On Raw Talent

I recently read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.  It was a good book and one I’d highly recommend for any aspiring writer who wants to know about the journey of a famous, published author.

One of the things that King talks about is talent and I think his theory on it was pretty spot on.  Basically he postulates that there are four types of writers (and I think this can definitely apply to pretty much any art): bad, competent, good & great.  He says it’s impossible to make a bad writer competent or a good writer great, but with a lot of hard work it is possible to make a competent writer good.

I find this to be an interesting theory because I’m absolutely fascinated by the concept of raw talent.  I look at artists who can draw without practice and I’m astounded (I can’t draw for shit, seriously even my stick figures are sad).  I hear these ten year olds on youtube belting out songs with voices of gold and I’m amazed.  I see documentaries about math savants who can see the numbers in their mind’s eye and I’m blown away.  To some people certain talents are just there.  So they work to improve them, but the talent is engrained, so all they’re doing is refining the awesome.

Then, of course, I keep pondering and I come upon things like this:

“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

Now I’m wondering if that’s what talent is, maybe it’s the patterns and the beauty of the universe (and our brains) that these people are just recognizing and uncovering.  Like everything was all there to begin with and artists are born to find them.  All the stories, all the paintings, all the sculptures, all the equations.  Just waiting to be set free.

Maybe it’s because I used to be a hippy, took too many drugs and philosophized about the universe and how unbelievably crazy it is.  Maybe it’s because I still do that now (minus the drugs and most of the hippy part).  But the concept of raw talent gives me that same feeling I get when I stare up into the stars on a clear night, or when I was in Egypt looking up at those giant pyramids.  Wonder.  I mean think about it for a second, why are some people so good at things and other people are crap?  What are your talents, do you have one special thing or multiple things?  If so, where does it all come from and why?  Pretty crazy.

So talent.  Some people have it, some people don’t.  But does that mean that those who don’t can never achieve the same heights as people who do?  This is completely debatable, because a lot of the time, art is subjective.  Something I might consider to be abject garbage could make someone famous.  Something I adore could languish in obscurity.  So how does one gauge this idea of ‘greatness’?  It’s pretty tough.

But ultimately, at the end of the day, I tend to agree with King.  Perhaps it’s just that people who are bad at things typically don’t practice enough to get better.  But I kind of think there’s predisposition to a thing.  Being good at something usually tends to go hand and hand with a passion for it (I think) and I, for example, don’t have the raw talent of a visual artist.  I do, however, have the talent of a writer and I can only hope that if I try hard enough, I can go from competent to good.  Then again, it’s all just a matter of opinion now isn’t it?

Tell me your thoughts on Stephen King’s theory, or share some stories about awesome raw talent that makes you feel that jaw-dropping kind of wonder.


Brainstorming & The Creative Process


I have been writing just about a story a day now for over a week based on some awesome prompts from Sarah Selecky.  Also, Ben and I have committed ourselves to making a new video each week for our new YouTube Channel.  This means we spend quite a bit of time brainstorming.  Each time I get a prompt or Ben and I begin to discuss  a video concept at our weekly brainstorming session, I freeze for a moment, petrified that the ideas just won’t come.  What if I can’t imagine something new?  What if it’s not quite good enough?  Like most people, I have doubts.  I wonder if one day the well will run dry and I will be all out of stories.  However, I find that once I get into the process of brainstorming and allowing my imagination to roam free, the doubts begin to evaporate and concept development becomes a joyful experience.

The other day in the midst of feverishly writing a story, I was hit with an unbearable migraine.  I was forced into bed with a cold pack on my head and lying there in the dark I found myself bored.  I wanted to keep writing, not be bed ridden.  It was then that I started to think about the creative process.  I thought about ideas and how they formed in the mind, what it felt like and how one would describe it (a post for another time) and I thought about brainstorming and the overall creative process.  So for all you artists out there, here is an initial collection of my best bits of advice complied in bed with a migraine and right now as I’m writing this.


Don’t Panic.  It’s going to be okay, I promise.  When your shoulders are so tense they’re covering your ears you can’t hear the world and all the inspiration it has to offer.  When your teeth are clenched tight you can’t speak your ideas aloud and make them real.  So just remember, you did it before and you can do it again.

It’s okay if it’s not perfect

Sometimes and idea works and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s okay.  If you get to the end and you don’t love it, you don’t have to do anything with it!  It can sit in your todo folder for fixer uppers or just go into the reject pile.  Either way, at least you finished something!

Don’t be clingy

Don’t cling to an idea so hard that you can’t let go if it sucks.  Don’t be afraid to let go, there will be plenty more where that came from.  If I have toyed with an idea for more than half a day and it still isn’t coming to me, I usually just toss it in the bin and move on.  Or if I really love it I will make a note of it for later.

Don’t do it if you hate it  

So many times I’ve gotten 3000 words into a story that I am making up as I go and I have hated every second (sometimes brainstorming can be a continual process in the case of a story that is not fully fleshed out for example).  If it hurts and it feels like you are walking through a swamp full of leeches, maybe it’s time to reconsider.  Go back to the beginning and change it up.  Maybe a different perspective?  A different voice?  Maybe the story arc is garbage and needs a new twist?  Keep trying until you get it or toss it far enough a way that by the time it comes back it will be a changed concept.

Find a partner

Ben is my muse.  He inspires me and we work together perfectly.  I would highly recommend finding someone who ‘gets you’ you brainstorm with.  Having another perspective can be totally refreshing, but if they are too different from you in terms of mindset it can just be frustrating.  Sometimes it also helps, if you are stuck on an idea you have come up with alone, to explain the story and where you are trying to go with it.  Suddenly everything seems more clear and a tiny suggestion from your partner can solidify it all.  Usually when I’m stuck I talk to Ben and within five minutes I’m sorted out and excited to keep going.

Pay attention to the world

Everything and anything can be a source of inspiration.  Go outside.  Now.

Commit yourself & reserve the time

Make the time.  Mark it in a calendar.  Make goals. If you don’t commit yourself to a particular goal set you will find yourself flailing around uselessly.  Keep yourself on schedule.  Make a brainstorming day.  Try once a week or once a month, whatever works for you.  Put aside the time and keep it there.  This will mean having to say no to other things at some points, but too bad, you are an artist!  It’s like contributing to your RRSP, a bit painful sometimes, but it will pay off in the long run.

Spontaneity isn’t as important as you think

Spontaneous creativity is overrated.  If we all went around expecting to suddenly be creatively inspired there would be no professional artists out there.  Scheduled brainstorming is just as effective, if not more, than random bursts.  It works because you are dedicated in the moment, you have nothing else on your plate because you have already cleared your calendar.   Would that we all had the time to flit around and be dreamy and inspired all day, but we don’t.  So suck it up and schedule your brainstorming!

Say YES!

The improv artists know it best of all, the art of saying yes.  Being open to life is better than being closed.  Say yes to your ideas, explore then and let them wash over you for awhile before rejecting them outright.  If you never say yes, you never know what gems may be lurking in your subconscious just waiting to be the next big thing.  Say yes to everything, let it all in, then filter it, sort it and toss the crap.  Hopefully by the end you will have something worth reading!

Have any tips on brainstorming and creativity?  Do tell!