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A Quiet Gift

Recently on a discussion board, somebody posted her belief that there is no such thing as “gifted.” The gist of the conversation was that she believed successful (read: published) authors do not have a “gift” for writing—there is no such thing; that, because storytelling is innate to the human nature, anyone who works hard, studies the craft, and perseveres will, ultimately, get published. If they fail at this, it’s because they gave up too soon. 

Say what? 

So you see, none of us are gifted. None of us are born with a talent for creating characters and worlds and believable plots. Tabula rasa comes to mind: we are born a blank slate. How dare we presume that we’ve been given a gift for words? I imagine this poster doesn’t limit it to writing; probably no one is born with a talent for art, or music, or singing, or math. I suppose if I start taking voice lessons tomorrow (or music or acting lessons) and work really, really hard, in about 10 years or so I’ll be bellowing out “Mio Babbino Caro” at the Met. Maybe one day I’ll play the cello alongside Yo-Yo Ma or star in a film opposite Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro—none of whom were born with any talent, of course; they simply worked their butts off and “knew the right people” (another one of this poster’s peculiar statement). Maybe I can't tell an atom from an ion, but if I enroll at MIT and devote my life to science, I could be the next Stephen Hawking if I just stick with it.

I don’t think any of us sit around and marvel at our own earth-shattering awesomeness. We don’t dance through the streets, singing, “I have talent! I can write!” We also recognize that while there are those who may not write as well as we do, there are hundreds, thousands of authors who can write circles around us. We read their words, and weep at our own inadequacies, thinking: I will never write that well, not in a million years. 

We know this. We accept this. It doesn’t minimize our own talent—because talent is what it is. Call it genetics, call it a gift from God, call it a weird cosmic fluke, but yes, we’re born with it. 

We hear it first as small children, telling stories to our siblings or playmates. They stare, wide-eyed, and beg for more. Our parents chuckle and say, “Oh, she has such an imagination!” That’s when we learn for the first time that having an “imagination” makes us, well, kind of special. No, imagination isn’t everything. But that’s how it starts. 

At eight, as I tossed out witty one-liners during dinner one night, my father warned, “You keep that up, you’re gonna be a comedian one of these days.” Little did he know that my zingers weren’t destined for the stage, but for future stories. 

Later, we hear it from our teachers when we turn in essays with nearly perfect grammar and punctuation, often with dialogue throw in. Why do we always find it impossible to stay within the mandatory page limit, while our classmates struggle to squeeze out half a page? Our teachers assure us, “You should be a writer when you grow up,” as we gaze happily at our bold red A+. When we exchange papers with our classmates, we’re horrified by the errors. Why can’t they spell? Why can’t they figure out where the commas go? Why do their stories, well, pretty much suck? 

In high school and college we might struggle with math and science, but find English courses a breeze and ace every one. Instructors ask permission to keep some of our work to use in future classes, as examples of good writing. By then we’ve figured out that, yes, we do have a talent, an ability to create stories that others want to read. We wonder: is it possible? Am I really this good?  

Often we’re torn between pride and embarrassment. After all, we’ve been taught from a young age not to boast about our abilities. “Bragging is vulgar,” we’re told. “Don’t show off.” So we quietly relish our gift and keep it close to our heart—one of the reasons, possibly, that many authors are uncomfortable with self-promotion. We bite the bullet and struggle to put ourselves in the spotlight, noticing at the same time those who don’t possess the gift—either competent and technically correct writers who lack the ability to command a reader’s attention, or those who are simply inept, awful writers—make up the majority of writers out there screaming, “Look at me! I wrote a book!” These are ones who spam message boards with orders for us to click on their website and read incomprehensible excerpts. They send out mass e-mails to total strangers, begging for sales.They publicly bash the publishing industry for not recognizing the talent they’re convinced they have, when, in fact, nothing they’ve written reveals that talent. 

To insinuate to us that we don’t have a gift, that the only reason we’re published is because we “got lucky” or happened to “know the right people”—well, I guess it’s best to merely consider the source. We know how we got there, and why. Not once have we ever taken our “gift” for granted; we revel in it, but humbly so, and work hard, ever so hard, to cultivate it. 

