I was sitting in the kitchen eating a banana, listening to my mom and little sister go back and forth over a story my sister had written. Naturally, I was intrigued. I listened for awhile and tried to encourage a discouraged sister with pieces of advice about writing. She probably didn’t care, but it was worth a shot.
I watched my mom and sister, and a thought crossed my mind: what kind of role do gifts and specific skills play, specifically in writing? I can consider at my writing and process right now, read a story from my childhood and wonder how-on-eath I ever got to where I am. What is it that shaped me? How much of a gift did I really have to begin with? I like to think of myself as a person who has a strong understanding and passion for the English language; sometimes I feel confidence in that assumption, and other times I feel like I have no gift at all. I guess everyone goes through those phases because it’s part of life. But, regardless of my feelings, my question remains the same. How does gifting affect someone’s ability to write?
I can say that for me, a lot of my development came from online roleplaying (I know… don’t judge me. You’ve done weird things too). I faithfully wrote almost everyday, multiple times from April 2007 till probably about October or November 2010. I’m not totally sure on the ending date, because there were random weeks or months that I would try to get back into it for the sake of the discipline. However, college took over my life, and writing unfortunately became a back-burner priority. I can look back on the posts I made all those years and years ago only because I like to see how far I’ve come. It was because of my constant exposure to better writers that I was driven to get better, and as a result of associating with everyone’s writing, my vocabulary expanded, my sense of event progression sharpened, my ability to keep track of a lot of different events was honed (I did write with several characters at a time, and there was a lot of chat box plotting before and while a thread was in progress), and, in general, I had a better idea of how words worked. Then, as I said, college took over my life. However, as a Creative Writing major, I only continued to gain a better understanding of how writing worked and what it took to write a solid piece, both prose and essay; in fact, essays don’t daunt me anymore because I know how they work (or are supposed to work.. they still don’t always come out well).. and I ENJOY writing them. Who woulda thought? During my roleplaying days, constructive criticism never happened because this activity was a stress-reliever in many ways. We all did it for the fun of it, and benefited from that, however, it wasn’t designed as a writing purified, if you know what I mean. When I got to Union, however, it was all geared toward criticism and finding strengths and weaknesses in the plots and characters, and in general bettering each writer. All good stuff, and I’ll forever be thankful for each of the professors and students who have contributed so much to my learning.
So again, I ask, how much does gifting play into the make-up of a good writer?
From everything I’ve been thinking about, and learning, I’d venture to say that a good writer comes more often through of the discipline of honing the little (or lot) of gifting that he or she has than they do out of pure gift. Think of diamonds… they’re only worth so much when they’ve been cut and polished and placed. There IS an initial gift that a person has, a solid foundation to begin the building on, but without the dedicated shaping and hard work toward betterment, there won’t be anything to show for it. And this is why it’s important to be persistent. I’ve just realized that there is value in both collaborating and enjoying being a writer with other writers, and in engaging in constructive criticism and the appraisal of the written word. Work and play, you could say.
Another thing that seems to play a big role in developing the basic gift a person has is a desire to do so. Going back to the kitchen, I watched my sister get very discouraged and frustrated when mistakes in grammar or weaknesses in her story progression were pointed out. For a half-minute, I was surprised at her response; I have learned to love criticism and the red pen as much as I love my parents (and maybe more, if that’s possible…), however, she hasn’t gotten there. She hasn’t realized how valuable revision is. To her, a story is done as soon as the first draft has “the end” written on the last line. Hopefully one day, she’ll get to the point where that “the end” is only just the beginning, and that instead of frustration she’ll experience joy when someone comes along and rips her work to shreds. =) It sounds violent, but sometimes in violence there’s beauty… and by violence I’m thinking turbulent seas and the desolation of winter (when the world is stripped of life.. or so it seems), and such like things. Not actual violence.
Anyway, I digress.
As I said, a desire to improve is what enables a person to muddle through all the growing pains of learning, and the discipline of trying to improve is what makes the cake.
So, what do you guys think about gift versus discipline? Can a totally ungifted writer discipline themselves into a good writer? What are your experiences with developing your gift of writing?
(Sidenote Update: I’ve read “The Perks of Being a Wall Flower”, “Atonement”, and I’ve almost finished “The Silmarillion” since my last post. I have Fahrenheit 451 and… another book whose title I can’t remember on the list. I might watch the “Perks” movie and write a review of both, comparing them and whatnot… we’ll see. I’ve been busier than I anticipated this summer)