted by rejection or critique) and like to do a lot of preparation and research.
You need to find time to write
Yes, absolutely! Otherwise, how can I call myself a writer if I don't write regularly? I have a full-time job (which requires a lot of writing, though of the academic kind). But I do write creatively whenever I can. This could even be jotting ideas or phrases or sentences, doing character sketches, collecting words that resonate with me… I write on a train or while I’m in a queue. I write on my phone. (I send lots of emails to myself.) I take notes…. I sacrifice my time watching TV or going out (sometimes!) to stay in and write. I tweet. I follow blogs on writing. I blog. I read widely.
And this brings me to the third point:
You need to read a lot
Yes! Totally. Read, read, read… Read hyped-about books. Read obscure volumes from the past. Read indie-pubbed books. Read in and outside of your genre. Read genre you don’t like (or think you don’t like)… Read foreign literature in translation. Read poetry – remember the lines that stuck with you and ask yourself why.
In summary, if you want to write for a living/as a career – write a lot, read a lot, perfect your craft. Maybe enrol in a creative writing course (if you can afford it!). Or not. Up to you.
And also, according to this article by Gabrielle Williams having a diet high in brussel sprouts was found to have associated with increased creativity. So there you have it: brussel sprouts.*
(*The brussel sprouts research appears to be insufficiently referenced).