Friday, April 3, 2009
Nature versus Nurture
Last night I watched my least favorite matchup of tennis players: my perennial favorite Venus Williams contesting the semi-finals of the Sony Ericsson Open against her sister, Serena. Venus matches up well against Serena in many ways with her groundstrokes, net coverage and movement. Although Venus has the bigger serve (she's sent a 129mph laser beam at some hapless player), Serena's serve is more solid, consistent and fluid.
While watching the match, I began to ponder the differences between them and wondered what factors made them into the very different players that they are today. I mean, of course they're sisters, raised in the same household, coached by the same parents on the same subpar courts in Compton, CA and probably given the same fitness regime and discipline. I was puzzled and then it occured to me that Venus, who burst upon the scene as a precocious ten-year old prodigy is the natural talent while Serena is the force who was molded, like a perfect Frankenstein's monster. Venus is a gifted athlete, tall and lithe who from a very young age has always been naturally athletic. Serena on the other hand, grew from being the small, runty sibling who had to work hard to create her giftedness. It's strictly my opinion, but I think that it's the key to why Venus has difficulty with her shots when they break down. If you're used to just being able to do something naturally and then an unexpected occurence interferes with that fluidity (like being injured), I imagine it's probably harder to compensate or adjust. Serena's groundstrokes don't break down easily because she's had to hone her craft and is probably more used to making adjustments.
My convoluted metaphor of the sisters started me thinking about writers who are born versus the ones who are made. Nature versus nurture, if you will. On a fan fiction board that I frequent, there are several young authors who are exceptionally talented. One of these authors wrote a story at the tender age of 15 that I believe rivals any literary effort in print today. If my theorizing has any validity, then she's a natural talent and probably much like Jane Austen, who wrote two of her most popular novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, before she was even 22 years old. The exuberant genius of both those works came from a woman who'd been writing since she was even younger and obviously had an affinity for it from an early age. So Austen would fit into the nature category.
I've chosen J.R.R. Tolkien and his body of work beginning with The Hobbit and progressing with The Lord of the Rings trilogy as my example of nurtured talent. Tolkien worked in and around the literary arena after returning home from the war and before becoming a professor at the University of Leeds. So, he was fully mature once his body of work came to the forefront and biographical details show that he spent a great deal of time writing those epics. I see him nurturing his considerable talent, honing his craft and producing the great fruit of that labor in his excellent world building reflected in the tales of Middle Earth.
Returning to my pseudo-analogy--are good writers born or made? Can working on craft enhance an inborn talent or can an equally great tome be gleaned from the hard work and attention paid to the technical aspects of writing? I think so.