I ran across this blog today, written by an infantry soldier in Iraq. In today’s post he tells the story of being brought into the colonel’s office and eventually congratulated on his writing. He starts out:
I never even knew what a Blog was until I read about them in an article in Time Magazine, about two months ago.
He says he doesn’t know about sentence structure, and he shows it. (His profile shows an extensive and varied reading list, though.)
But his writing also shows that he’s got the narrative gift. He uses colorful, concrete details to put the reader in the picture. I know what it’s like to be a soldier called to visit the colonel, because he compares it to being called to visit the principal in high school, because he tells me how much he’s sweating, because he shows me the colonel looking at the fat file of his blogging as the soldier waits. It’s an engaging tale, and I was hooked through the whole thing, in spite of the fact that white type on a black screen makes my eyes jump around.
The narrative gift trumps bad grammar, trumps a lack of education, trumps a lack of connections, because the writer sees and experiences enough to bring the story home. A person can always go to college, learn grammar, network, but that gift is harder to develop in someone who doesn’t get it naturally.
It’s probably about as common as perfect pitch in music.
The sad thing is that a lot of people think that because the gift trumps grammar, they don’t need to learn to write; because it trumps education, they don’t need to read; because it trumps connections, they don’t need to develop their social skills. And most of them don’t have the gift to begin with.
I moderate an e-mail list for writers, and a young man, 17, wrote and asked for help with his novel. His e-mail was about five sentences long, and I had to read it six times to figure out what he wanted. I don’t know if he had the gift or not–a 17-year-old writing a novel is impressive–but he was so crippled by his lack of language skills that he could barely communicate.
The other sad thing is that some people think that learning about writing can destroy the narrative gift, as if it were a sputtering little candle flame instead of something innate to one’s makeup. Learning may change it, may make it easier for him to choose between the styles of Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway (I doubt that he’ll ever add Jane Austen to his pallette).