Talent: Overrated Or Underrated?

A couple weeks back I saw this piece on GalleyCat asking whether writers are born or made. Geoff Colvin -- senior editor-at-large (as opposed to editor-at-small) for Fortune magazine -- has a book out called Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else. Basically, he thinks we "overvalue talent in our culture, arguing that writers are shaped by teachers and practice -- not innate talent." This is one of those things where I agree but disagree. Yes, writers (just like all artists) learn their craft after much instruction and practice. We learn to write and, if we're lucky, we learn to write well. But some writers just have a gift. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what that gift is, but when we read a book by a certain writer who is no doubt talented we feel something in the words.

Now I haven't read Mr. Colvin's book, so I have no idea what it's really about, but my assumption is he thinks talent is overrated in terms of commercial success. And I think he's right. Look at writers like James Patterson and Dan Brown. They are hugely successful. But are they talented? I don't want to be a hater and say neither man has no talent whatsoever, but I can think of countless other writers who have more talent but who are, unfortunately, not as successful.

Personally, I think talent is underrated in our culture.

Major publishing houses nowadays don't seem to care much about a writer's talent. They care about whether or not they can market that particular writer, and how much commercial appeal that writer's book has. If that writer happens to be talented too, well, that's just an added bonus.

A talented writer is someone who understands the need for teachers and practice; they use those to their benefit, and while commercial success may never come, their talent still shines through in their work.

Other writers may not have the same level of talent but can still succeed as long as they work hard enough at it ... not to mention get lucky here and there.

Ultimately, what does this mean? Nothing really. Writers shouldn't worry about whether or not they have an innate talent for words. They should just worry about writing.

So what do you think -- are some writers born naturally talented or not?