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Publishing Fears/Thoughts

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Mar 5, 2011.

  1. Elder the Dwarf

    Elder the Dwarf Maester

    Kevin, I'm with you with all of that. Maybe a better example of what I was saying is musical ability. I may eventually be able to play a guitar, but I couldn't sing no matter how hard I worked at it. I think that makes talent real, despite what scientists may say.
  2. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Sage

    yep same here
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I think anyone can learn to be a good writer. You cannot learn to be a "great" writer. There is a certain innate quality that separates the geniuses from the rest of the pack. But anyone can learn to be a good writer; even a very good one.

    I also think anyone can learn to be a good singer, and there are a lot of those around, but it takes innate ability to stand out as a great singer.
  4. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Hence why I think you need talent AND Skill ;-)
  5. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    True - sentient beings have the ability to conceptualize an idea from nothingness - but an idea is not enough. Anyone can visualize something in their heads, pick up a paint brush and apply oil to canvas. But does that mean everyone can "paint"? It takes "talent" to transfer an idea into something compelling. A writer does this with words, an artist with the medium he works in. You can learn "techniques" you can acquire "skill" but the ability to translate an "idea" into a finished product that enlightens, entertains, or just "looks pretty" is the talent portion for which I speak.

    I don't really care what science can prove or not. I base my assertions from my own observations over the years. Not everyone can play in the major leagues. Few aspiring artists will ever rival the works of "the masters" after all there is a reason that these people are at the top of their game....they have a tremendous amount of talent, skill, and they work hard at their craft. I think you can "get by" without talent...i.e. skill and hardwork can get you a good solid base hit - maybe even a double. But if you are going to get the homerun I think you need a fair amount of talent that I think is founded in a persons individual personality (or soul) whatever you want to call it. The thing that makes me .... unique.
  6. It may seem reasonable to you, based on your experiences, but this is why we have science -- cognitive biases lead us to believe all sorts of things that aren't true. The only mechanism that exists that allows us to test whether our observations are correct... is science.

    Without having looked too deeply into the research about whether or not there's any such thing as innate talent, if that is in fact what the science says, you can't reasonably say "Well my experience is different" and ignore all the actual science. I mean, come on... it's Science! :)
  7. writeshiek33

    writeshiek33 Sage

    exactly why i try to practice and learn from what i read plus i acknowledge due my dyslexia it going to take twice as much time and hard work most others
  8. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    I don't see how a scientific experiment could be created to test/prove such a hypothesis. Without knowing more about the actual study/studies yes I can lend a skeptic's eye to whether science has "spoken" on such a subject. New scientific discoveries refute past scientific assumptions all the time. No...I'm not convinced yet.
  9. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    I suppose data could be gathered on people attempting a certain task for the first time, and their success at that task somehow correlated to the existence of 'talent.'

    However, I think we're thinking of talent incorrectly. Talent is not some aspect that you have within you - it isn't in your DNA (not directly). Talent at any task is a combination of a number of other factors. Sports talent, for instance, is some combination of coordination, reflexes, and observational skills (being able to learn from watching).

    Storytelling talent (which I consider the part of fiction writing that cannot truly be learned, though I will qualify this statement in a moment) is composed of several parts as well. Empathy is a major one, and our ability to empathize is bound up in how our brains work. It can be taught, but only with great difficulty because attempting to learn empathy where you had none is practically trying to rewire your brain (in the metaphorical sense, at least. I have no idea of the physical truths behind what goes on in somebody attempting to 'learn' empathy).

    The craft of writing, on the other hand, is a purely human construct and can certainly be learned. However, in our little hobby the craft and the talent are so tightly bound up it is often hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Perhaps because of the ideas themselves - a really fantastic idea won't change much when you attempt to put it into words because of how strong it is. Another way to put it might be a weak idea conforms to the language, where a strong idea forces the language to conform to it.