Not a day goes by that we don’t say thank you in our hearts.



( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 30th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
I tracked down the thread. I think this person's problem is, that if it requires a talent/gift/instinct (I added this last, because I think that's what the gift is, an instinctive way of seeing and, more importantly </i>hearing</i>) and she doesn't have it, then she's most likely screwed and it's out of her control.

We can't work our way up to being a top tier writer any more than the rock star wannabes can work hard enough to become Eddie van Halen.

In On Writing King talks about the pyramid of writers, with bad writers at the bottom, then competent writers, followed by really good writers, and at the top the "Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys. They are the geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our ability to understand, let alone attain."

Notice he says gifted. :)

He goes on to say, "...while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one."

It has always made me really sad when someone I know wants it so badly but has no realistic shot. But when they start downplaying the talent/skill/gift of others I run out of sympathy and just feel irritated.
Jan. 30th, 2011 05:45 pm (UTC)
That SK quote is the best.

You mean I can't be Eddie Van Halen either? Pftt!

Jan. 30th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
I picked Eddie as an example because one of my HS classmates had a bad case of "I want to be EvH when I grow up," LOL. I thought he was annoying and immature beyond belief. A year or so ago I found him on FaceBook, and you know he is not Eddie. But he is in a bar band that gets hired quite a lot. He may not have been able to make the full dream for himself, but he didn't let it die, either. And even though that's not my thing, with the years stretched out behind us, I find that I greatly admire him in a "rock on" kind of way.

Sorry, that was probably TMI, lol.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:09 pm (UTC)
On this blog you're worried about TMI? HAHAHA! No way.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC)
Well it definitely won't earn me any On Topic Karma, lol.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
You really tracked down the thread? Man, you're a genius!
Jan. 30th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Well I know what forum you like to hang out on, and I just searched on "gifted" and looked for the most recent thread. I once won a set of atlases for my crazy google fu skills...or maybe it's a gift?
Jan. 30th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
Naw, there is no such thing.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
Very well said.

I do work hard at my writing, but I've also had a gift for it since childhood. It irritates me too when people demean my talent and hard work.
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, how I love reading posts like this. You definitely have a gift and I thank you for sharing it with us :)
Jan. 30th, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome. :)
Jan. 30th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
I've never thought of myself as gifted, just too stubburn to give up. LOL Now, you on the other hand, are gifted, talented, and best of all, an over-all great person.
Jan. 30th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
((((HUGS)))) Thanks, Char--you stubborn old biddy you. :)
Jan. 30th, 2011 09:37 pm (UTC)
Oh WOW. THIS. Yes, THIS. Thank you! Thank you so much. Great keynote speech days before Grapemo. *fangirls*
Jan. 30th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
:) :) :)
Feb. 1st, 2011 03:47 am (UTC)
I agree with the original poster--hard work is a lot of it. If you have the gift for writing but don't cultivate it, you'll go nowhere.

But I also firmly believe that there is "giftedness" or natural talent, that definitely plays a part of it. For example, even if I loved a sport so much and spent all my life at it, I'm not naturally athletic. It took me weeks and weeks and weeks in middle school, with one on one training, for me to learn even how to breath properly for track and field. I can run now, but no one can tell me that if I worked hard enough I could be an Olympic runner. That would be a complete lie. Writing is like sports...there definitely is talent involved. Yes, it's not the only thing, but it's a key component.
Feb. 1st, 2011 03:30 pm (UTC)
Yes, I didn't dispute the fact that there is a LOT of hard work involved. But there has to be something more, and it's not anything you acquire by taking classes, reading books, joining writers' groups, etc.
Feb. 1st, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
I had never thought of writing in this way before, but your post is so spot-on! While I've worked my butt off to make my writing better, I always seemed to have some kind of storytelling instinct as a kid that I merely thought was an overactive imagination. (An overactive imagination that heaps of people didn't share, something that confused me as a kid but now gets written-off as me having a bad case of Writer Brain. Haha!)
Feb. 1st, 2011 03:31 pm (UTC)
LOL! So true.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )


Jeannine Garsee

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