Talent, skill and effort

The Craft of Writing takes talent, skill and effort.

A talented writer

“You are very talented.”
“I wish I had your writing talent.”
“If only I could write like you.”

These were the words my language teachers used to say to me. Not just one of them. Not even a few. No, all of them.

And I?

I would look at the floor, not knowing how to react. What were they on about? It was nothing special. I just wrote some words on paper. Everyone could do that, right?

Me? Talented? No way. I was a nobody. I was that nerdy misfit who got bullied because he was different. A pale, bone-thin, socially awkward clown, who lived in his own little world. A world of myths, monsters, and magic.

As people kept on praising my writing talent I finally accepted that, even though I still couldn’t see their point, they were probably right. So I was a talented writer. But what did that mean? Would I become a rich and famous author? But then I’d have to write a book, and that seemed like too daunting a task. I wasn’t that good.

Talent is five percent

I was right about that. I wasn’t that good. What I needed besides writing talent, was skill. And guts. That too. The promise was there, yet I was unable to live up to it.

My daughter’s violin teacher used to say, “Talent is five percent.”

In my ignorance, I scoffed at his words. How could he have so little appreciation for his talent?

And yet, what had my talent brought me? One book. I had one measly book published with a small publisher. What was worse, none of my writing talent showed in that book, and precious little skill. Thank goodness my publisher went out of business a few years later.

Blood, sweat and tears

Writing is easy. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” At least, that’s what Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith told us back in 1949.

He was right. As it is with all art forms, so it is with writing. All it takes is blood, sweat and tears. Although talent is a good starting point, if you’re afraid to put in the work, it will take you nowhere.


But what about skill, Mr Katz? Did you not just tell us that you weren’t good enough because you lacked skill?

Indeed, that’s what I said. Because how can you bleed words if you don’t know how to open your veins?

And here’s the good news. Skill is something we can learn. And we have a several different ways to acquire this highly prized skill.

  • Practice – While practice does not make perfect, it does help. A lot. Write as much as you can, as often as you can, read your work back and ask yourself how you can improve on it.
  • Read – Read good novels in a broad variety of genres. Study these works. What makes this novel good? What makes the characters feel real? And what makes the storyline compelling? Ask yourself these questions as you read.
  • Talk – Join a writers’ group and discuss the craft of writing with other writers. Ask them questions about their work. Ask them questions about your own work. Engage.
  • Study – Buy books on writing and study those. Take a masterclass if you can afford it. Watch YouTube videos on the craft of writing.

Talent, skill, and effort

I understand my daughter’s violin teacher now. He did not spurn his talent, but he understood what I had not learned yet: that talent without skill will take us nowhere, and only hard work can make us achieve our dreams.

Yes, writing is easy; it only takes talent, skill, and effort.

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