The standard answer to this question is “a bit of both”. But I actually think it’s more complicated than that. Many people ask if writing can be taught – there are enough classes and courses and degrees out there to say the fair answer to that is yes. But others question the quality of work produced as a result of teaching. There’s a persistent feeling that writers must be hit blessed by that cosmic ray we call “talent” in order to be considered writers at all – and especially to be considered “great”. So what’s the truth?
What defines “great” anyway?
Greatness is subjective. I think Terry Pratchett is a great writer, but my best friend doesn’t get him at all. Success is often seen as the marker of being great, but people succeed whose work is of debatable quality. However, there are a bunch of broadly agreed great writers out there who’ve had varying levels of success. So were they born that way?
Great = talent + hard work + ?
This is (almost) the standard equation for success (and therefore greatness if we stick to that line). Talent is the most elusive part. Some people are born with natural aptitudes that help them to excel in certain areas. For example, we don’t have an “art” skill but we may have a good eye for colour, perspective, imagination etc. And talent may mean that they have to put in fewer hours on the commitment front.
But it’s this commitment side of the equation that’s waved as being seen as the more important side of things. You have to put in the time to get the overnight success story. A person’s talent may remain undeveloped and therefore they never become great because they didn’t put the hours in. But that’s where I think the third part of this equation comes in – passion. If you don’t really want something, you simply won’t put the hard work in, no matter if your in-built talent means you have to put in a bit less effort.
I think that great writers are born – but not with talent, with passion. With that spurring them on to work hard, they can achieve greatness – and a greatness of their own definition.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.