Home » David Farland, Writing Advice » Talent vs. Skill

Talent vs. Skill

3 January 2013

From David Farland:

As authors, we’ve all read stories by authors that make us think, “Wow, I wish that I had his/her talent!”

We’re trained to believe that writing well is somehow . . . mystical. We’re taught that we have to be born with talent, or perhaps a muse must whisper into our ears.

But good writers don’t rely on inspiration. They don’t use “talent” as a crutch. They don’t need luck. Instead, they develop skills.

. . . .

But for everything that you do easily, you’ll find that there are another ten skills that you struggle with.

For most people, writing at all is hard. Most people don’t even discover what natural talents they have until they’ve written for a million words or more.

So forget about talent for a bit. Too many people born with a specific talent for writing will lean on it so much, they never develop the rest of the skills that they need to become master storytellers. As a new writer, I looked around at the most talented beginners, and used to wonder which would be my biggest competition later in life. Guess what? They all gave up long ago. Many of them never wrote more than one award-winning novel.

. . . .

When I was in my twenties, a researcher discovered that the average writer takes seven years to go from becoming a “novice” to the point where he’s published. I began looking at other writers and soon realized why: most of them spent far more time talking about writing in writing groups (or online) than they actually spent writing. If you want to be a writer but haven’t written anything in three months, you’re probably not making much progress. Yes, you can learn a certain amount of information by talking about writing and by study, but many of the toughest skills can only be learned by practice.

. . . .

So I decided to “cram seven years of practice into six months.” I studied the craft diligently and wrote a great deal, composing poems, short stories, and novel chapters. Within six months I began to get rave reviews from fellow writers, and within a year I began to publish. I even won the grand prize in the Writers of the Future Contest. But mind you, for six months I spent 14 hours per day in practice. When my name made it on the cover of USA Today, a group in San Francisco, thought it would be funny to hold a similar contest—the “Writer with No Future Contest.”

Link to the rest at David Farland

David Farland, Writing Advice

72 Comments to “Talent vs. Skill”

  1. Outside of the extraordinarily rare freak of nature who is just flat-out gifted, the equation is simple: talent + practice = skill.

    • Yup. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have loads of talent, but they got to be the best by developing that talent with lots of practice and hard work.

  2. Wait, I thought of a metaphor! Talent is the lead in a pencil, and practice is the sharpener. Neither one means a thing without the other, but together, you can … write stuff.

    • I think that’s a perfectly brilliant metaphor, Dan. Might just steal it one day. With attribution, of course. And a link. But yeah. Good enough to steal.

    • Well said. Exactly. Talent only makes it so that the feedback cycle is quicker. In other words they still need to practice, but the rewards come quicker and that only lets them practice more. But time put into practicing craft is always needed.

  3. This is why I have a picture of Michael Jordan on my bulletin board. He became the world’s greatest basketball player because he practiced 12-16 hours a day no matter what he felt like, no matter how many championship rings he had.

  4. Last time I went golfing they had up a picture of Tiger Woods on the range hitting balls in the pouring rain.

    He looked to be about 8 years old when it was taken.

    • When I was young there used to be a little segment on a network (I think it was USA) called “When I Grow Up”. It was about a minute long and it’d show kids with a certain skill doing that thing and talking about how they wanted to do that when they were an adult.

      About ten years ago, I was sitting in my college apartment and I threw in one of my old video tapes and the segment came on and I nearly gave myself whiplash when I realized the kid talking about his love for golf was Tiger Woods. He’d have been around 7 or so in the footage.

  5. This is (probably) going to be unpopular….but the idea that someone is naturally talented at anything (including writing) is a myth.

    There’s plenty of research on it that backs this up too. The most compelling is that done by K Anders Ericsson (sp?). You probably haven’t heard of him – but Gladwell popularized part of what he researched in the book Outliers. The part that Gladwell popularized is commonly known as ‘the 10,000 Hour rule.’

