Good #Writing DOES Require #Talent, Not just Hard Work

I really got inspired last week (frustrated, actually), by a post written by a colleague about supporting ALL writers. I contributed this comment, below, on her blog.

In my recap (I waited a week to make sure I wanted to post this), below, I update you on the online “conversation.” First, I quote from her blog, link to it, and post my original comment in its entirety. Images added for fun.



In response to “You Don’t Have to Be Good (at Writing)” by Jordan Rosenfeld

Good #Writing DOES Require #Talent, Not just Hard Work by Sally Ember, Ed.D.

original post on

posted on 7/9/14

quotes from Jordan’s post:
“…’good’ is arbitrary; you’ll be good enough for some, while others will reject you. It’s a standard you’ll never live up to because it’s subjective and always changing.

“Beating yourself up over being ‘not good enough’ is a form of stopping up the free flow of creative energy. It can even be a form of self-sabotage. In the worst case scenario, it’s an excuse to not have to get any better at it; a statement of ‘This is just the way I write.'”

“False! This is how you write at this time, in this moment, with whatever resources are at your disposal. Every time you read a fantastic book, your writing has a chance to crack open. Every time you hear a lecture, attend a class, or pick up a writing guide, you can learn or see something in a new light, and your writing changes. Time and distance also change how you see your writing.”

“What you can be is committed to continually probing the depths of your work, or taking time to learn something you struggle with, or just stepping back completely and reading when your own work feels too unwieldy.”

“These voices of doubt and uncertainty are gremlins sent to test our creative mettle, to strengthen us up. The more we fend them off by patching the leaks they tear open inside us with further work, the more power we have to overcome them. Like the ‘dark side’ that calls to us with its illusion of power, its promise of the familiar, which is cozy in a bleak sort of way.”

“Shine some serious, badass light on those demons when they come, instead. Write them into a new narrative.”

“Don’t worry about being good. Be enough. Be committed.”

My comment:
Hi, Jordan,

I have to disagree. I am not of the opinion (as many are; seemingly, you) that anyone who wants to “share” should be honored for doing so regardless of the quality of their content and writing. There are a lot of inadequate writers who self-publish and some who get published by trad publishers who never should have had their writing seen by others.

Some people can’t write. What they do write is unclear, repetitious, uninteresting, banal, riddled with cliches and lapses in logic or sense. I’m not just talking about too many typos or grammatical problems. I’m talking about bad writing. It exists. It needs to be called out.

bad writing meme


About thirty years ago, in an effort to combat overly critical adults’ impact on children and imitating the Special Olympics’ methods, most parents, recreation and education people began to make huge mistakes: participation became the same as surpassing. Everyone in the Pre-K “graduated” to Kindergarten. Everyone at a camp or club got a ribbon for attending.

Result? People who are now 45 and younger have the mistaken belief that everyone is “great”; it’s other people who make them “feel bad.” Self-esteem-building was taken to such an extreme as to make actual achievement or superiority meaningless. An overly developed sense of entitlement goes hand-in-hand with an inability to discern good from bad. I’m sorry to point it out, but your post is a prime example of this faulty thinking.

Real life: not everyone wins, nor should they. Ask Brazil this morning! Poor performance should NOT get a medal, and not all performances are equal.

Not everyone is talented, skilled, or worthwhile in every area. It’s fine to acknowledge this and not in any way demeaning. In fact, applauding mediocrity makes it indistinguishable from excellence, or worse, allows everyone who can put words on paper to call themselves a “writer.” That makes excellent or even passably good writing impossible for most people to recognize or value.

Not everyone should be encouraged to be a writer. Really. You did that person a serious disservice by not evaluating his work objectively.

We have no trouble saying that people who are “tone-deaf” or clumsy shouldn’t be professional singers or dancers. Sing in the shower; dance in a club or at home. But, we don’t encourage them to call themselves artists. Why can’t we use the same discernment about untalented authors?

What does “be enough” mean when we should be talking about quality, not quantity? It’s fine to be “committed” to self-expression; commitment doesn’t make a person a good writer.

Some people really AREN’T “any good” and should not be encouraged to write for the public. Tell them: journal all you want. Or, get a ghostwriter, if your story is compelling and you can’t write it well.

Please stop encouraging everyone equally. You aren’t being an editor, then; you’re being a cheerleader for the entire world.

Don’t encourage inadequate writers that no amount of coaching can improve to share their drivel. Not every story should be told by every storyteller.



Some people really can’t tell jokes, either, and should not. I’m one of those.

Best to you,


Since that day, I thought a lot more and want to add these components:

1) Most people are perfectly willing to assign the label of “bad” to other art. Why is that so much easier to do than to label someone’s short story, novel or article as poorly written?

2)I’m not looking for perfection. I want high standards to be understood and upheld (but not at the expense of heritage or gender differences). I want people who are in positions of authority in publishing, editing and education to help explain and maintain standards. Give writers something obvious to aspire to (with a healthy range of “good” within many genres and types of excellence).

3) Paying for awards and buying one’s accolades have to stop. We as readers and authors shouldn’t allow any authors to buy “positive” reviews, “win” a prize they’ve paid for, stuff the review “box,” or otherwise corrupt our understanding of what is excellent. We must speak out about these corrupt practices and not be sucked into them ourselves, however tempting.

UPDATE: Many people have commented in the last week on Jordan’s post about how awful I am to have shared these opinions. Some say that any typos I ever made negate all of my opinions’ value (!?!). Some say that I don’t have the right to disagree on this blogger’s site with her posts (Jordan herself actually invited me to stop visiting since she thinks I don’t read her posts carefully enough).

