Writing: innate gift or learned skill?

Writing: innate gift or learned skill?

Were you born or made a writer?

Whether writing is an innate gift or a craft that one can learn from years of practice is a controversial topic. Just searching for “is writing innate” turns up many discussions and opinions on the topic:

There’s no doubt that some people find writing easier than others, and often from an early age. If we consider other creative pursuits, such as music, it seems unlikely that most of us could be a Mozart even with hours at the piano. Just as some people seem to have a natural flair for music, or maths, or drawing, some people do seem to have a natural flair or talent for writing.

However, you don’t have to be a genius to enjoy or be successful at a particular pursuit. Two things to bear in mind:

1. Practice makes everyone better

“Child prodigy” violinists didn’t become successful without years of intensive practice. The same goes for artists: they don’t simply pick up a brush and paint a Van Gogh. It takes years of study and practising and honing their craft. And anyone can learn and improve. So even if you don’t think you’re the reincarnation of Jane Austen, with practice you could still end up writing very engaging, readable stories.

2. Talent is useless without application

If you want to be a great writer, you actually have to write. That may sound obvious, but many people struggle to actually put words down on paper. It may be fear, it may be procrastination or being too busy with other things, or it may be good old human laziness!

Often we see a piece of modern art that looks absurdly simple, such as a canvas painted a single colour with a line through it. And we think “I could have done that!” But the point is that we didn’t. Whether they had an innate gift or not, someone else thought of the concept, perhaps researched the art market, bought materials, put brush to canvas, painted it, and marketed it.

Even if you think you’re Shakespeare or Hemingway, unless you actually produce the goods, you won’t be successful. It’s the writer of “inferior talent” (in your opinion!) that gets the publishing contract, because that writer actually managed to complete and submit a manuscript.


And now the thoughts of two masters:

innate giftThe gift of writing is to be self-forgetful … to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.

Seamus Heaney

Words – so innocent and powerful as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Graphic images – freepik.com & all-free-download.com

Heaney photo Nobel Prize; Hawthorne photo Wiki


If you would like to practice your writing and gain more confidence, SSOA writing groups can be a great place to start. We also offer one-on-one coaching if you’d like more personalised help.

1 Comment

  1. 2 June, 2017 at 10:16 am

    For me personally writing begins from images I first create & "see" in my mind. The words form from observing those images in minute detail & recording them through language unlike the artist who is compelled to express ideas, images, and emotions through paint I believe our ability to imagine things without actually having them in front of us begins from a very young age when we are left to "daydream" or simply play in imaginative ways. Sadly today many children & adults can't tolerate 'having nothing to do' & reach for an iPhone or tv remote, or expect someone to entertain them constantly. Having "nothing to do" but just sit and think allows our imagination to unfold in wonderfully creative ways I think.

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