Good writing vs. talented writing

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What's the difference between writing that's simply good and writing that's talented? Does the distinction exist solely in the mind of the reader, or is it possible to actually define and quantify talent?

Science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany takes a stab at it in his new book "About Writing," a work that has been generating positive buzz in the science fiction writers community. Washington, D.C.-based blog Hebdomeros explains Delany's distinction as follows:

"[Delany] goes on to define good writing as the basics of what we learn in English classes in High School and College: good grammar, avoiding passive voice, creating uncluttered sentence, varying sentence structure, precise word choice, etc. Good writing as he defines it is a skill, a learned craft that functions appropriately in writing forms like journalism, academic research papers, criticism, and – although Delany doesn't mention it – blogs.

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Talented writing, on the other hand, uses those skills and rules and moves them into another realm. Delany says: 'Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic.... Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the reader's mind – vividly, forcefully.' "

If you don't know the work of Samuel R. Delany (author of "Babel-17" and many other novels, short stories, and critical works), it is well worth exploring. (But beware the spelling of his name – there is no "e" in Delany. Even his publisher once got it wrong on the title page of one of Delany's books.)

Also famous in Delany's family were his aunts, Bessie and Sadie Delany (authors of "Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years" and recorded in the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest authors).

Delany, who also teaches English and creative writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, has spent a life immersed in the world of words.

But there's at least one conclusion that Hebdomeros draws from his reading of "About Writing" that leaves me pondering.

"The good news is that while Delany indicates talented writing is more difficult to achieve, he at no point states that it can't be learned." the blogger writes. "Through careful reading of the masters, through thorough editing and a lot of hard work it's a skill that's possible to learn, although more difficult than learning how to create good writing."

I wonder.

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