Fascinating thread from matociquala on the notion that every writer is dealt one free card–one thing they already know how to do from the start, and don’t have to work for.
I don’t know that this is quite universal–I think you can probably start out with nothing you already instinctively know as a writer, just as you can start out in any other field that way, though perhaps it will take more time to get the basics down then. But it certainly helps–and knowing you can already do one thing well gives you something to sort of cling to, while you take the time to learn all the (ever-expanding) rest.
If there are free writing skill cards, dealt out when we all start, I think I was dealt the voice and language card.
Which is a tricksy one, because I have no idea how I would have learned this from scratch, and am grateful not to have had to–but it hides a great many other writing sins, and deceives one about how much there still is to learn, because it all sounds so pretty even when it makes no sense. (“The dream fled, like shards of bone cast to the wind.” It took my writer’s group to point out that this line makes no sense, because I liked the sound of it so much.) Plot, especially–one of my initial weaknesses–is a challenge to unravel from already-graceful language.
Though generally I think of our writing-skills as tools rather than cards. I think everyone starts off with a limited toolbox in some way or other. And that our early sales are likely to be of stories that somehow don’t rely heavily on the tools we don’t have–because you can write genuinely powerful stories with an incomplete toolbox, just as you can carry out at least some home-improvement projects that way. (But eventually, you know, that leaking roof is going to catch up with you.)
Also, I think we’re always honing even the tools we already have. I say I started out with the voice and language card–yet when I look back at my early work, I can see where these things are lacking. It’s just that they were ahead of everything else. They were what carried me through, but in the end they weren’t complete, either.