Writing Talent — Innate Or Learned?

books.jpgThere is a myth in the marketing world that anyone can write good copy. When this myth is spoken, it’s usually followed by the advice that all one needs is a good swipe file (successful ads of the past that one can “borrow” from).

This myth has always struck me as false — or at least only partially true.

I believe that when it comes right down to it, you must have some writing talent. If you don’t, your copy will not be brilliant. It may not even be good. In most cases, it will just be bad.

I see plenty of evidence that the last is the most common result.

There is another myth that if one studies enough of the right manuals, or attends enough of the right seminars, one can learn to write well. Frankly, if you don’t have some native talent — a “knack”, if you will — I don’t think all the classes, courses, or seminars in the world can help you much.

Stephen King would agree with me, I suspect. In a recent article he penned for the Washington Post, King wrote: “The only things that can teach writing are reading, writing and the semi-domestication of one’s muse.”

So there it is, then.
My opinion is that not everyone can learn to be a great (or even good) writer. Everyone is born with a certain aptitude (or lack of it), and they’re pretty much stuck with that aptitude. They can take classes or be taught to make the most of it, but they are always limited to a certain range in the development of their craft.
What do you think?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Talent — Innate Or Learned?

  1. tapping into the most powerful means of persuasion.

    To me, this is the “knack” that will take you to the top.

    After all, in the 40/40/20 rule of direct mail success only 20% a promotion’s power is attributed to the copy. The other 80% is the list and the offer.

    And that really means knowing your customer, knowing what they want, and creating an offer that will move them to buy.

    To me, a great idea properly executed is great copy, no matter who well it may be written.

    That’s my two cents.

    All good wishes for a successful and profitable 2008,

    Doug

    • Doug,

      Good observations and thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments — and BTW, your website rocks!

      -Ray

  2. Truer words have never been spoken, Ray. I, personally, have always had a knack for writing… In fact, I was a published writer by the time I hit the fourth grade. Copywriting was a natural for me… It brought together my two talents – salesmanship and writing. Neither of which, in my opinion, can be taught.

    Do you think P.T. Barnum went to seminars? Do you think Robert Collier went to the AWAI bootcamp? Do you think Mike Filsaime got to where he is now in IM, and where he was before in the auto industry, by reading a bunch of ebooks?

    There are few things in life I’m absolutely sure of. Death, taxes, and talent.

    Surely, you CAN learn copywriting – but only if you already have an underlying gift for writing and/or salesmanship. You have to have a certain flair with words… A proficiency in human emotion… The innate ability to connect with a perfect stranger over one common interest, even if that is just the site they’re visiting happens to be one you wrote.

    Even now, I can see the copywriter in me coming out as I write this comment. And that has nothing to do with the fact that I work as a copywriter, but instead is the result of BEING a copywriter. Through and through. Even if I wasn’t in this field of work, I would likely still write this way.

    Talent and profound understanding cannot be replaced by any book, seminar, or workshop. You cannot learn social skills, , and emotional intelligence by reading a PDF. You either know these things, or you don’t.

    Writing and salesmanship. Either one will be enough for you to learn copy, and be decent at it. But it is when the two come together that we get the Makepeace’s… The Sackheim’s… The Collier’s… The Caples’…

    Talent is something that is given to you, from birth. It cannot be learned, replicated, or even destroyed. Once you have it, you will ALWAYS have it. And that’s just the way it is.

    I know I’m probably going to get flamed for this, but I dare you all to prove me wrong – show me a world-renowned copywriting genius who had no writing or sales talent before he became a copywriter, and learned everything from books, seminars, or schooling, and I’ll retract my opinion.

    Until then.

    – Cherilyn

  3. Nurture vs Nature, a Classic Debate.

    The famous psychologist Donald Hebb is said to have once answered a journalist’s question of “which, nature or nurture, contributes more to personality?” by asking in response, “which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?”

    The computer named Joshua in the movie War Games learned through predicting thermonuclear war scenarios that “The only winning move is not to play”

    No matter which side of the argument one picks there are exceptions.

  4. When I went through NAVY flight training our flight class started out with guys and gals from all walks of life.

    Some were ‘naturals’ in the air. Some became airsick on every flight, and we’d always be surprised to see who made it to the next phase.

    Those who earned their “wings of Gold” invariably found a way to ignite a “passion” for flying, that overcame any and all shortcomings they brought to the table.

    In similar vein, I’m willing to bet you could take any mediocre copywriter, sit them down and ask them to describe one of their “passions”.

    Then ask them why they love it. Tape record the conversation, transcribe it and with some editing you’d have a passable sales letter.

    Would it be A-level? Not a chance. Would it be good enough? More than likely yes. And isn’t that what it’s all about?