Writing: Talent vs. Good

An author friend posted a link on Twitter to an essay focused on the differences between talented writing and good writing. It’s an interesting read, and one I’d like to discuss a bit at length here, if you don’t mind reading it over so that you can be better informed as I discuss it.

Done? Good.

This is an interesting debate, mainly because in my opinion, so much of the debate rests in an area that’s a matter of personal taste. One person might read a story and think, “That was an awesome, incredible book.” Another might read it and think it was drivel. As far as I’m concerned, both people can be right at the same time. It’s art, and that’s how art rolls, folks.

Case in point: The Great Gatsby. Dan Wells and I had an epic Candy Land duel a year or so ago over whether or not Gatsby is a great piece of literature. I love that book and think it’s brilliant? Dan? Not so much. (Candy Land says I’m right, though. So there.) But seriously, we can both be right. Both positions are defensible. In the end, it’s like having an argument over vanilla vs. chocolate. (Although why are we even arguing? Chocolate wins, easy schmeasy.)

If two English grads can’t even agree on good old F. Scott, how can we hope to have a real debate over talent vs. good writing. According to the article, good writing is well constructed and passable. It’s readable. It conveys a message accurately and efficiently. But it lacks that certain “something” that only truly talented writers have.

Hogwash, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll give you another good reason–we can’t even all agree on what’s bad writing.

Next case in point: The DaVinci Code. Tons of people will do their best to deride it, but it sold boatloads of copies, and it made Dan Brown a huge figure in pop literature. Is it “bad”? Is it “good”? It all depends on the measuring stick, and that measuring stick is going to have different numbers on it, depending on whose it is. Telling someone they like “bad” literature seems like a really base thing to do. It cuts a person to the core, dismissing their judgement. I’m against that.

So Talented vs. Good seems like a non-debate to me. I do think the terms both have merit, but I look at them in a different light. Talented writers are good right off the bat. It comes easier to them. I think of it in the same terms as I thought of musical ability in high school. Some of my friends were clearly just better players at an instrument than others. They didn’t have to work as hard to be as good, if that makes sense. Other people could get to that same level, but they had to work harder to get there.

In the end, I just keep asking myself, “Does any of it matter?” To me as a reader, does it matter if I find one particular author talented and one just plain good? Not really. What’s the difference? I’ll read what I want to read, when I want to read it. Period.

To me as a writer, does it matter? No. All the worrying in the world won’t make me one iota more talented than I might be otherwise. All that I can control is how much effort I put into my writing. What I do to make myself better. Better–that’s the word I can focus on. I want to be a better writer tomorrow than I am today. That’s something I have control over. Whether at the end of that process, I started out as good or talented or whatever . . . none of that matters.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

1 thought on “Writing: Talent vs. Good”

  1. I think it’s possible to make a distinction between personal taste and various measures of quality. Gatsby, for example, is a novel I hate, but I’m not going to argue it isn’t of high quality, or that it isn’t an important work. I don’t have to like it to recognize it was important. (I also don’t have to read it again. Hallelujah.) Obviously these things are up for debate, which is one of the fun things about literature, but it bothers me when people suggest there is no such thing as quality, only taste. Quality has to exist for us to debate it, and it does exist, and debating it is awesome.

    But I agree that there’s no correlation between talent and quality. Talent might help you produce on the backend, but what people attribute to talent on the product end is usually just really hard work, making it look easy.

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