About a decade ago, I was working in a secondary school in London and running a creative writing group for gifted and talented young people. The teenagers for this group were recommended to me on the basis of their skills in English. They were all A grade students for a start. A few were interested in becoming writers, or had already been dabbling in poetry and fiction. All showed talent in the group and were knowledgeable about the basics: point of view, characterisation and plot for fiction and the different forms of poetry when writing verse. Yet after the group ended, only around 3 or 4 out of say 10 would continue writing when I checked in in subsequent years until they finished their high school education. Out of all the many dozens I worked with over the years, two contacted me to say that they had since been published: a poet in a couple of print and online literary journals in the UK and US and a crime fiction writer who enrolled to study creative writing alongside her main degree in Criminology at university, who then went on to have stories published in her university’s creative writing magazine.
Am I proud of the young people I have worked with over the years? Hell, yes. Do I take credit for their published work? Absolutely not. Does talent in creative writing matter? It certainly helps. But is it the only thing that matters? No way!
In my experience, skills are more important than talent. If you have raw talent as a writer or poet, but don’t bother to put pen to paper often, you won’t develop as an author. You won’t learn from your mistakes if you have no experience. The same can be said of writing often, but not getting any feedback for your work. A second set of eyes is essential for any serious writer, if they want to improve.
When I was a small child, I showed talent for painting and drawing. Teachers picked up on my propensity for art from a very early age. I spent a good many hours doodling in my books at school and at home, would sketch and colour well into each evening. I developed my skills and became very good at art, eventually achieving the top grade at A-level. Nowadays, I barely draw anything. I don’t have half the skills I had previously acquired. This is because talent alone isn’t enough; taking the time each day to practise and improve is much more important.
Writing is hard. It isn’t simply a case of being inspired by a creative vision and flooding a Word document with your fully developed story. Writing a good short story doesn’t happen overnight; never mind writing a quality novel. If I had £1 for every person who has said to me “oh, you’re such an inspiration, maybe I’ll start writing a novel too.” Would I say to an architect, “oh, that building looks so great I think I’ll just design one myself.”? Not quite so straightforward, is it?
It’s easy to finish summing this post up by saying that skills outweigh talent by a large margin, but I haven’t mentioned the thing that’s even more important than skills. But, I’m sure you’ve guessed what that is already. Yep, it’s dedication. Making the time to write, even when you’re not feeling it, even when it means pushing through writer’s block – that’s what matters. If you don’t make it happen, it’ll never happen. What good is a story when it’s stuck in your head where no one can read it?