Jay Lake talks about the value of talent and craft right here. It seems to me that this is a misguided post, mainly because it never really defines the difference between “talent” and “craft.” If I’m reading him correctly, he’s asserting that there are a set number of skills a writer needs, and the writer’s talent is made up of the skills they have without practice, while craft is made up of the skills acquired with practice.
I think this is misguided. Let me go further. “Talent” is not some inborn trait. Maybe some people have biological, social, and cultural tendencies that make certain parts of writing easier to learn, but once the skills are there, how do you tell them apart from “craft?”
You can’t. Not really.
Personally, I believe every writing skill is learned. I’m teaching a couple of them to my son right now (not to make him a fiction writer–god forbid) and he’s practicing them whenever he tells a story. The best thing to do is to learn as many of those skills as possible as a child, when learning is a little easier than it is for adults. And if practice can be made fun, so it never feels like practice, so much the better.
I define talent as accuracy. A writer who can accurately predict the effect of a specific sentence, a particular character, a certain sequence of plot turns, is considered talented. The more subtle or sublime the effect, and the more original the construction, the more talented the writer is perceived to be. A writer who can’t predict the effects of their sentences or plot twists is not considered talented at all.
Writers who acquire these skills early are called talented. Writers who acquire them late call it craft. In truth, talent and exceptional craft are pretty much indistinguishable–if you pick up a wonderful book by someone you’ve never heard of before, how much of that wonderful came from some nebulous, inborn “gift?” How much was learned?
Talent is teachable. It can be hard or easy to teach, depending on the person, but it’s something most anyone can learn.
What holds writers back is not lack of talent, it’s lack of critical self-examination, qualified instruction, and willingness to be original.
Okay, procrastination over. I’m going back to work on today’s pages.