Skill vs. Talent – Which do you have?

 

by Ryan Lanz

  • tal·ent [tal-uhnt] noun: a special natural ability or aptitude.
  • skill [skil] noun: the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

What if you don’t have natural talent? Does that mean you may as well give up?

It’s not quite the chicken or the egg debate, but it’s up there. I’ve heard people go in circles about which comes first and which is necessary. At what combination of both does one continue the grind and attempt at success? I’d be surprised if you haven’t asked yourself that question. It’s a part of being human.

 

What does each really mean?
This comes from the university of my opinion, but I would describe talent as the natural ability that needs little to no refinement, and skill is the unnatural ability that you have to develop. For those of us who’ve played sports (myself excluded), I’m sure you’ve all encountered someone who strides onto the field and makes it all look so darn effortless.

This person hardly shows up to practice, and you have a fairly good idea that it took hardly any effort to accomplish. Same with the person who aced every test in college with little preparation, leaving you in study hall time after time with a bucket of coffee. You must have missed at least three parties because you had to cram for the Calculus exam, right?

 

Which is better?
Good question. And one not so easily answered. Sure, we would all like natural talent that we don’t have to pour so much effort into, but sometimes that doesn’t quite pan out. Often, we are born with enough talent to have an affinity for a profession, but the rest has to be made up with skill. In writing, there are dozens of abilities that need to be present to make a good novel, such as foreshadowing, prose, description, natural dialogue, pacing, etc.

Let’s say that you have a knack for writing dialogue, but your setting description rambles on and on. The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and you’ll have to practice at writing setting description over time to develop it into a skill, even if it’s not a natural talent. To be fair, natural talent does get you to the goal quicker.


Related: Finishing a Book is a Skill


 

The combination of the two
If Tiger Woods is not the best golf player of all time, then he comes very close. He started golfing on professional courses at the age of two years old and was featured in a golf magazine at the age of five. Tiger spent 545 weeks combined total as the world number one. In my opinion, that is some superb natural talent. Although Tiger has mounds of it, he still had a golfing coach (and probably still does) through most of his career. That’s combining the natural with the refined skill that creates that sweet spot. Think about how you can make a similar combination.

 

Is it so bad if you don’t have natural talent? Should you give up?
The one downside to having natural talent is that you don’t have as much appreciation for the effort. Let’s look at two writers: one who writes his/her first book and quickly becomes published, and the other is a writer who labors for ten years to even become noticed. Both eventually become published and successful, let’s say. I think it’s fair to say that the latter writer has more appreciation for the effort of the craft. There are small nuances of writing that I feel are best represented when someone has to massage and mold their skill over the long-term.

I believe that about anyone can accomplish about anything if they were to dedicate their entire life to it, even if that person doesn’t have a drop of natural talent. Ask yourself what craft you can accomplish if you were to invest 20 years to its perfection. So, no, don’t simply give up on it. You may have been born with talent in a profession you’re not interested in. That’s okay, just work to catch up in a profession that you are.

 

Conclusion
If you sharpen your skill enough, people will believe that you’ve had talent from the very beginning, regardless of how much you actually had to start with.

 

 

Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr

 

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67 thoughts on “Skill vs. Talent – Which do you have?”

      1. Well, I’m following you, so I’ll sure come across your posts again if you add some more 🙂 Sometimes I have to go quiet when work takes too much of my time, but otherwise, I enjoy reading blog posts, so no doubt I’ll be liking and commenting yours again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I strongly believe that without having a talent you won’t have any interest in doing something in the area where this talent is needed, and vice versa, having a talent will push you in a specific direction. For example, if I don’t like mathematics it’s a good sign I have nothing to do with it; and when I like something it means I am capable of doing it. But the talent is like a sparkle that needs food to become fire, and without polished skills the talent is useless. So the talent and skills are not mutually exclusive, they should go together.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dear Joan, your sentiment doesnt hold up. Desire or aspiration regrettably does not equal talent. And vice versa. I am a talented tennis player, but i hate tennis! God knows there are too many people marring our eyes with horrible uninspired writing or art, all because somewhere along the road someone let them think they had talent
      Or didnt definitively indicate that they didn’t. Wouldnt it be nice though if this was not the case! If we all had the predisposition to pursue only those things we are talented at!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t say aspiration equals talent, I said if you are attracted to something it is probably a sign you can do it well. People are usually attracted to things they respond to emotionally and intellectually which implies they have something to respond with.
        Those producing bad art are not necessary talentless, some of them haven’t learned yet how to express themselves, and they need to develop what the article above calls skills. I’ve seen many examples of bad writing, and with all the awkwardness of style some of them show potential. If you’ve read early works of many famous writers you know how shitty they were. Nobody becomes a master overnight, it’s a long way.
        As for talentless bad writing people, I can see that many of them don’t even pretend to be writers, it is just their try to be heard; the others haven’t found their real talent and try to find recognition the way they think the most obvious.
        If you hate tennis you should not play it, I’m sure you have another talent to work on. Just look for it before you say you don’t have it.

