Born Writing

Apparently, the first word that I spoke wasn’t Mummy or Daddy but Book. This doesn’t mean to say that I think I was a born writer, though as I’ve always got my head in a book I might well be a born reader.

Come to think of it, I wish I’d been a born editor! 

It’s intriguing to trace where talent comes from: some is a natural gift and though skills can be learnt, if someone doesn’t have an instinctive feel for the craft it’s going to show.

People I’ve known who achieved proficiency quickly included an above-the-knee amputee who took to turning wood on a lathe like she was born to make bowls. One of the keenest pool players in Liskeard, Cornwall was a ten-year-old boy who’d been handed a cue at the age of five, and standing on a chair to reach the baize playing surface proceeded to sink balls into pockets. Adult players avoided him, for fear of an embarrassing defeat.

Having a love for what you’re doing helps.

Image result for “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Think of the artists you like to see interviewed about what they do, be they writers, painters, actors or musicians—those with enthusiasm shine out—and they’re not always massively successful commercially. It’s easy to tell when someone is just going through the motions creatively…and I’m including those who are rolling in money from their shtick.

Raymond Chandler is admired for his terse writing style. He’s been called a born writer, but he admitted that he slogged long and hard to make his prose readable while conveying the essence of what he was trying to get across. Robert McCrum makes some good points about the craft of writing in this article about Chandler.

Elena Ferrante recently pitched into this debate about natural talent versus trainingI like what she says about not wasting one’s writing abilities. She also acknowledges that success is often down to luck:

Talent is insufficient: if it’s not cultivated, it ends up, in the best cases, inventing the wheel, only to discover that this has been done already. Those who feel they have an artistic vocation have an obligation not to squander it by being content with what pours from their heart.

There’s a story told about a sensei of Kendo, the bamboo sword fighting martial art from Japan. After defeating a much younger opponent, one of his students congratulated his master on a perfect fight. The sensei responded by saying that his technique had been flawed, but that was why he’d been studying Kendo for fifty years, and that he would never want to achieve perfection…the reason he fought was for the love of his art.

Image result for kendo

I’ve felt the same way about things I’ve loved doing, including motorcycling, cooking, boxing and writing. I’ve been known to turn around and retake a corner on a motorcycle, to get a more fluid line through the bend. In rewriting prose and poetry, it might mean that many versions of the work exist, eventually reaching a point where it’s the best I can do. It’s never going to be perfect, but that’s OK.

Such striving for improvement doesn’t feel natural; as Raymond Chandler showed it’s a job that needs hard work. Albert Einstein said:

The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”

I get a thrill out of reading something where I think the author really nailed it, and if it can be made to sound simple, almost as a throwaway line, it has more impact. I wrote down a few great observations from James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux:

*“Solitude and peace with oneself are probably the only preparation one has for death.”

*“The only argument you ever win is the one you don’t have.”

*“Solitude and peace with oneself are probably the only preparation one has for death.”

*“The only argument you ever win is the one you don’t have.”

I don’t suppose that such pithiness came easy to Burke, for in offering some writing tips, he noted:

“Robert Frost once said a poet must be committed to a lover’s quarrel with the world. He had it right. If a person writes for money or success, he will probably have neither. If he writes for the love of his art and the world and humanity, money and success will find him down the line. In the meantime, he must work every day at his craft, either at his desk or in his mind and sometimes in his sleep. It’s a lonely pursuit, one without shortcuts.”

What do you think?

Is writing a natural talent?

Or, do you have to work really hard at it?

Have you always told stories?

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