Writing Talent and the Dirty Little Secret of the Natural-Born Writer

  • There’s a dirty little secret about writing talent which editors and publishers don’t usually speak of, but which I’d like to share. That dirty little secret is this:

    Writing talent doesn’t really exist.

    As a matter of fact, there’s no such thing as innate writing talent, and the most important trait a writer can possess is just the opposite of innate or natural-born: it is a trait that must be willed and learned.

    And more: that very act of will is part of the trait that’s the most important component in the personality of a true writer.

    The most important thing is the desire to be a writer.

    In my personal experience, both as a writer and also as an editor, persistence is the best measure of talent.

    As Betsy Lerner, former editor at Simon & Schuster, expressed it in her book The Forest for the Trees:

    …the degree of one’s perseverance is the best predictor of success. It is some combination of ability and ego, desire and discipline, the produces good work. And the writer’s success or faltering can usually be traced to some abundance or deficit of those elements.

    Her observation is not only accurate: it’s breathtakingly accurate.

    And yet, in my experience also, most writers don’t understand this. Editors, however, do.

    Since writing is in large part editing, it’s the editors — the true editors — who, in the main, grasp the full process even better than the writers.

    Too often, writers regard the creative process as mysterious, or even mystical. Which it is not. It is complex, and it is difficult. But it’s not incomprehensible, incommunicable, insoluble, or unintelligible.

    The veracity of this is indisputable: Writing, like anything difficult, requires first and foremost the burning desire.

    Everything else follows from that.

About The Author

Ray Harvey

I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. I've worked as a short-order cook, construction laborer, crab fisherman, janitor, bartender, pedi-cab driver, copyeditor, and more. I've written and ghostwritten several published books and articles, but no matter where I've gone or what I've done to earn my living, there's always been literature and learning at the core of my life.

12 Responses and Counting...

  • Hannah 01.06.2012

    I find this a very interesting train of thought. I never really considered whether or not I am a natural-born writer, but I assume it is just as most any art form. Some may have an ability to write with greater ease than others. This is the same concept I use when suggesting that anyone can dance, yet some dance better than others. It is simply as you say; the result of desire and practice. There is so much I have to learn about writing. However, I do wonder if it is essential to imitate other writers? Are there no longer any original writers these days- where imitation would be considered lacking authenticity? This is something I am often concerned about. I desire to create from within myself. I suppose as a human being it is impossible to not be influenced by some outside source. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun.

  • Hi Hannah. It’s nice to see you here.

    I wouldn’t say it’s essential to imitate, but I also don’t think imitation nullifies originality. I think it helps the beginning writer find her authentic voice. I truly do.

    Thank you for dropping by.

  • Nonsense. Only a hack would dismiss the literary physis.

  • I really enjoy you, this post, and your website.

  • Thank you! That may be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.

  • Im an archtecture student;yet i derive pleasure in drawing,poetry and perhaps writing coz everytime i always feel like writing…i ve read books but im never satisfied…pls i dont know how to start…

  • How to start? Think of story to tell. Steal a story that you kind of liked and think of what might have made that story more satisfying. And then write it.

    Thank you for dropping by.

  • Jim

    Your article takes quite a bit away from the writer having any talent,and the editor being the true creative and talented mind. I’m going to disagree…strongly! I always enjoy these kind of articles,though.

  • Looki g for writer friends like me. Send me a message

  • Jim, I didn’t mean to suggest that the editor is the “true creative and talented mind,” as you say.

    The thrust of this post is simply to say that good writing is learned, not inborn.

    Editors often recognize this fact more readily than writers.

    Thank you for dropping by.

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