    But the research goes far beyond the conclusion that you need 10,000 Hours of practice to become a virtuoso. The research goes into what you need to do with those 10,000 Hours – and just as importantly, looks at whether ‘natural talent’ pushes you further along the 10,000 Hour curve.

    The answers will surprise you. But you should go check it out. The best summation of the work is found in TALENT IS OVERRATED by Geoff Colvin. Colvin’s book is a great place to start.

    • ” … but the idea that someone is naturally talented at anything (including writing) is a myth.”

      I don’t want to sound mean, but that’s hilarious.

      • See – I knew I’d get some flak.

        I honestly don’t mind. I can’t do anything other than recommend you go buy Geoff Colvin’s book at Amazon. It’s 12.99 on Kindle. It might be one of the most eye opening things you ever read – for me it was literally life changing.

        Even if you disagree with absolutely everything in Colvin’s book – which leans heavily on Ericsson’s research – the price of admission will be worth it for the pages (I think Chapter 6 from memory, might be Chapter 7) where he discusses the self devised practice regime Ben Franklin used to make himself a better writer. (Seriously, 12.99 for a masterclass in writing – you won’t find a better deal anywhere on the INterwebz).

        If you’re still not convinced, request the book from your library.

        • If the premise is that practicing the correct way yields better results, I’ll just say, “Duh.”

          But if the premise is that you can take 1,000 people, give them exactly equal training and practice time (in say, learning the piano), and they will all be equally skilled … then my laughter is justified.

          • “(Seriously, 12.99 for a masterclass in writing – you won’t find a better deal anywhere on the INterwebz).”

            And that leads me to believe that you are Geoff Colvin.

          • I thought that too before I read the research.

            The original research that led to the 10,000 Hour meme was done with violinists, not piano players (that’s why I used the word virtuoso above btw).

            My suggestion is that you go read the research with an open mind. If you decide that it’s wrong….well you’ll have exposed yourself to new ideas and grown in the process. So it won’t be wasted.

            • Ha ha – I’m definitely not Geoff Colvin. Geoff Colvin writes for Fortune Magazine and is considerably older than me. Plus he comes from the other side of the pond, that’s why I spell words like colour and centre like this.

            • I’ve already read a summary of the research, and the conclusion is a joke, as was the methodology.

            • Is it your contention that if 1,000 people practiced exactly the same way for exactly the same amount of hours, they would all be equally skilled?

              Is it your contention that anyone in the world can become the abolsute best in any field, just by practicing enough?

              • Can anyone in the world become the absolute best in their field by practicing enough? Absolutely – with the right kind of practice. And the right amount of practice. (And the right kind of practice consists of several elements for it to be truly effective).

                Let me ask you a question: can you name a person who is considered let’s say in the top 5 of their field and is renowned to practice significantly less than the other 4 in the top 5?

                There’s a big caveat with this though. Let’s say you decided you wanted to be the world’s best jazz pianist it’s probably impossible for you now because of your age and compound interest. Because the people you’re trying to compete against will carry on getting better…so it’s very hard to catch up.

                And the 1000 people practicing the same way for the same amount of hours SHOULD result in very similar levels of ability once they’d put in some serious time. I say should because of course it would be impossible to find 1000 people with the same level of dedication to learn the same thing all starting at the same level and with teachers of equal ability level to oversee that learning.

                • “Let me ask you a question: can you name a person who is considered let’s say in the top 5 of their field and is renowned to practice significantly less than the other 4 in the top 5?”

                  I wouldn’t know specifically whom, but there is no doubt that some of the world’s best practice their craft more than others. Not that’s that relevant. The best in the world are the best because of a combination of talent and dedication to the craft, not because they just practiced more.

                  To summarize your view, everyone is born with the same aptitude for sports, academia, art, music, medicine, comedy, writing, archery, martial arts, filmmaking … that is interesting.

                  • “The best in the world are the best because of a combination of talent and dedication to the craft, not because they just practiced more.”

