by Simona Stefanescu | Simona Media
Do we need talent or discipline to succeed as writers and bloggers? I recently listened to a speaker who said we don’t need talent – that other things are more important when it comes to successful writing. I felt quite offended. I feel that many writers have a calling, a special skill set. Yet, lately, I see so much useless writing in blogs and newspapers, lack of style and information without much structure, splashed on the web. I listened to the speaker’s arguments and tried to filter them through my 25 years of experience. While I don’t agree that one can become a successful writer without the spark of talent, I do think many writers I meet are trained, methodical and meticulous, rather than gifted. And let me start with a personal story …
“Kill me now, I’m giving up on writing!” That was my reaction when, while in college in New York, I read a piece assigned for English 103 – Journalism Writing. The professor handed us Gay Talese’s revolutionary profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”, written for Esquire magazine in 1966. I read to the third paragraph, where Talese said “Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse,” and I had tears running down my face. I saw my future as a writer seriously shattered. I already had 15-years in journalism under my belt, yet I felt it all wiped out by that wonderful story. I thought I could never, ever paint a picture like that with my words and I’d better switch to accounting, so I could make a living for the rest of my life.
Seven years to that day I am still writing. You see, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” is one of the greatest profiles ever written by a journalist. Gay Talese wrote for the New York Times, Esquire and many other world-famous publications. He was a “once in a generation” writer. Now, the world is full of self-trained writers, living with the instant gratification of posting a blog a day, instead of polishing Pulitzer prize, life-changing articles. Blogging implemented the phenomenon of citizen-journalist, and quite a few bloggers make good money with their writing, even teaching how to blog.
So, what do we need in order to be successful if the talent is not mandatory?
In his book, “On Writing Well” (over a million copies sold), writing coach, journalist and author William Zinsser highlights the successful habits of a writer: practice every day, solve problems with your writing, have unity in your overall article, use good grammar, adopt one tone, keep your writing simple. Assuming that you’re writing non-fiction, have a structure with a well-established lead and ending, give special attention to your first and last sentence and avoid clogging your articles. “Clutter is the disease of American writing”, says Zinsser, who is now in his 90s and has been an author and teacher for 70 years now. His book is a reference in any respectable newspaper and university, and it helps tremendously to take one’s writing to a whole different level.
From experience, I could add a crucial thing: have a good editor. Either a peer, a coworker, significant other or someone who can check your grammar, fight with you over sentences and, most of all, help you conquer the world.