Chasing Inspiration

Friday, April 13, 2007

Are Writers Born or Made?

Tess Gerritsen, one of my favorite medical suspence authors, tackles the age old question on whether writes are born or made. In her blog she states her belief that our ability to tell a story is formed by the age of 12. And that there are some people who have that natural timing and sense of the dramatic that lends itself to good storytelling. And other people who just don't. She also mentions that, in her opinion, many people who aren't able to put a compelling tale on paper are often the same people who don't read.

In a sense, Tess is saying that it's part nurture and part nature. And that people continue to develop their ability to spin a good tale because they continue to expose themselves to books and stories, both written and those told in the oral tradition. They were read to as children or listened to audio books or some of the master storytellers of the radio age. They were enveloped in a world of words.

In an interview, urban fantasy wonder, Jim Butcher stated that he didn't know the first thing about telling a story when he decided to write and become a published author. The first book of his famed Dresden Files series was written for a writing class he was taking. He worked hard at building his skills and at getting his work out there. I don't know if he would argue that he is not a natural born storyteller, but I have a feeling he is one who has always enjoyed stories in some form or another.

There are a lot of authors out there who work hard to tell a story. They pour over every word, every turn of phrase and several drafts, and months, later they have something they give to their publisher. There are other authors who seem to have their stories beamed to them from somewhere in outer space. They see the story and they write it down seemingly effortlessly. I try to not envy those writers. I do, but I try not to.

I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I have some scenes and some characters who seem to jump out of my head and onto the page and tell me what to write. Then I have other scenes or characters where I sweat to get even a sentence on the page. I have always told stories. I am often found with a book in my hand. But the act of crafting a full length novel is arduous and sometimes even tortuous. So, why do I do it? Because I have this burning need churning in my gut to tell these stories. I'm not longer satisfied to be the only person who knows these characters and their worlds exist. My fingers itch to connect with a keyboard and the pictures and voices in my mind aren't satisfied to exist only in my imagination.

Am I a product of nurture vs. nature? I would say both. I think I have a natural knack for telling stories. But I need to continue to learn about the art and craft of it, not to mention the entire business end of things. And I need to continue to write. Even if I have talent, I won't get published if I can't get the story on the page and tell it in a compelling and marketable way.


  1. Bravo! Keep writing! It's a daily challenge to balance between the "must pay the bills" job and the career of the heart. My opinion on the nature/nurture argument about writing is that it's about a 50/50 split between talent and discipline. I teach college students as one of my "pay the bills" jobs and by and large the majority of them don't even seem to be capable of writing a well thought out, grammatically correct sentence. So to your argument I have to say that not only do some have a natural ability to tell stories and a sense of timing and plot--there are also those with a natural sense of language, how it sounds, how to put it together--I didn't know diddly squat about formal grammar until high school (when I was coming through school they were concerned about damaging our self-esteem so they didn't correct incorrect spelling and grammar until our tough as nails English teacher got us in high school), but I always had a gut level grasp of how to use it. I didn't need to know that this is a participle and this is a gerund (I still don't know what the heck a gerund is), but I consistently was one of the best writers in my class because I knew how to USE language. So while I think many things can be taught, and other things can be won through hard work and discipline--there's just a natural sense of things that most good writers have that sets them apart from the rest. Notice I didn't say most PUBLISHED writers... ;)

  2. Nice to meet you Maggie! Thanks for stopping by the blog. I followed your trail to your LJ writing blog and added you to my links.

    I think there are people who understand language in an oral tradition and can tell amazing stories. These people have a sense of timing, of language and of the dramatic. Of course, this doesn't always translate to the page. A friend of mine can tell you the most hilarious stories when we get together for happy hours. But when she goes to write them down to share in an email, her language falls flat.

    Grammar and spelling can be learned if one is willing. But a sense of language - I don't know if that can. Interesting to ponder. Though if I ponder it too much, I won't write. *grin*

  3. I'm still trying to get over one student who spelled "on" as "own" for the entire semester, despite being corrected. I think comparatively you're in GREAT shape.