Knowledge vs. Drive

Last week, when I participated in the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, this blog post by Fanni Sütő really got me thinking about where the line is between a writer and a non-writer.

The posts asks: can writing be taught? Of course, this is meant in the sense, can you teach someone to be a writer? Or is it something innate that can’t be taught, and you either have it or you don’t? I want to expand on my thoughts about this concept, because they’re really quite multi-layered.

First of all, can the technical aspects of writing be taught? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone can argue with this. One of the first things we learn in school is how to write. We learn to recognize words and put them in sentences, and put sentences into paragraphs. As we get older, we learn about identifying the parts of a sentence and how to properly construct a paragraph. You can definitely teach someone all the grammar and technical aspects of writing a novel, from top to bottom. You can teach them the proper use of language and how it all fits together and where and when you can break the rules and so on and so forth.

Now, on to the next question. Can talent be taught? Well, the answer to this is a bit more complicated.

First, you have to define what talent is. Talent is having a knack for using those technical skills you’ve been taught. It’s knowing how to use words in a way that not only tells a story, but paints a picture and draws the reader’s interest. It’s being able to mold words like a sculptor molds clay. The sentence “The sun rose over the mountains,” is grammatically and technically correct. But, “The red sun rose like a blemish on the bleak sky above the mist-laden mountains,” is a different thing altogether. In one sentence you not only set the scene, but created a mood and conveyed an atmosphere, and probably even delved into your character’s mindset a bit (imagine instead the character viewed the scene as “When the pink sun rose, it brought a flash of cheerful color to the bleak sky and the mountains below, adorned in their fluffy frosting of morning mist.”) That’s where talent comes in.

Can talent be taught? My answer is a tentative…yes. You can teach somebody how to shape the technical into something more captivating. You can point out, as I did above, how adding detail to a sentence creates more flavor and conveys story aspects. You can break it all down and show someone how it gets strung together, and they can, of course, emulate it.

But this is where a thing that can’t be taught becomes important. Passion. You can’t teach someone to be passionate about a skill, and the desire to turn the technical into talent often needs a good dose of passion to make it work. I can’t play any musical instruments, but you could definitely teach me the technical aspects of how to play a guitar. I could probably even, in time, learn how to play an entire song. But I will never be a guitarist because I have no passion and desire to be a guitarist. I can’t picture myself doing it, I have no ambition to do it, and it would bore me so I’d never practice or learn new things.

Passion for writing, or any creative endeavor, cannot be taught. You have it or you don’t. It’s passion that makes the writer, because from passion comes drive, discipline, and the desire to learn, grow, and do better. When you’re a writer you want those things with all your heart and you don’t let much get in your way. You figure out how to fit it into your life and you make room for it. When you don’t write it eats at you, and when you do write you feel a kind of satisfaction that nothing else gives you. That can’t be taught. It’s a spark that people–both creative and non-creative–happen to find in the thing that gives their existence meaning. It’s luck, it’s chance, it’s fate–whatever you believe in.

So yes, writing can be taught. But to change up a proverb, you can lead a writer to the keyboard, but you can’t make them type. The desire to write is something that comes from a place they don’t mention in school books.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think writing and talent can be taught? What about passion, where do you think it comes from?

6 thoughts on “Knowledge vs. Drive

  1. I think anything can be taught with its technical aspects, but there must be something inside a person to really make it gel. I always think of the musicians I know: anyone can be taught to play a piece technically perfect or to play all the right guitar chords in a song, but the true musician will play with a type of passion and feeling that brings a presentation of musical phrases and emotions, rather than note after note. I’ve worked with people who count beats, measures, and rests, and never get the feel for the song as a whole. They never allow themselves to be immersed, and it shows.

    Writing is similar. Anyone can memorize sentence structure, proper spelling, grammar rules, and maybe even come up with a decent plot. But those who are truly writers will make us cry, or laugh, or get angry with fictional characters in a way that surprises us.

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    1. Absolutely 100% well said! Thank you!

      Like

  2. I tend to agree. It seems to be unpopular to say that not *everyone can be a writer but . . . not everyone can be a writer. *dodges the tomatoes* Sometimes I read an author and think, that person has learned the technical tricks but something is missing. Maybe it’s that passion. Thanks for this thoughtful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. Some people persist despite not having “it,” whatever “it” is. Maybe in time they’ll find the passion, though? Very thought provoking.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Talent can be developed, but I think you’ve hit it about passion. If it’s not there, the talent goes no further. It requires effort.

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    1. Absolutely. It’s hard to put in the effort for something you’re not passionate about.

      Like

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