    Of course, the talent to think up great ideas isn't the only talent that goes into writing. The aptitude towards entertaining writing also exists. Take Shakespeare. His ideas aren't always great. His plots are weird or cliche (even then) or stolen directly from other works. However, he is still the freaking Bard because of HOW he told those stories, the gorgeous language they were wrapped in.
    Dreamhand likes this.
  10. Get a group of people who have no experience with a particular task, and start them at it. Periodically measure their output. Give them all the same training and the same amount of practice. At the end of it, see if some of them are significantly better at it than others. Or something like that.

    Sure, it's fine to say "I've looked at the evidence and I don't think it supports conclusion X," it's just not reasonable to say "I don't care what science says, I'm going to go with my own instincts."
  11. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    For something as quantifyable as, say, hitting a 100 mph fastball - sure that works. But art is subjective. What one person sees as exceptional another will vilify. So there isn't any way to quantify the output they produce. You can't say objectively this result is "good" and that result is "bad". So I see no way you can "measure" artistic ability in a truly quantifiable way. If you can't measure it you can't test for it. That's what I was referring to.

    Having no access to "said evidence" and the techniques used to collect it I can't comment one way or another. I'm not saying I don't care what science says, I'm saying I would need a specfics to determine whether the test was performed in a way that I can trust the results. It's not a matter of me discounting science...it's a matter of wanting the details before accepting something as "fact".
  12. OK, I didn't mean to stir up so much controversy over the science bit. I did do the research on this one, not too long ago. Was back in school taking some additional courses around my "non-writin" profession (y'know, the one that pays the bills right now). Wrote a paper on a related subject.

    Anyway - "does talent exist" is a hotly debated topic. Right now - or as of a year ago, anyway - the current in vogue theory was that talent did not for the most part exist.

    But the whole thing is related to the "nature vs nurture" debate, and that's still raging too. How much of what we are is related to genetics, and how much to environment? To put it in terms of this debate - when someone is excellent at a skill, how much of that did they get from their DNA, and how much did they pick up along the way?

    Anything picked up along the way can be picked up at any time. It might take longer at one point in your life than at another point, but it's always possible. We see 80 year old people doing extensive neuronal rewiring. Very viable at all ages, just takes application of a lot of effort.

    But if it's genetics, then you either got it, or you don't. If you didn't get the right DNA sequence for something, you simply don't have it. There's evidence, for instance, that tastes for certain foods is genetic (identical twins who were separated at birth have been studied *extensively* for this sort of thing). There's also some evidence that interest in at least some sorts of activities have some level of tie to genetics.

    The debate is really how much each impacts things. And the answer is probably "it depends on what things".

    Are there some people who through a twist of the genes probably have some sort of superior ability to give words meaning on the page? Perhaps. I *will* buy that. ;) Your classic early master of something might be related to that. Your outstanding writers, musicians, artists, whatever - might be examples. But I don't think most of us are talking about Shakespeare here. We're talking about the ability to write stories that people enjoy reading.

    And that's not really about talent. I think. I feel like it's mostly about skill - the skills honed through long practice.

    Stephen King had a quote in "On Writing" which is related to this topic. While I'm not sure my own feelings match his precisely, there does seem to be some germ of truth in it:

    "While it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one."
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    Heh. Depends on how often you're "that guy." I used to know someone who was proud he sent off fifty-plus submission letters a week.… :p I'd have to imagine that even with massive slush piles, you'd need a pretty common name for it not to start registering eventually.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  14. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    "current in vogue theory" -- note "theory" is why I was not takin it as "a scientific fact" - I was taken to task for discounting "science" but I've not been presented with any scientific evidence to dispute.

    As to nature/nurture -- most people who have children side on the "nature" side of that equation. I have three children all born into similar situations - stable family - one at home care giver - one bread winner - similar socio and econmic status - and they are all VERY VERY different. Again - not scientific - purely imperical but my children should be very similar if their personalities and perpencities were related to how they were nurtured as their environments were pretty darn similar.
  15. *I* never used the word "fact", Mike. I said current research doesn't support the idea, which is true (last I was reading, anyway!).

    Science has facts. Facts are specific events which are observed. Facts are raw data, directly measured.

    Facts in science are *never* extrapolated from data.

    We can say that if I drop a ball, and see it fall to the ground, that my ball, on that occasion, fell to the ground. It's an observed fact. We can't say that proves gravity exists - gravity is a theory. Yes, still. ;) (I'm sure you know all this, Michael, just explaining for anyone who doesn't.)