                    Two examples.

                    Tiger Woods.
                    Mozart.

                    Both are often offered as examples of natural talent.

                    However both started work on their disciplines at an insanely young age. Mozart started at 2. Tiger Woods’s dad had a putter made for him when he was 8 months old that he could start using from his high chair. For Mozart it also helped that his Father was the foremost figure in music education in the world at that time.

                    Their musical advantages over their peers – their ‘natural talent’ as many people saw was simply a function of more practice.

                    • More likely that they practiced more because they had a natural affinity for it (and, in Woods’ case, had a crazy father. If Tiger didn’t show that he was a gifted golfer early enough, Earl would’ve kept looking until he found something). Hence, the gigantic flaw in both the study and the conclusion.

                      People engage in activities that they a) like to do, or b) are good at. When A meets B, people get really good.

                      I write a lot because I like to do it, and I’m also pretty good at it. Conversely, I’m not a professional skateboarder (even though I tried it a lot when I was a kid), because I just wasn’t good at it.

                      No amount of practice was going to enable me to hit a 90-mph fastball, or be a world-class gymnast, or play piano by ear.

                    • Two examples.

                      Tiger Woods.
                      Mozart.

                      Both are often offered as examples of natural talent.

                      However both started work on their disciplines at an insanely young age.

                      Right. Both had sufficient natural talent that they could begin practising those disciplines at an age when most children would not be capable of even grasping that such disciplines existed. Give the average 8-month-old a putter, and he will do anything but putt with it. Give the average two-year-old a musical instrument, and she will evince no interest whatever in learning to play it, though she may make hideous noises (or break it) in trying to play with it.

                    • “Give the average two-year-old a musical instrument, and she will evince no interest whatever in learning to play it, though she may make hideous noises (or break it) in trying to play with it.”

                      Then I guess my sister and I are abnormal. My folks started me on violin at 3. Her at 2.

                      And my kids are abnormal too, I guess. At 18 months, my son wanted to try playing my violin after watching me play it.

                      *snort*

                      Geez, have you ever hung around a little kid? They want to learn. Everything. All the time. They only have to be shown how.

                  • All I know is that I can practice until my fingers bleed, and I still can’t manage to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the keyboard, much less play something far more difficult or compose my own sonata.

                    Nor can I draw or paint, which are both things I have a lot of interest in, have practiced for years…but I just don’t have the talent for either. On the other hand, I’m not half bad at CG art. ;)

                    Writing? That I can do, and I do improve the more I practice.

                    • @Dan (can’t reply to your comment directly)

                      Early Woods was crazy – and he set out with the purpose of making Tiger a golf champion. No other sport was considered (as far as I’m aware – I read his autobiography and if anything else was ever considered it was not admitted to).

                      Mozart Senior had similar levels of crazy – and there was no choice in Mozart’s training.

                      So we can agree on that.

                      On the rest, as I said above, I’m perfectly happy to agree to disagree. Even if you think the research is utter BS you can still benefit from it – because the practice principles uncovered (Deliberate Practice) can be used to improve your writing.

                      I still would advise you get the Colvin book from the library and find the Ben Franklin chapter. You may find it interesting. If not, you’ve lost an investment of about 15 minutes.

                • “Can anyone in the world become the absolute best in their field by practicing enough? Absolutely – with the right kind of practice.”

                  No. Let’s just take the example of a prima ballerina. If you don’t have the physique required for the physicality of top tier ballet, you can practice until your feet are bleeding but you won’t make it. Ice skaters and gymnasts fall into the same body type. Small and lithe. If you’re tall you can forget about it.

                  Zelda Fitzgerald was desperate to be a ballerina but she started too late in life.

                  • True that.

                    Same for say basketball players who are short and only grow to be say Tom Cruise height (5 feet 7).

                    I should have modified the statement to exclude activities – predominantly sporting – where body size and shape plays a significant part.

