I have always found it funny that people will agree that an athletic talent is just that–a talent. People are okay with saying that some people are born with natural abilities to run, jump and play. They will also acknowledge that training–even with the deepest of desire– will only get some people so far.
The thing that strikes me as odd is that people will argue to the death that this is not true about writing. Anyone can learn to write.
Do I agree? Yes and no. It really depends upon what type of writing we’re talking about.
I teach two standard 10th grade English classes, a Creative Writing course, and advise a Yearbook staff that lets me inject a little Journalism into my day once in a while.
So, yes. I do think anyone can learn to write–academically, that is. Academic writing is very formulaic. It is based on a set of rules, a general format, and the ability to think and analyze. It is one of my biggest pet peeves to hear a student say I’m just not good at writing. All that says to me is I just don’t want to bother to learn rules of grammar and spelling. And I really don’t want to research anything. And, more importantly, I don’t want to think about what I just read.
Do I think anyone can learn to be a journalist? Yes. That is also very formulaic. It relies more upon tenacity and quickness than anything. But when I think back to my days in college and memorizing the entire AP style book, I realize there are a host of rules there, too. The good journalists know them well. The great journalists have that “it” factor. The thing that allows them to convey humanity in a way that moves other people. That, I have to think, some people are born with.
And for the last element, can anyone write creatively? Yes, of course they can. With the same attention to structures and styles and grammar and spelling, of course anyone can write creatively. Here’s where I truly believe some people have a talent that others do not possess. Of course, they also have to work to develop it, but they start with a lot to work with.
The best writers in my English classes are those who are well-read and who work hard. They proofread. They write multiple drafts. They use a dictionary. Basically, they’ve studied and learned a skill.
But the good writers in my Creative Writing class have talent. Pure and simple. They have a creative spark and drive. They have a masterful command of their writing voice. They have ideas and stories to tell. The greater writers in this class have mastered their craft. They utilize punctuation to their advantage. They have a broad vocabulary, and they use it with ease.
They are the athlete who doesn’t need to practice, rarely shows up in the gym, but can still dunk a ball in the net without any trouble.