The Gift and Craftsmanship

Over the years, I’ve known and worked with perhaps a hundred writers, most of them successful to one degree or another. Of those, maybe three have what I call “the gift.” By that I mean the inborn genius for knowing how to put words together to create beauty. Two of those three are as yet unpublished. It’s because they haven’t mastered the craft. They haven’t inculcated into themselves the mechanics of fiction writing.

Until they do, their work won’t see the light of day in print.

Most published prose writers I read don’t possess the gift. Their writing is good, well thought through, well crafted. But it lacks the magic that innate understanding of English makes possible. What that tells me is that the gift is not required to be a successful writer. It’s more important in fiction, which is an art form, than it is in nonfiction. And yet I stumble across journalists who possess it. E.J. Dionne is one.

The greatest fiction writers in English all were blessed with the gift. Hemingway is one example. His ability shape sentences and paragraphs with the simplest, briefest strokes is still incomparable even today. Others with that intrinsic knowledge, it seems to me, are F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ian McEwan, and John Steinbeck. Another is Thomas Mann, but you really need to read his work in German to appreciate his genius. Most translations I’ve read don’t do him justice. In the same category is Gustave Flaubert.

I’m not a poet and don’t really understand how to write poetry, but my guess is that most successful poets are endowed with the gift. They seem to know instinctively how to put the fewest words together to create both meaning and beauty. I bow before them.

For all that, the gift is not enough to assure success in writing. In fact, it isn’t even necessary. The majority of writers lack it. What is required is craftsmanship.

More tomorrow.

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