This piece, from an ex-MFA instructor, made a lot of people angry when it came out, mostly because it had the audacity to state that some people just really are crap writers.1 Which is… true. I mean, I think that’s pretty much a given, right? I guess the controversial observation was more the one about talent being natural and inborn which… I’m not so much in agreement with. I think you can learn “writing talent”–or anything talent, really–but I do think there is something that separates people with the ability to do that learning versus people who… can’t.
I say this, incidentally, as someone who is an okay writer–I mean, I get paid to do it, so I assume that makes me at least nominally professionally competent–but a crap artist and a worse trumpet player.
At certain points in my life, I really, really wanted to be a great artist–cartoonist or illustrator, to be precise–and, I mean, I’m okay? I guess. Better than a lot of people.
But I’m never going to be great.
Why? Because I didn’t really put the practice in. At least, not the kind of practice I needed. Oh, I drew. I drew a lot. And I took all the art classes and all that nonsense. But I was just producing, not improving. Sitting inside my comfort zone, for the most part, with an inability to see exactly where the flaws in my work really were (looking back over old sketchbooks is cringe-inducing for exactly this reason). And if you can’t see flaws, you can’t fix them, and if you can’t fix them, you can’t improve.
With the trumpet, I was even worse. I was in the school band and had a private tutor, but not only did I not do The Right Kind of practice (whatever that magical element is), but I never even played for fun, either. Like, at least with art I would fill up sketchbooks in my own time. With music, not so much.
So… yeah. The conversation of “talent vs. hard work” is always difficult, because most people are really invested in things being one way or the other. They either want to believe they could do anything, if only they put their mind to it, or they want to believe they can’t do something not because of any fault of their own, but because they weren’t “born good” at it. Like with most things, I think the answer is probably somewhere in between the two extremes.
But good luck trying to tell anyone that.
Also, I haven’t read The Great Gatsby either because ahaha creepy manwhining about manproblems. Pass.
- And also because it has a line in it about child abuse which is… a really, really shitty thing to have written. So content warning for that one. [↩]