                    Thanks for pointing that out.

                    • Oops. Don’t tell Tyrone Bogues or Earl Boykins that short men can’t play basketball. Either of them would make Tom Cruise look tall.

                      To me, the factor that goes best with lots of practice is desire. I think it’s the love of language and good writing and the desire to make it happen that will turn 10,000 hours into a writing career. Absent that love and that desire, I don’t think all the good instruction in the world will produce a good writer.

              • Yeah, will agree with you on this one. If we’re talking about top levels then everyone up there probably practices 1000s of hours a year, if not more. And yes, this is where talent makes the difference. Probably every/most athletes in the Olympics is used to practicing all day every day for their sport. Luck (injury, not from a country with civil war etc) plays a factor, but genes do too. Can’t really argue against that. Though I suppose one could say that those factors might overwhelm genes as well.

                One thing I remember was before Armstrong was busted, is his saying: (this is paraphrased) “People ask me what I’m on. I’m on my bike 8(or some high number) hours a day.”
                I never liked that because, yes that’s more than the average rider. But for all the other tour riders, I’m sure they’re putting in that much time as well. I’m sure most anyone in the pro arena is putting that much time. Guess some need more than practice+genes.

                (mmm.. side thought: what if writers came across a drug/steroid—outside of concentration enhancers—that could make them writers of the highest level… would anyone here take it? Hard to say, right?)

                • Luck (injury, not from a country with civil war etc) plays a factor, but genes do too. Can’t really argue against that. Though I suppose one could say that those factors might overwhelm genes as well.

                  There is a reason why every world-record holder in the 100-metre dash for several decades has been of West African descent, and why most of the records for long-distance running are held by East Africans. The genes do matter: you can become very very good at an athletic activity with ordinary genetic endowments, but if you have particular genes suited to the task, that will give you just the little extra edge that makes the difference between a record-holder and an also-ran.

                  • Tom

                    There’s a book called BOUNCE by a table tennis player called Mathew Syed who delves into why the East Africans are so good at distance running.

                    In a nutshell it’s not genes but environment.

                    As kids they grow up in the mountains and are too poor to take the bus to school, so they run to school.

                    Some of them run over 20 kms a day to school. The amount of hours they clock up develops maximum oxygen uptake…often in the order of 30% more than kids who don’t run to school.

                    Add in that the traditional diet in this part of the world is also nutritionally optimal for running success along with (in Kenya at least) a good system for training runners and you start to see why long distance runners from Kenya are so good.

                    • There are other parts of the world where all these environmental factors are in play: Bolivia, for instance. When was the last time you heard of a Bolivian distance runner?

                      The genes are prevalent in the East African population because they are adaptive in that environment; but nothing about the environment guaranteed that the genes would arise. However, since Kenya has been inhabited by humans a lot longer than Bolivia, that improved the odds.

                    • @Tom

                      Environmental factors including societal expectations can often masquerade as an assumed genetic influence. Also, things that people generally assume to be genetic have now been discovered to be epigenetic.

            • The first and primary use of a minimum hour count is to filter out the uninterested (because those who don’t care, and therefore would never become more than technically proficient no matter how much training they did, usually drop out when given the opportunity).

              Then, it sorts those who have the aptitude to learn the skill from those who do not, because those who do not will get frustrated with lack of progress, and stop before an arbitrarily high minimum hour count. (So, admittedly, will a large number of people who have other things come up in life, or who have the aptitude but get discouraged.)

              Ten thousand hours is only five years of 40 hours a week. How many people do you know, five years into their job, that are awesome at it? I’m sure you’ve run into people who have been in their field, be it retail or architecture, agenting or engineering, for more than five years who couldn’t pour beer out of a boot if you told them the directions were printed on the heel(much less do their job brilliantly).

