Are Good Writers Made or Born?

By May 6, 2010 culture, faith No Comments

Conversation and writing have been on my mind all week, ever since posting about them for this week’s HCB book club discussion. There I compare good conversation to good writing, in that an interested listener makes for interesting conversation just as an interested writer makes for interesting writing. To do either conversation or writing well require attention and curiosity and above all, practice.

As I mull over such thoughts, I am reminded of one of my favorite passages from Pride and Prejudice, a banter between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett, in which conversation and piano playing are compared just as I compared conversation and writing in my previous post. Here’s what Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett had to say:

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practicing. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think any thing wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”1

Ah, yes. Some people are born with great skill; most of us, however, have to “take the trouble of practicing.” But the effort we put forth—in conversing, music making, and even writing—is a responsibility that sits squarely upon our own shoulders.

These skills may not come easily to me, but practice is the narrow way to mastery. The way to good writing is paved by lots of trial and error. As Julie Cameron says, good writing comes when we are free to practice and produce bad writing. The bad eventually births the good. And I’m glad now to go this narrow way.

1. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Books, 2003), 174.

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