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! 🙂