              On a much less exalted level, having trained lots of entry-level workers, I assure you, they are not all cut out to be awesome at even the most basic job functions. Some have the benefit of starting in an environment that promotes responsibility and work ethic; others do not, and have to work harder at figuring out things like following the dress code, and showing up on time every day. When doing a repetitious job that requires very little mental horsepower but some spatial awareness and ability to count to fifty, most people quickly pick it up, and have figured out the majority of the exceptions and how to deal with what can go wrong by the end of the second week.

              Some, after a month of instruction, mentoring, guided work plans, and direct oversight, still can’t figure out that shelf C is two levels above shelf A, and aisle 25 is further away from the east wall than aisle 5. Do you really want to tell me that if I gave them five years, they’d reach the level that other production workers reach in two weeks, much less be virtuosos?

              • If all of the hours during those 5 years were intense quality practice with a goal of improvement? Uh, Yeah.

            • Sorry, but that assertion is…um…not the most well thought out(I could’ve said it differently, but I’d have had to become quite the ass to do so :-D ). No one has ever said that talent alone will get you places, but the thought that everyone can do it if only they practice enough is absurd. I could practice being a vascular surgeon for 20 hours a day, and while I might reach a certain level of competence, I’ll never be one of the best.

              Everyone has different skill sets, and writing is no different. The key to take take that talent and mold it into something more than what you started with.

              This seems like a variation of “everyone is special.”

  6. I cannot agree that natural, or in other words, natural aptitude does not exist. I’ve hard of this study before and thought the same thing then. I agree that the same people with the same skill levels with the same amount of practice will result in very similar skill levels. However, after 20 of EMS, I can tell you I’ve trained new paramedics over and over the same way and one person does not learn or have the aptitude to learn the same way.

    In theory, I should be able to teach a medical skill to all my new paramedics and they should all became top medics once they’re finished. But this is not so. Some just don’t have the talent for paramedicine. They just don’t GET it. They run the concepts through their minds over and over but it never clicks, while another rookie gets on the first try. From what I’ve seen, the ones who get it, the ones with more snap will always make better paramedics in the end. The others ones may eventually (with significantly more man hours) make good medics, but more often they either just do okay or quit.

    Good paramedics require people with a certain amount of natural ‘snap’ and if one doesn’t have it, no amount of training will provide it.

    • HG

      I can’t comment much on your statement as I don’t know anything about paramedic training.

      All I can say is that in most disciplines most rookies don’t enter a new discipline at the same level. I can give you an example from a field I;’m very familiar with – music.

      Often when a child who comes from a musical background – i.e. where one or both of his parents play an instrument – these children are often thought to have a ‘natural aptitude’ for music. Yet few people factor in that they are much more exposed to music in their home environment – so that the elements of music are much more familiar to them, even if they haven’t yet picked up an instrument.

      Plus they have a ‘practicing model’ in their immediate environments that can act as inspiration. AND they have someone in the house who can often immediately answer questions and help solve problems.

      Again to other people – they seem naturally talented.

      Now I don’t know what this ‘natural snap’ that paramedics need is – but is it possible that there is something in the background of the people who have this that leads to skills that are related to this ‘natural snap?’ And maybe the people who don’t get it need either more or slightly different training? (Again, I know NOTHING about paramedics and their training, so I may be wrong). Genuinely interested though – and thanks for your observations.

      • What I’ve found when training paramedics is that while you can dump tons of info inside people’s head and you can even get some to eventually learn how the concepts of medicine work and the rote memorization that goes with it, there’s a certain amount of emotional intelligence and situational awareness that cannot be taught. You can train some people to be more aware and how to be so. You can train some people how to be more emotionally in tune with patients and people’s moods. But only to a point.

        There are some people that will never become good paramedics no matter how many man hours of training you subject them to. They can pass the state exam written exam and the skills test, but you put them on the street where they have to think on their feet, problem solve in second (usually different each time) be aware of dozens of different things and dangers and react in seconds, make the right call and the right time AND not break down or freeze up emotionally…

        Some of this can be taught and trained into people, but only to a point.

