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I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, aft...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Natural Talent?

A very eminent scholar, retired from my department and now teaching at UCLA, was in my office just now and was complimenting me on my natural talent for writing. It could be that some part of my talent, such as it is, is innate, but I think I learned to be a good writer of prose by carefully looking at the way in which poetry is put together. The language of poetry is visible, foregrounded. Once I could see that with a finely tuned perception, then I could transfer that ability to see language to prose, perceiving the language of prose (normally in the background) in its sharp contours. Then I could choose models that embodied the particular virtues I wanted to emulate.

Of course, some people can read poetry, and even learn to perceive its language accurately, and still write badly. There is, perhaps, a natural talent in figuring out how to acquire a learned talent. Prose, however, is very rarely a natural gift. It is just too artificial a thing.

6 comments:

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

I recently received a review where the reviewer said I was a "gifted writer." In my case, I am quite sure that is NOT the case. I have become a much better writer over just the past few years through practice, even deliberate practice. As you imply in your post above, when I began to think of myself as a writer, I began to pay attention to style and to work towards improving my writing. I believe anyone who wants to become a better writer can do this. But, it takes a long time, so you have to really want to do it.

Jonathan said...

The more you work on your writing, the more compliments you will get. Even writing above-average prose will get you the reputation for writing extremely well. My father was a sociologist and used to complain about how badly many of his colleagues wrote. But, of course, this is not a problem specific to that field. Literary critics ought to write well but all too often don't.

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

Your father was a sociologist? Cool. I also think that having a parent who is an academic is a great help in demystifying writing. My mother is a professor of legal philosophy ;)

Jonathan said...

Yes he was

Tanya Golash-Boza said...

wow. quite impressive.

Andrew Shields said...

Talent and effort:

http://andrewjshields.blogspot.com/2007/02/effort-not-talent.html