Writing and Feeling Entitled, or How Talent Kills Your Skill

Oh my goodness, I have such a LONG history with writing. Pretty much like everything that gets labeled as “natural talent” (in winch I personally don’t believe in anymore), it stuck with me from a very young age. For now I have been writing for the biggest part of my life, which is something like 14 years or more.

I used to get pretty creative with writing – whenever I couldn’t find a word that was rhyming with a previous line (yep, I started with poems), I just invented one. I still remember one that rhymed with “autumn” and sounds like “groutamn,” and I have no idea what this means. I know I hadn’t even back then – because the poem is scribbled down in my ancient girly-pink diary, and there are no explanations, though I used to write them down if I had them. I guess I just glued the last part of the poor “autumn” to whatever came to my mind so the lines would rhyme.

The point is, I wrote for the sake of the process. And the sad turnover of this situation (you didn’t see that coming, did ya?) is that I abandoned this blissful approach to writing, and now am working my nerve to regain it again.

I used to invent stories just for the sake of story, and I do sometimes now, but on a much rarer basis. There’s this critical mind of a “too young to be unapologetically confident, but too old not to notice logical screw-ups” adult, which kills every idea in its bud.

If you ever want to write once again, forget that you are talented.

See, I’ve fallen in this trap of thinking I am talented (which is probably true) and bruised myself heavily. Here’s how this happened.

There’s nothing wrong with talent and praising it, but all the people who possess some sort of artsy skills reply to the comments about talent, when we have a real talk and not just shoving compliments around, like this: “Meh, just skill.” Some even don’t like the word because they think it dismisses the value of their hard work.

I’ve been told that I am talented since the age of 12 or something similar, and I still experience the repercussions of this. Combined with my distress from the class I happened to be in and poor adaptation skills, I used my writing as a cocoon to wrap my nerdy and often teased self and protect from the outer world.

In other words, I felt entitled because I could WRITE. I guess there’s no need to explain that it didn’t turn out to be good. Just to name a few consequences, I haven’t written a word of fiction or poetry in more than two years now, and I still feel cranky and cringy when someone mentions you can actually learn how to write. Don’t instill that mentality of “writing is an inborn thing, you either have it or not” in yourself or your kids. Actually, don’t instill that in anybody.

As for the remedies of the curse of feeling entitled to success because you think you can put words in a sentence, like I did, I still struggle with this part, but here are a few findings that may help you, if you are wondering why you suddenly have stopped writing or why everything seems to be going the wrong way:

1) It is actually a skill, and it can be learned and improved.
There’s a quick way to get me real mad real quick – say something about “read this book on writing techniques, plot building and character shaping.” I will be grumpy in a half of a second, assuming that you found my writing not good enough. The truth is, everybody has room for improvement as this is the inherent nature of every skill. Theoretically, you can perfect your writing infinitely if human beings lived forever.

2) There are people who are better at writing.
Just like there are people who are better at everything, and I know how hard it is to make peace with this statement. Recently I’ve found a very insightful thought about comparing – in fact, we compare ourselves to our “local” talents, friends and colleagues. And it really does make sense, since I’m not mad at G. R. R. Martin for his “Game of Thrones” – I don’t even consider myself to be his competitor. Somehow remembering about this takes away a lot of pressure for me, and helps to perform better and to take those tiny steps that lead to big progress in the end.

3) But this doesn’t mean you should stop doing what you are doing.
It’s very tempting to say, “Screw this, if I’m not perfect, I’m not going to do this anymore.” As you have probably guessed, I also have perfectionism, and this takes the writing challenge to a whole new level. Sometimes I won’t start a story because I know it isn’t 100% perfect – so I don’t start at all. The truth is, there will be people who will like it anyway, because we all have different tastes. And while you are sitting here, stinging yourself for not being able to construct a perfect plot or a character that feels as real as life itself, you are robbing someone of the story you might have created if you just wrote it.

What are your thoughts on talent, natural abilities and praise we get for this? Do you have some hacks that have helped you to overcome this period in your life? I would like to read some insightful stories! And finally, a reminder for all struggling authors out there, including myself: you can get better at writing if you write.
Hannah Stone is a freelance blogger at essayshark.com and English language tutor. When not engaged in writing, she paints landscapes and floral patterns with watercolors. You can follow her on Twitter @annastonefin