        If a medic cannot survive emotionally intact by naturally having the right kind of personality to balance all these issues. By having a ‘talent’ for this level of stress, they’ll quit within five years or sooner or have a break down.

        I’ve seen happen. I’ve lived it. No one in my family is medically employeed. I’m the first. I wasn’t raised around EMS or the fire service. I found it through chance and praying for guidance. It’s hard. But I think there’s a definite concept of some are naturally suited while others are not. I’ve met rookie medics who are highly intelligent, book smart, but because they couldn’t cut with the emotional ‘snap’ they failed as a street medic and ended up working in a hospital somewhere or a different field.

        FYI- EMS was declared the most dangerous profession in 2012. 7% fatalities compared to 6.1% with fire service.

      • And then there’s my kid, who plays an instrument when… neither of her parents have done so in her memory, really. Heck, I can’t even read music! Her dad can, and certainly helped her out, but he played a different instrument; all her abilities on the horn are hers alone.

        Same with ice skating — she has really good balance, and if she practiced more, could be pretty darn good overall. She… doesn’t, really, though even after a summer off the ice, she’ll just get on and voom, she’s steady. Talent without practice. And… talent without practice has that weird non-intuitive disconnect, I think; the steadiness on the ice that doesn’t translate to overall arm movement, etc.

        She wasn’t starting earlier than other kids. She doesn’t practice as much as some of the others (and is not made to practice as much, as earl, whilst I eye one of the other parents dubiously). Her first time on the ice was spent dithering and clinging to me. And yet, if she had the drive? I’m sure she could build on that starting talent.

        But eh, she doesn’t have the drive for it, and I’m not going to push her.

      • If there was no difference in talent between rookies, everyone could be the #1 pick in the NFL draft.

        Just because there are varying levels of talent, that doesn’t mean lots of folks don’t have it. However, asserting that everyone does and could be as proficient as others if they just practiced doesn’t fly. No matter how much Warren Sapp practices, he’ll never throw the ball as well as Drew Brees because his talents lie in other directions. He could probably throw it well after a lot of practice, but he’ll never be Brees.

        • You mention the NFL draft – so I have an American Football related question for you.

          Do you know who is regarded as the number 1 Pro Player of all time? Jerry Rice is of course the answer.

          But how do you reconcile Number 1 player of all time with the fact that Rice was picked 15th or 16th in the year he got drafted?

          • Several reasons, three of which are:

            1) He went to Mississippi Valley State, which isn’t exactly a football factory.
            2) Teams typically draft according to need, so a team with a desperate need for a defensive end will draft accordingly.
            3) Drafting is an inexact science, because you’re trying to figure out who can excel in the NFL based on performance in college.

            Tom Brady dropped all the way to the 6th round, and he’ll go down as one of the greatest QBs of all-time (or THE greatest, if he wins another Super Bowl … c’mon, Pats!). He’s got a crazy work ethic, for sure, but those are on top of natural gifts. No amount of practice in the world could enable Mark Sanchez to read defenses and run the offense the way Brady does.

            • According to the ‘natural talent’ theory this natural talent should have been patently obvious to everyone. And yet he was chosen 16th in the draft.

              Are you suggesting that the 15 teams that didn’t pick him decided that because they didn’t need a wide receiver they’d overlook the best player at college level?

              Or is it more likely that when he was drafted he simply wasn’t the most talented player of the time (whether natural or otherwise)? And that he developed his skills by practice?

              I don’t know anything about Brady as I stopped followed American Football (as we call it this side of the pond) in the early 90s. But he sounds like a similar deal. Someone who developed his skill with that ‘crazy work ethic’ as you call it.

              • “According to the ‘natural talent’ theory this natural talent should have been patently obvious to everyone. And yet he was chosen 16th in the draft.”

                You actually just made that up.

                There are a zillion factors at play regarding the draft. There are even more factors in play regarding NFL success, not the least of which is being drafted to a team with the greatest QB of all-time.