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      2. That’s a glass half full perspective if ever i saw one ;P. Entirely too optimistic for the likes of me! I think more often than not what we might be good at and what we want to be/do
        Do not coincide…or we’d be living in a Divergent world! But we agree to
        Disagree and live to post another day! 😉

        Like

      3. P.s. As for tennis..i do play a little, with talent comes great responsibility of making others realize how talentless they are, i do my part….but yes, luckily, i’m multitalented so there is no shortage of things w which to occupy myself . 😛

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Sadly, I have to agree with Intergalacticbattlegirl on this one. Lack of interest certainly does not preclude no talent and there can definitely be interest where there is no talent.
      I myself am talented at math and even majored in it, but the career I aim for is in fantasy writing. Thankfully, I do seem to have a talent for my writing, but I have seen all too many stories online that I can barely read the entire first chapter.
      The good news is that Ryan is right you don’t actually need talent to become good at your dream. It just might feel like it takes more work.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ll toss my hat into your ring on that one, Dorothy. It often does equate to more work. But I’d like to think that the more work makes it a more rewarding destination.
        Btw, accounting runs in my family, so I hear you on the math part. Only, I didn’t catch any of it through genetics. 😛

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      2. Hehe. I hear you, Ryan. Sometimes, even a talent that runs in the family will skip people.
        I also agree that the harder you have to work at something, the more you appreciate it. At times, I wonder if that need to do more work doesn’t actually help to increase your interest. So often, people who have extreme talent in an area dislike that area simply because it provides no challenge.
        For me, the ideas behind my stories come easily to me, but, so often, when I sit down to write, the details of scenes take work. And socialising and getting word out about my books is even worse, but I’m never going to give up on either.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting topic. I once asked, “If someone absolutely has no talent in writing, would you let him know?” My writing instructor said, “No, because chasing one’s dream is good. It doesn’t matter he succeed or not.” I then told him if it were me, I would like to know because I had more than one dreams… and life is short. Helen

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Skill or Talent? I think it depends what you’re looking to achieve. A person can be talented enough for their own ends, but it takes skill to be able to get your work to a point where others can enjoy it as much as the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There was a good set of books done by Gallop (yes, the Gallop Poll people) on excellence. The first book in the set was “First, break all the rules”. Their conclusions were that everyone has talents, but how you use them in your life is up to you. Somewhere in the books they talk about Tiger Woods and comment that his golf game was wonderful except for one area (chipping). Tiger didn’t spend most of his time on his bad point, but his best points, making them even better. He only deals with his bad points when they hinder him progressing. The greatest return on effort you get is when you work on what you are good at. You can improve what you are bad at, but it takes a lot more effort. Writing is a diverse, wonderful field, where you get to create. It can be accessed from about every angle you can think of, so find what you have the talents in and hone them There are times and places to do what you don’t like, but you will excel at what you are best at.
    One thing I come across all the time, especially with young people, is that they do not know what they are good at. I find asking “What do you find easy, that your friends don’t? What is so easy for you that you can’t understand why others find it hard?” A good percentage of the time I get that joy of seeing the light come on as they realise that they really are good at something.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear what you’re saying, Lorelle. It is my opinion that someone can work hard enough to be on an equal playing field, but it’ll obviously take far much more work to do so.

      The question is, is it worth that amount of work to that person.

      Thank for reading!

      Like

  5. First, I do think talent is the prior, since that is something you’re innately born with, a genetic matter as it were. But yes, we can often overcome genetics with desire (for good or ill), and craft. I was never a talent in sports. But I loved to play, and learned to overcome many physical limitations through thought, anticipation, reflexes, and competitive drive. But there’s no formula in this, and ultimately the scariest person with BOTH talent and craft: Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, William Shakespeare.

