“Can anyone help me become a poet?”
I’m a member of several groups for writers on Facebook—and this was a recent post in one of them. It struck me. I took this question (“Can anyone help me become a poet?”) as coming from a place of sincere desire to grow and hunger for art and artistry.
I clicked open the comments—I was so curious about what the advice would be.
Would they recommend great poets to read and get inspired by? Would they offer exercises, like free-writing or morning pages, to help unlock a boost of creativity? Would they tell stories of their own journeys as writers, about how hard they toiled over their craft?
To my dismay, most of the comments went something like:
- “You can’t teach talent.”
- “Talent is a gift—you’ve either got it or you don’t.”
- “In order to be a Real Writer, you have to have a natural, God-given talent, and if you don’t, you’ll never make it.”
As someone who has taught writing for years, this broke my heart.
Here was a person genuinely interested in learning the art and craft of poetry, and comments like these were completely shutting him down.
And this isn’t an isolated sentiment. The idea that talent is to be prized above all else has haunted almost every writing community I’ve been a part of—from groups and forums online, to undergraduate workshops, to the halls of my MFA program, to the students and writers I’ve worked with both on and off campus.
Let me be honest.
I used to think like this, too. I thought like this because that’s how people responded to my work.
“Wow, you’re so talented.” Oh, my young self thought, that must mean in order to write, you must have talent.
It made me feel special to have someone call me talented. It made my inclination to write feel legitimate. It validated the hobby that turned into a dream that turned into my career.
I owe a lot of gratitude to the voices of my youth that praised my “talent.”
But here’s the problem.
The idea that writing is only a “gift” or “talent” that cannot be grown or taught is damaging to the writer. It encourages resting on “talent” in place of diligent practice and honing of craft.
The reality is that the most successful writers work on their craft with dedication and consistency.
In fact, we know from decades of research that writers of all levels and backgrounds can improve their process and their work through regular and targeted practice: writing regularly, observing the work of mentors, getting reliable feedback from trusted readers, and writing again (and again and again).
Writing is a skill—it’s a skill that can be practiced, honed, and improved.
Once you recognize this, the possibilities are endless: your writing doesn’t stop at the edge of your talent, but can continue to grow and evolve as your practice grows and evolves.
How freeing is that? To know there is no limit to how great your writing can become?
We need to stop obsessing over talent, stop imagining the writer as the lofty and inspired god and replace that image with one of dedication, of toil, of constantly clicking laptop keys and ink-stained hands and growing piles of eraser shavings.
We need to accept that writing is an ever-evolving skill so we can give ourselves permission to make mistakes—and grow from them.
And we need to stop telling other writers they’ll never make it. Let’s stick together; let’s grow together; let’s support one another in our writing journeys.
When we finally do—there’s no stopping us.
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