Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Is it in the genes or did society do this?

Nature vs. Nurture has been up for debate in many areas of society.  Are sociopaths born or made?  Is a person’s sexual preference determined at birth or does the environment they are raised in play a role?

Last week, on Facebook, a young writer posted a question asking what books people recommended she read to help her learn the craft.  A simple question, but one that led to a full on debate over whether or not writing can be taught.  Sadly, not very helpful or inspiring for the young writer. So I ask you, are writers born or made?  Can someone learn how to write? Or should they just pack up their notebooks if they are not born with a fully written novel in their infant brain?

Me? I think writers are made and the craft can be learned.

I am fairly certain that prolific authors like Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts and others of their ilk were not born pulling a typewriter out of the womb behind them.  They did not spring forth and tell the doctors who smacked them to wait just a minute while they finished the chapter they were working on. I am fairly certain that their first attempts at writing novels probably sucked.  Maybe less so than others, but still.

Maybe people are born with a love of language or numbers or music.  Maybe these areas come easier to some than others.  But I don’t think that someone who loves to read and is drawn to writing cannot learn to be a writer.

We learn every day and are influenced by the books we read, both the writing books and those in our chosen genre.  We learn from other writers, from teachers and classes, from our friends and family who read our work and point out what they liked and didn’t like.  Most of all, though, we learn from writing, from filling pages with words and thoughts and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Hit and miss. Trial and error.

To say that writers are born just sounds snobbish.  Are painters born? Musicians? Mathematicians, politicians, chemists, physicists?  People are born with certain combinations of genes and DNA which may draw them to science or music or politics or writing, but to be accomplished in any of these areas takes hard work, dedication and lots of practice.

In Chuck Wendig’s very funny, in-your-face book on writing, 500 Ways to Tell A Better Story, he addresses writers who say they have nothing more to learn like this, “Dang! I didn’t realize I was speaking to the bodhisattva of the craft. You hung around on this mortal, ephemeral coil in order to lead the way by spiritual example? You’re the zenith! The pinnacle!”  He goes on to say that “any of those writers who tout that line: ‘You can’t teach someone to be a writer, you either are a writer or you aren’t’ are high on their own stench and just want to make themselves feel better.”

I don’t know about you, but, reading that, I feel better already! 🙂


  1. Anonymous

    In my humble opinion it is possible to learn a skill, like writing, quilting, painting or any of the numerous creative arts available to us. It is however our choice that reveals our inner creative being.

    • I totally agree — It is our deep longing that brings us to a particular form of creative expression. It is unique to each of us. 🙂

  2. Daphne Shadows

    I love this post!

  3. This post reminds me of a passage in Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. He states: “…while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

    • True. I think people who are truly “bad writers” would likely find themselves using a different outlet for their creativity. Writing would be too much work and not very enjoyable for them. It is like me and drawing — I can draw stick people pretty good, but that’s it! And while I have always wished I could draw well, and could have studied the art and become an okay artist, it never felt as fun or freeing as using words did for me. 🙂

  4. Anyone can write, I agree with you there, but not everyone can put a good story to paper. Most of the writers you mention here have such incredible imaginations that they literally burst onto the page. They also have interminable passion for the craft as well as a ‘never give up’ attitude. There are probably millions of writers out there with the best ideas in the world and incredible writing skills, but unless they have determination and passion they’ll go through life wondering why they didn’t hit the big time (because of one rejection letter).

    Thank you – this is a very inspiring post 🙂

    • Ah yes, that is where the study of writing comes in to play. Anyone can write, but it takes years of work and practice and study (through teachers, books, and many mistakes) to perfect the true art of writing a cohesive story that has all the elements necessary to create a best seller. Without the passion to back you up and that never give up attitude, most writers would stop, or at least stop writing for hope of publication and maybe just continue to fill notebooks for their own personal enjoyment. 🙂

  5. High on their own stench. Have to commit that one to memory! Ha ha. I think we all have to keep our minds open. Keep learning till the end!

    • Anonymous

      Love that quote! May have to post that above my computer to remind me. 🙂

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