                You haven’t been listening to other people. EVERYONE agrees that hard work and practice lead to greater success, but most agree that the best in the world have some measure of natural affinity, as well (e.g. you can’t teach perfect pitch). You’re just about the only one who states that every single person stands the same chance of success in any discipline, if they just practice enough. That’s laughable.

                Except you’ve already admitted that physical factors come into play and limit a great many people, thereby killing your own argument.

                • Given a completely controlled environment everyone does have the same chance to learn the skills necessary in order to succeed in any discipline.

                  “Perfect Pitch” has more to do with the physical dimentions of the voice box, mouth, sinuses, etc.

                  “Talent” is really just a set of learned behaviors (barring physical requirements) that is impossible or completely evil to induce.

                  • Perfect pitch is mostly the ability to recognize musical pitch/key without an external reference. That can’t be taught.

                    But, for the sake of argument, you’re stating that, given enough training, you could sing like Pavarotti, or drum like Neal Peart, or be a world-class neurosurgeon, or finest chef in all the land, or that samurai that I saw on Stan Lee’s “Superheroes” WHO CUT A B.B. IN HALF AFTER IT WAS SHOT AT HIM FROM 60 FEET AWAY. These can all be learned.

                    You’re also stating that things like creativity, which is necessary for innumerable things, can be taught.

                    Uh-huh.

                    • “That can’t be taught.” Science would disagree with you. I would recommend Google as a resource and fact check. :)

                      Sing like Pavarotti? I’d need his physical dimensions. Sing with the same skill? Certainly, if I stared training when I was 2. Actually I’d probably be better, given his life story.

                      Humans are naturally creative. All it really takes is 12 years of public school to train it out of them.

                    • We’ve got to talk about your lack of self-confidence.

                    • I know… Tragic, ain’t it.

                    • Perfect pitch may be teachable — if you start with a baby and a perfectly-pitched xylophone-like thingie. (iahp.org. I can only vouch for their reading-technique, which works exactly as advertised (two generations of experience!) and has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.)

                    • Correction: I am completely wrong about perfect pitch or absolute pitch. Recent studies have shown a high probability that it’s inherited. http://www.cell.com/AJHG/abstract/S0002-9297(09)00246-8

                      If you would like to participate in the study or take the online test you can do so at: http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/

  7. I read once that talent is simply the SPEED at which you learn something. ‘Talented’ people pick up the basics faster.

    As long-time music teacher, mostly working with adult beginners, I’ve seen this in action over and over. Some students ‘get it’ right away. Some plug along more slowly. But those who stick with it all reach a point (after a few years) where they are playing music. The people who practice a lot get there faster, of course. And there is probably a point (10,000 hours, or a million notes, or whatever) where there’s parity.

    • Anthea Lawson proclaimed, “…talent is simply the SPEED at which you learn something.”

      Now that I can agree with.

      As for everyone else, y’all just spoutin’ nonsense.

  8. “In the same ways, many of us have some writing talents, little gifts that come to us pretty much by nature. You might have a way with metaphors, or perhaps your ear is great at picking up dialog. You might have a gift for tone, or perhaps you come up with amazing plot twists for your stories.

    But for everything that you do easily, you’ll find that there are another ten skills that you struggle with.”

    Ahhh. Unfortunately so very true.

  9. I have a talent for irritating people. That is indisputable.

  10. Don’t listen to them Dan, it’s a frickin superpower.

  11. So, regarding the discussion above that talent doesn’t exist, I think I fall on the side of: Yes, it does. It also doesn’t exist.

    I don’t care how many times people explain how the stock market works to me, I DON’T GET IT. My mind just doesn’t work that way. I don’t get real estate or – for that matter – physics. I got a book called “physics for dummies” and it was total Greek to me. Just ain’t going to happen.

    But other things, I practically know them before the words are out of my teacher’s mouth.

