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your opinion here

Dear blogdom, I call upon thee to give me a straight answer. I was involved in a debate today. A mild and non-political debate, but a dialogue of disagreement none-the-less. I want/desire/crave/yearn for your opinion.

Background: I was a journalism major when I started collage. I have litterings of "See you at the New York Times" all over my senior yearbook. Footloose and fancy-free, I was not. I took my role seriously. Others more so than I. And therein lies the loose string that unraveled my initial plans. Journalists I encountered were of a vicious and highly competitive nature. At the tender age of twenty, I decided (after spending a semester abroad) that I was not that sort of person and decided history was the real path for me. My reasoning was backed by a Glamour Magazine editor (Kirsten Golden-Something-or-Other) who told me that many magazines were looking for someone with a flare for writing, but with a well-rounded background. So, my new plan was to become part of the staff of magazine that would find value in someone well-versed in Early-Modern European History. Why? Because I was twenty.

So forgive me for taking this topic to heart, but it wields a certain power over me. Here is my question for you: Can someone learn to write or is a talent you hone-in on?

I maintain that you can teach someone how to properly use grammar, but being able to convey your message to the world - indubitably crafted to tell your story, or evoke specific emotions or opinions - is not something you can learn. It is something you are born with.

Forgive me, dear readers, if I am being harsh. I want to be persuaded otherwise. I would like to believe that I could sing like Norah Jones, if given the right vocal teacher and practice. I know that God gave each of us certain gifts and some people are ridiculously talented (eh-hem, Jen and Darlene) at one thing, like writing, while the rest of us find our gifts in other arenas. We can't all be good at one thing, or this would be a really boring world.


At 1/19/2007 4:30 AM, Blogger Child of God Left a note...

Hi Bean. I came over from Darlene's link.

You've asked a good question. I am in no way a writer nor a good master of grammar. What limited amount of writing I do (my blog and emails) I feel is from my heart. I'm not very intelligent so if something sounds good to someone, it must have been from God.

From what I read in your post, I do believe you have a gift. Education can only improve that gift.

Blessings to you.

At 1/19/2007 9:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Mikey G. quotes... "I never wanted to be a good writer, just a good reader."
There are two parts of writing: skill and voice.
Skill is, of course, developed by practice and instruction. In "The Weather Man" Nicholas Cage plays the son of a Nobel Prize writer. Later in the movie his dad, Michael Caine, says that he got good at writing because of the amount of time he spent developing the craft.
Voice is something very simple and very profound. Any person who knows what they want to say and is literate can be a great writer. "I went to starbucks. I'll be back in ten minutes." is a masterpiece. Saying things more complicated of course requires more skill but if a person does not have a voice it doesn't matter what how skilled they are. We have all read a pretty bad book by a very good writer and end up thinking "they must have needed the money or something."
A proof of "voice" over gifting is that there are people who suddenly find that they have something to say (write) and do it with a skill and voice that had before been missing.
A voice need not be expressed through the written word. It can be expressed by whatever medium is available or appropriate, music, eye contact, a swift kick in the butt. The difficulty with the written word is that we mistake it for a recording of speech. Speech is much more forgiving because non-verbal nuances can add the necessary context to convey our voice. But words in text mostly only say what they say. Context and moods can be developed (through skill) but even then they are are less obvious than speech. Think of how many people read a book that we love and "didn't get it." With speech people might not be moved by the same thing but are much more likely to "get it."
Lastly there is a huge difference between being a writer and making a profession writing. I have no real comment on that except to say that they are not directly related.

At 1/19/2007 11:23 AM, Blogger Jackson Left a note...

I like what Mikey had to say. I do think that in my experience the people who are great writers are also pretty voracious readers (or were at one point). That being said, I've met a lot of readers that can't write worth much.

Like Mikey said a big part of it is having something to say and caring about it. Some people are not particularly eloquent writers but if you get them on the right subject then they can be incredibly profound.

I'd say a little of both...probably anybody can become a "good" writer with enough practice but I would venture a guess and say the the really exceptional writers out there have some innate quality/talent/skill that others don't have. They still have to work to hone it and all that - but it may either come easier to them or they may just have a higher "ceiling" when it comes to what they can do. It is entirely possible for someone to be talented but squander that talent, and entirely possible for someone to have less talent but do more with it.

At 1/19/2007 1:16 PM, Blogger Marla Bean Left a note...

Thanks for all of your opinions Mickey, Jax and Beckie.

I still feel that writing is a natural talent to expand on. I would venture to say that only those born with a gift could come up with a style all their own, while those who are taught to write might have to borrow styles from other greats. This would depend on a number of factors. Journalistic style is taught and the real talent in reporting lies on excellent interviews and gathering facts. Really great journalists have a certain style, a creativity, that sets them apart. As for authors, I think style is everything.

Perhaps there is no real right or wrong answer here. Ones writing will be be deemed successfull if it is popular - and if you are talented or not will be judged by your audience. So the answer is going to be different in almost every case. Am I wrong?

At 1/19/2007 1:34 PM, Blogger Jen Left a note...

Aren't you sweet? I'm blushing over here, because I choose to interpret that as me-Jen and not another Jen.

I'd love to know what spawned this discussion...

I'd say there's no cut-and-dried answer. I enjoy writing and always have, and I've been fortunate to be encouraged by others and seen as "A Writer." I think the need to express myself, share information, and entertain people is a deeply ingrained part of my nature. I can't paint, I can't write music, and I won't be the one to cure cancer, but I can wake up in the middle of the night and write a eulogy that will make you laugh and cry at the same time.

At least until I fall on my way down the altar stairs, because I'm also not very graceful.

People can be taught to write well. They can be taught grammar and organization, and they can even be taught to use a certain voice. Everyone above is right -- the true Writer-with-a-capital-W goes beyond this and makes the reader react.

This is why I don't think you have to be born with a silver pencil in your hand to be a Writer. Once you have a good reason to write something down and share it with someone else...once you pour your soul onto a piece of paper, you're a Writer. Even if that's the only time it ever happens, you're a Writer. And someone who cares enough will recognize the beauty in what you've shared.

Everyone has a voice, and it can be modified and developed, but never changed entirely. I have a sarcastic and verbose style but have been trained to rein it in when necessary. (Journalism teachers, hardened by the chase, are quick to slash out half of your prose.)

You, my love, have a voice as distinctive and stylish as your handwriting (which I've always admired) and everything else about you. Could you be trained to write differently? Sure. You could also be convinced that blue platform shoes are safe and comfortable. But when given free rein, you will write with the same love for life and for words that inflames your thoughts...the same way you will leave a loop in the "M" in your name and wear only what flatters you.

Essentially, you could be taught to sing like Norah Jones, but you could never have her voice. A good vocal teacher would help you discover your own.

At 1/19/2007 3:24 PM, Blogger Marla Bean Left a note...

You, my dear friend, Jen (and the one I was referring to) were indeed born with a silver pencil in hand - don't make me ask Jean. You always make me smile. As usual, well-said.

I'm glad I used Norah Jones as an example - I almost used Celine Dion. Too many references to Celine would have been disturbing to my blog. If that offends my many Canadian friends (although some say that Quebec is not really Canada), I do apologize.

At 1/20/2007 2:05 PM, Blogger Franc-ess Left a note...

i just have to laugh that you asked a question about writing and got some of the longest comments i've seen.

i think writing is an art. one is born with potential, but it only becomes a great ability with learned skill...and (for many writers) editors.


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