    Virtually everything upon which we base modern science is theory, not fact. Those theories are based upon observed experiences, recorded as data - facts. But whenever we try to extrapolate anything from the data, we're creating a theory to explain the data. We're not stating a fact.

    Anyway - there ARE some interesting facts around the nature/nurture thing. Several very intensive surveys have been done of identical twins (who are genetically the same, of course). Both twins raised together and those separated at an early age were observed. Even those identical twins who were reared together had very different personalities, in most cases, which puts the lie to the "genetics is everything" theory. But on the other hand, separated twins were even more interesting - some traits were the same, some were very different. You'd get cases of a pair of twins both preferring the same flavor of ice cream, for instance - but both showing remarkably different aptitudes.

    So the theory there most generally accepted is that part of who we are is made up by genetics - and part by our environment. It's where that line is drawn that has researchers arguing like mad, and probably will for quite a long while to come. ;)
  16. MichaelSullivan

    MichaelSullivan Maester

    Hey Kevin, sorry if it came across as putting some words in your mouth. I actually wasn't responding to you....it was this post by Benjamin:

    The point I was trying to make is I wasn't disputing science because you can't scientifically test "writing talent". To test something it has to be measurable and quantifyable. But evaluating "art" is impossible because there is subjective and there is no objective standard to say...this is good and that is bad.

    Now you certainly can test "writing skill". If you define that as copy editing - you can produce a piece with a known number of grammaric errors and test how many are found....then do some training and produce a similar work (or even the same) and see if more errors are found. This is quantifable and testable.

    But even with that...English is a living language and conventions change all the time. Old school editors will say put a comma on an introductory phrase. Others loosened that conventiion to say only if the introductory phrase is longer than 4 words. I won't even get into the religous debate over the Oxford comma.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2011
  17. No harm done. =) I just wanted to be sure I was being clear - and talking about theories as if they were facts grates against my background (heavy on the physics to start out, heavier on the bio end these days). It's not something I wanted to be thought guilty of! ;)

    The talent debate (does it exist or not) is complex. On the one hand, you have folks saying that talent is inborn, genetic. My personal bias is the feeling that's not the whole truth - that our makeup is partly genetics, and partly environment, and the two mesh together to produce who we are.

    Others suggest that there is some sort of narrow window during early years where cognitive development patterns are set, and change (although possible) to radically different patterns becomes much more difficult after that period - hard enough to be effectively impossible for most people.

    I've seen some substantial evidence to back that last bit up. It doesn't suggest that it's impossible to "grow a talent" that you didn't previously have. It does suggest that it can be exceptionally difficult to do so.
  18. It occurs to me that from the perspective of someone who wants to succeed as a writer, it doesn't matter whether talent is inborn or not (and if it is, whether you have any). You have to work your ass off to find out whether you can succeed in any event.
  19. Of course it matters! ;)

    If talent is completely inborn, and absolutely necessary for writing success, then only folks with talent will ever succeed at writing. Those without, simply won't make it. Doesn't matter how hard they try, or how many hours they work at building their skills. If this were true, anyone without writing talent would simply be doomed to mediocrity without hope of working their way to a higher level of skill.

    However, if what we think of as talent is actually the result of skills gained through thousands of hours of practice, then anyone (or pretty nearly anyone) can acquire talent. That means if you work hard enough at writing, you can become an excellent writer - your work is what matters, not your genes.

    It's a significant difference.
  20. lawrence

    lawrence Troubadour

    "If talent is completely inborn, and absolutely necessary for writing success, then only folks with talent will ever succeed at writing. Those without, simply won't make it."

    Just look at the junk that gets published and sells in many thousands. Plenty of poor writers have 'succeeded' in terms of sales. As Michael said, art is subjective. So we have bad authors and bad artists becoming famous. Many talented people do not get anywhere. The lucky break is as central to success in creative work as is the hard work and gifting.

    I personally believe that the talent is something that some people have 'naturally'. Its in their nature, and nurture can play a part in bringing it out and helping it blossom.

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