    So, in terms of the article – I like it! Writers often have this illusion that they should be able to write a book without practice. All other artists realize they have to practice for hours, but writers often believe it should be natural talent alone.

    This illusion is very hurtful. It causes so many people with talent to give up too soon, because they didn’t hit the ball out of the park on their first attempt. I believe this illusion is the cause of many cases of writers block. They think it should flow out of the pen perfectly, and are scared to start because it might not. And if it doesn’t – they get really scared that they have no talent, and stop.

    This is also a really big problem for indies. They write a book and put it out there too soon, not realizing they needed more practice first.

    I wish there was more mentoring in the field of writing. Other artists can easily find teachers, but writing mentors are not easy to find.

  12. I got a unicycle for my 16th birthday, because I desperately wanted one. After a week of falling, I could finally go down the driveway. Once.

    The day I got the unicycle, my older brother got on it for the first time and rode it around the block.

    Talent. Yeah, he’s got that.

  13. Sorry. There are too many comments and too little time, so if this has already been pointed out, then allow me to second the motion: There is such a thing is talent, and its instantly apparent. Think of a singer; then think of yourself as a writer. A singer can sing; he or she has a voice. Whether they can put over a song is another matter. Tony Bennet can’t sing a lick, but he can put over a song, and that’s the issue for most writers. Talent is rare. Farland didn’t write a million words in his six month apprenticeship. (Besides, that’s a Norman Mailer idea.) Farland can sing. It simply took him six months to learn how to put over a song. Also, Farland’s piece reveals a second aspect of talent: it takes talent to keep to your dream and work as hard as you can to achieve it in the face of criticism and delayed gratification. That talent may come under the definition of guts, bit I’d add that it takes guts to make yourself a writer.

  14. Here’s what’s bothering me: I’ve seen a few people say that talent doesn’t exist, but excepting physical attributes from that argument. For example, “I could have been a world-class pianist, except for the fact that I have no rhythm and my fingers are like vienna sausages.”

    Why?

    Physical attributes are a part of a person’s gifts. If you grant that physical differences exist, how can you deny that other differences exist, as well?

    Some people have an eidetic memory. That cannot be taught.

    Some people have no creativity whatsoever. Good luck teaching them to be a great fantasy writer.

    I mean, “Talent doesn’t exist? We’re all equally capable of doing everything? The only difference is practice time?” Really?

    • Here’s what bothers me: “Talent” is generally used to describe skills that cannot be learned, an innate ability or a natural gift. This belies the very hard work needed to become “Talented”. It also limits personal development by creating the false assumption that one must be “naturally gifted” to achieve. Whether or not talent in this form actually exists, science seems to indicate that it does not, it is harmful to think in these terms.

      • “‘Talent’ is generally used to describe skills that cannot be learned, an innate ability or a natural gift.”

        No, it’s not. For example, I could learn to play the guitar with some degree of competence. But no amount of training could teach me to be a virtuoso. I just don’t have the ear or the finger dexterity, among other things.

        You’re the one saying that “talent” means people can either do something or they cant. Everyone else is saying that, given equal training, some people are just better at some stuff than others, due to a natural affinity.

        But I’m tired of this discussion, so I’m going to bid adieu and pick up Chipotle.

        • We’ve got to talk about your lack of self-confidence.

          Mmmm.. Went for Kinder’s myself. BBQ… mmmmmm.

  15. What Christian said:

    “Here’s what bothers me: “Talent” is generally used to describe skills that cannot be learned, an innate ability or a natural gift. This belies the very hard work needed to become “Talented”. It also limits personal development by creating the false assumption that one must be “naturally gifted” to achieve. Whether or not talent in this form actually exists, science seems to indicate that it does not, it is harmful to think in these terms.”

  16. “Talent doesn’t exist? We’re all equally capable of doing everything? The only difference is practice time?” Really?”

    This fits the political argument that we are all equal, and if we are not, then it’s because someone is to blame . It’s all feel good stuff.

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