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What Talent?! How I learned to write the long way around.

jrlewis's picture

I set myself against talent, because it represents ableist and exclusionary beliefs about creative writing.  In middle and high school, I discovered that I loved writing, and that I was not talented.   No one teacher explained to me how they came to this conclusion, but it might have been my dyslexia, my middling grades in English Literature, and the poems themselves that I was writing.  However, I would like to suggest that neither these criteria nor the concept of talent itself is helpful for Creative Writing pedagogy.

Let me begin by unpacking the word talent and discussing the implications of this concept for Creative Writing pedagogy.  The first definition of talent in the Oxford English Dictionary is an “ancient weight, a money of account,” a way of counting an amount of money in the same way a dozen is a way of counting eggs.[1]  So we might say a student has a dozen talents and then name them individually.  The student has possession of a fixed number of these things.  I had some talents as a student, but writing was not one of them.  The second definition of talent refers to inclination or disposition to write.  I was actually talented in this sense, because I was choosing to write poems outside classroom assignments.  My teachers saw the product of my writing was bad and not that the process was sound.  The third definition of talent is mental endowment and natural ability.  The fact that I was severely dyslexic was enough to exclude me from having the necessary mental endowment for writing.

I might not have been writing good poems, but I was good at writing poems.  What I mean is that I was writing a good deal of poems on my own time and looking for people to read and respond to my writing.  There were years during which I was the kid walking around with a notebook filled with poems, writing more during lunch than eating, and yet this did not make me a writer in the eyes of my teachers.  Instead, my teachers noted the lack of organization in my essays and frequent spelling errors resulting in average grades in English classes.  I can not pass a timed and handwritten essay test to save my life.  My teachers saw being a talented writer as a universal ability making my lack of achievement in English classes definitive.  The rare poetry assignments only served to confirm their assessment.  I struggled to compose sonnets in response to reading Shakespeare, because the form was defined by exact rhyme.  This is a very naive interpretation of the sonnet form highlighted some of the deficits of dyslexia.  A more diverse sampling of poetry forms would have been a more rigorous and inclusive approach to introducing students to poetry. 

[1] “Talent noun.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1 Jul. 2023,