Are good writers born or made? Discuss.

It’s an age-old question: Does talent or skill matter more in the making of a good writer?

 Are good writers born or made? Discuss.

Jack Kerouac says…

‘Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write; but geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.’

It’s a fact that some people are naturally better than others at writing. This can be chastening if you’re managing a team of content creators. You might find there’s a junior writer who outshines you when it comes to minting a phrase. Learn to celebrate and deploy their talents well (and remember that Kerouac ended up living with his mum).

F Scott Fitzgerald says…

‘I have been only a mediocre caretaker of my talent.’

Just because a person has a gift for writing doesn’t make them bankable over the long term. People with talent often get used to coasting along. They fail to challenge themselves and can get stuck in a rut (or a bar, in Fitzgerald’s case). You have to exercise your talent regularly to keep it in shape.

Malcolm Gladwell says…

‘You need to have practised, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.’

Gladwell’s famous rule is drawn from a study of violin students. Translated into the world of copywriting, it might be said you need to write 3 million words before you get any good. As with most disciplines, there’s no substitute for putting in the hours…

Terry Pratchett says…

‘How hard can writing be? After all, most of the words are going to be “and”, “the”, and “I”, and “it”, and so on, and there's a huge number to choose from, so a lot of the work has been done for you.’

Writing is about language as much as individual talent. Any language offers a rich vein of expressive resources ready to be tapped. Just reading a lot and flipping through a couple of reference books will massively expand your own command of the language. You’ll have to go some way to be as commercially successful as Terry Pratchett, though.

Ernest Hemingway says…

‘It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.’

Always make writing seem effortless, even when it’s not. 

Papa Hemingway was a master of bravado, of course. His advice is particularly useful if you’re in the business of impressing clients. It also gives you licence to sneak off to a few writing courses to improve your craft...