There’s a Difference Between Talent and Skill — Do You Need Both?

What’s the difference? And why does it matter?

Has anyone ever called you “talented”?

Have you ever really stopped to think about what this means?

Most people who compliment you on your writing — especially as an adult — they’re actually complimenting your skill. They mean to say, “Wow. You’ve worked so hard, and it shows!”

The reason I cringe at even the thought of these interactions is because regardless of whether you’re “gifted” or not, writing takes a lot of work. And saying someone has a lot of natural talent … that almost implies they’ve gotten as far as they have without effort. And that’s not cool.

Yes, talent and skill are two very different things, even in terms of writing.

Talent refers to your natural ability to do something.

Skill refers to your acquired ability to do something well.

Talent is effortless.

Skill can only be developed through active practice and long-term buildup of discipline and resilience.

Talent is passive.

Sill is active.

If you were born a talented writer, the act of writing has probably always come easier to you than it has your peers. You have also probably found that trying to refine your skills as a writer has also come more easily.

It’s still not easy — just easier. At least a little bit.

So then the question becomes: if you’re not a naturally talented writer, does that matter? What you need to know is that talent isn’t what makes a writer successful. Skill does that. And if you’re not naturally gifted in the writing department, you can still develop amazing skill. It just might mean you’ll have to work much harder, and longer, to succeed.

Is that a bad thing? Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to accomplish something or to improve a desired skill. All that matters is that you TRY, and you DO YOUR BEST.

And to anyone who happens to be a naturally kick-butt writer, don’t you dare get lazy. Because guess what? Everyone who doesn’t have your talent is going to catch up to you eventually, especially if they practice for hundreds upon thousands of hours … and you don’t.

You’re never “too good” to get better at something.

That being said, this isn’t a competition. We are all skilled in unique ways. We all have different weaknesses and strengths. That’s why it’s so healthy to read books from a wide variety of authors. It exposes you to different styles and shows you the best examples of a handful of different writing elements. No two writers are exactly alike. And that’s how it should be.

Regardless of whether you’re naturally good at this whole writing thing or not, there’s no excuse for just sitting around waiting for something to happen TO you. You have to MAKE writing happen. You want to be a better writer, you have to write more. It’s not a complicated formula — we just make it complicated because we’re easily distracted and wait what was I talking about?

Talent or not, anyone can be a writer if they’re willing to do the work.

To be good at it, you have to do the work … and then some. And then some more.

It’s up to you how seriously you want to take it. If you’re ready, don’t just make a plan. Get out there and start writing.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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4 thoughts on “There’s a Difference Between Talent and Skill — Do You Need Both?

  1. Reblogged this on Sharon E. Cathcart and commented:
    My first journalism instructor said that she wasn’t there to make anyone into a writer; she maintained that you either could or could not do it. She said she was there to teach people to write for the newspaper, which was a specific skill set. Fully half of the class dropped out.

    Writing may come naturally to you, or it may be a struggle. Nevertheless, like anything else, practice and study will always improve your skill set.

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