    The difference between writing and athletic ventures is the distinction between talent and craft isn’t nearly as visible from the outside. *I* know what my starting points were. Someone else does not unless they’ve known me since childhood. In sports, one can see if I am natively strong, fast, accelerate well, jump high or far. Many of these traits are limited outright by genetics. I can maximize what there is, but little more. In writing, the line is blurry enough that what I start with can be supplemented and obscured by things I learn from elsewhere. There are also enough alternate ways to write that while someone might be a great pantster who needs little in the way of outlining or deep prep, a borderline OCD person (like myself 😉 ) can use discipline, outlining, and watching people to appear just as ‘talented.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting that you asked me this question because I finished barely writing a paragraph and dived deep within allowing my natural ability to use my words and feelings felt without compromising my creative expression. So, I say I have both that are surfacing and being refined.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great blog post. I think we all ponder that question at some point. I loved to write when I was younger, and I gave it up. I’m pretty sure that I used the lack of talent excuse to justify it. But, in reality I was just too lazy to put in the time and effort. I believe anyone can do anything if they put the time in to learn. I struggled my entire life to become an illustrator, and I had little to no talent for it. I couldn’t draw a stick figure. Now 20 years later I’ve had oil paintings in galleries, my illustrations are on greeting cards, and I’ve drawn several comic books. I took zero talent and my love of illustration and turned it into a career. With my interest in writing rekindled, I feel that eventually I’ll be able to duplicate that success.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent point. You’re a good example of the refined skill category. It’s inspiring to hear how people carved out a career by the sheer weight of their work ethic and development of their skill set.
      Thanks for reading!

      Like

    2. Yes, exactly. Going through school I was one of those annoying people who didn’t try very hard, but still excelled. My problem is, that it was (and still is) difficult for me to remain motivated, while someone with less talent, but great skill, will outstrip me.
      Here I am at 53 having just wrote my first book. While i think it’s a pretty good one, I’m still limited by my own personality and time left. Will I have time to make the second & third in the main series plus the 3 prequals and 4 spin-off series I can see? Dunno.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Good read. My husband (who seems to be naturally good at most everything he does but who also invests a lot of time in trying to always improve whether it be his studies when we were in college or golf or guitar or whatever!) have discussed this very question many, many times.

    Interesting too in the timeliness of your post. I recently posted a (hopefully!) more humorous take on being talented.

    http://asawyersdaughter.com/2014/08/25/everybodys-got-talent/

    Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great topic. I don’t think the talent/skill question is an either-or one. A writer with heaps of talent still needs to expend tremendous energy to craft good stories with that talent. With writing, talent varies, but I do not think you can be successful without a healthy amount of skill as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hmm – interesting post. I think talent needs to be honed and refined so that one becomes skilful at the talent one possesses naturally. Tiger Woods is a good example.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In some ways I’ve always felt that 9/10’s of the battle is all skill & craftwork, without which all the talent in the world is of no use. Yet, once one has learned the skills of the trade, learned the rules, adapted to the craft of poetry or writing and done one’s long apprenticeship then one can shuck it for talent. Why? Because by then your skill & craftwork should be so naturalized and invisible, second nature that you will not need to think about it, it will flow. So that leaves this strange thing: talent. Which is truly all about finding one’s voice, ditto. Without that unique vision, that sense of rhythm and cadence, that knowing that what one has put together and cobbled out of the wood of words means more that you meant then it is not talent but a brick and mortar shop. Talent comes down to what Yeats once called the “rag and bone shop of the heart”. That’s all. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think it takes vast amounts of both! AND an inclination for it, for whatever field you choose. Although having a talent for something might make it a wee bit easier? And I think people should persevere regardless of other people’s opinion. Or there wouldn’t have been a Van Gogh or a Dr. Seuss or an Agatha Christie or The Harry Potter series….
    Thank you for following my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I think I’d probably go so far as to say that talent is really mostly developed skills. I was listening to an art professor once who told the class that there aren’t people who just “can’t do art”. He suggested that talents are really just reflections of what we do often (and things we’ve done since we were very young). Children who went to art classes from a young age and had exposure to that would be more “talented” at art later on than other children. I’m not entirely sure I’d chalk up all talents to developed skills and exposure, but it certainly is true that practice makes perfect, and if you continue putting work into something, it’ll definitely get better. 🙂

    Hard work > talent imho

    Like

  13. Great post! Natural talent goes a long way but refining and sharpening that talent is also important. I liken it to the Biblical parable where individuals are given some money (interestingly enough, the amount is translated as ‘talent’) but still have to go out there and work with that talent to further their master’s interests. Some are blessed with natural, raw, writing talent but still need to exercise and hone their skills to become truly great writers. Thanks for linking this post on your Facebook page. I would’ve missed it otherwise though I thought I’d gone back to read all your writing articles.

    Like

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