The comments from some of the others highlight the unfairness and absurdity of insisting that everyone who wants to express themselves on paper/online is equally valuable as a professional writer. Just because everyone can publish anything doesn’t mean they should. Who disagrees?

I’m not demeaning the validity of self-expression. But, everyone who bangs on a piano is not a professional pianist. Everyone who jumps around is not a professional dancer. Does anyone dispute this? Why is it so difficult (and, obviously, painful) for amateurs and those whose words are best kept private to be told the truth?

There is “good” writing, albeit subjectively assessed, and I agree that the standards are constantly changing and open for dispute. Don’t I have the right to state my own standards?

Yes, some writers improve with practice, and everyone who writes might improve. What if they don’t?

Are all writers to be considered “professionals” and deserving of praise just because, at this point in time, anyone can publish? Yes, completing an entire book is an accomplishment. But, are all accomplishments equal? Prize-givers and reviewers don’t believe that is true.

Why am I being lambasted for pointing out my reasons for wanting “writing coaches” to be able to be professionally helpful in assessing them and then be honest with their clients, while personally being as encouraging as they choose? Wouldn’t you want an editor you are paying to edit to–oh, I don’t know–edit? Why are these distinctions so dreaded?

Worst are responders to this “conversation” who are petty and mean, calling me names, disparaging me and my writing, because I dared to disagree with the blogger and provided reasons these commenters didn’t like. Really? That is the way discourse operates on these sites, now? More trolls than writers, there.

I made a professional comment. There should have only been professional replies. I was NOT being a troll. I respect and admire Jordan, usually, and enjoy her posts. I wouldn’t allow that kind of personal, disrespectful disparagement to be approved as comments on my site.

Guess my comments struck a nerve. Looking forward to your opinions! Go read the other comments, if you want.

I did get one bonus, though: someone found a typo on my site’s ABOUT page, which I then fixed. Thanks!

BTW: I was sent several private messages, from people who didn’t want to “join the fun” and then get blasted, I guess. They encouraged and thanked me, agreeing with my opinions and adding their own. Too bad they’re too scared of the blow-back to go public with their opinions.

P.S. to Jordan: I was not disparaging you by labeling your supportive actions “cheerleading,” merely being descriptive. I WAS an actual cheerleader, an achievement earned by having talent, being committed, acquiring and honing skills, and (unfortunate and unfair, but pertinent) being “popular.”

Similarly, as hard as it is for some to acknowledge, professional writers must also fulfill all of these to succeed. Everyone “in the stands” can and is encouraged to cheer. However, at my school in 1968, only eight of over one hundred girls each year were selected to be cheerleaders.

How many journal writers and home bloggers are going to make the “cut” to become professional writers? What is required? I hope you help them determine their eligibility and assess their chances, not just keep cheering.

4 thoughts on “Good #Writing DOES Require #Talent, Not just Hard Work

  1. “Stop worrying if your vision is new.
    Let others make that decision,
    They usually do.” S. Sondheim

    Writers write.
    Whether their work pleases the public is up to those who choose to read the work.
    Whether their work is objectively good is a complex question, best left to readers and history.
    Writers write.
    Committed writers write a lot.


  2. Up front, I want to admit that I didn’t go and read Jordon’s post or dig through the comments – unfortunately, I’ve watched the kind of thing you describe unwind a few times and it’s unnecessary, unpleasant and uncalled for. I’ll just use my imagination. But as to the comment you have reprinted for this post – I agree that it is a professionally written, legitimate opinion. Bloggers would be wise to welcome such engagement. Alas, the blogosphere is not always what it could be. I believe it is the responsibility of any blogger to moderate the comments that appear on their blog appropriately. Comments that attack or slag another commenter – hmmm . . . can’t we just, for the love of Pete, play nice out on the blog playground?

    Now a word about this debate over talent. When I taught undergrad courses at the university, I ran smack into this entitlement you write of in the form of students who clearly thought that paying a course fee meant paying for an automatic high grade. I had students argue about the way I marked their papers using lines such as, “This is the way I express myself.” and “I’ve never written a paper that didn’t get an A.” and “These are all my own thoughts.” That last one in reaction to a comment querying the fact that the paper contained 0 citations. Mind you, they weren’t being asked to write fiction but I think this illustrates well the direction things have gone in the educational system when everyone gets an A, no one is ever given clear and honest feedback because it might damage their fragile self-esteem and creativity (subjective term, that) is emphasized to the almost exclusion of teaching basic writing skills.

    Everywhere I look these days, I see posts about write 10,000 words a day, produce four novels in a year, write a novel in a month, publish on Amazon with one click and on and on it goes. But as you say, being a published author is no different than being any other type of artist and it isn’t the Big Five Publishers or any other group of gatekeepers that ultimately determines ‘talent.’ A singer on the stage, an actor doing a performance, a painter displaying their work – all these will be measured by the same yardstick as the writer. The public will decide. If you can’t sing or act or paint – people will not flock to see you and if you can’t write, readers will stop reading. Simple as that.


    • Thanks so much, Francis. When I first saw the length (not the content) of your comment, i worried. Then, I read it and I applaud.

      I also taught at universities, undergraduate writing: same experiences as yours, only worse at one, because I had coaches telling me to give “good” grades to this Big 10 school’s athletes regardless of their having even attended class. I declined.


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