Are You Born a Writer or Made Into a Writer?

Writers are born, not made.

It’s an emphatic, declarative statement.

There is an assumption that the innate talent inherent in a person to be a writer is woven into their molecular structure. It is used to differentiate between those who can write and those who cannot.

The intention behind the statement is that a writer knows, without a doubt, writing is their passion, their career, their life. They cannot see any other path than being a writer.

You know the person; they are the ones who say, “I’ve always written. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t writing” or “I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil.” They then proceed to show you their scribblings in a scrap book from when they were three years old. Or worse, whip out their ipad and show you their blog.

You avoid them at dinner parties like you avoid the asparagus entree. I’m not one of them but I have aspired to write for many years. Looking back I can see an interest in writing (letters, stories, journals) yet it has only been in the last 3 years that I have actively pursued writing.

But I want to deconstruct this statement a little.

Each person understands there is a distinctive purpose to their life. Usually this distinctive purpose or passion is revealed in an occupation. We identify ourselves by the things that we are passionate about.

The other manifestation is an interest or hobby. This extends to volunteer work, art or music, community groups, religious fraternities, sports clubs and associations.

In terms of careers and occupations, if you were to speak with a representative, I posit many of them would feel they were “born” into their occupation or interest.

I completed high school without a clear direction of what I wanted to do as a career. I went to university and completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and History, the subjects I enjoyed most at school. At the end of my Arts degree the question was asked, “What next?”

The societal assumption was to become a teacher. I enrolled in the Master of Teaching course and within the first week, I knew this was my career.

Was I born into it? I don’t think so. I have a natural inclination for teaching and working with people. “Born” becomes a substitionary word for a person’s natural personality and character traits which helps them understand the career path they have chosen.

You could rewrite this statement, substituting “writer” for the career of your choice.

Is a writer ‘made’?

A writer is born, not made.

Imagine a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters. Now imagine the noise and the poo being thrown. No work being done there. The opposable thumb allows us to grasp a pen with ease, but being born with it doesn’t make us a writer or chef, nurse, landscape designer or rocket surgeon.

The statement seems to be made by writers to distinguish themselves from new and emerging writers. It is said in a slightly disdainful way.

If our natural inclination manifests in a passion to pursue a specific career, can we change the definition of “made?”

My passion is to teach and to write, thus being ‘born’ with it. I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I still had to be taught to become one. I still undergo professional development to improve my knowledge and understanding of pedagogy and teaching methods.

A writer is born. But a writer is also taught.

The cornerstone of developing and maturing as a writer is education, formal and informal. Education is about the application of knowledge in order to make our words the best they can be.

Ways of improving your education as a writer:

  • get a mentor
  • read articles on the art and craft of writing
  • find a writing partner
  • sub to competitions or participate in online writing communities
  • be a beta reader for someone

A new and emerging writer is an apprentice writer, one who is learning the art and craft of writing. I’ll be exploring this in a blog post on Write Anything later in the month.

Final Thoughts

I don’t believe a writer is born, any more than a teacher, nurse or chef is born. We are taught.

What do you think?

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11 responses to “Are You Born a Writer or Made Into a Writer?

  1. Like I said on Twitter when this topic came up recently, I think that writers might be born but *better* writers are made. There’s something that makes people want to write, yes, and sometimes that’s been in existence since they can remember. But does that make them a good writer? Does it give them the confidence to keep writing and improve their craft while family is unsupportive and friends aren’t interested?

    There’s definitely an aspect of both–something inborn, and something learned–and rejecting either is a bad idea. It’s just too black and white. Writers and good writing thrive in the space between black and white.

    • Hi Jen, thanks for the comment.
      I like the idea of inhabiting the space between black and white. I’ve always seen the statement as being one that divides, when in fact, it’s the spaces between where we live.

  2. As a writer who has scribbled all her life I have this feeling, deep down, that I have to write. I get anxious when pulled away. It, to me, feels like a compulsion I can not ignore. So this is why I believe some writers are born to write. I feel I was. However, just because I have this need to write it doesn’t mean I am any good at it. I believe I am being made into a good writer and maybe one day a great writer. The compulsion to write keeps me going and to keep learning the craft. Without it I may have given up long ago. Life experience makes us better writers. I think some writers are born but great writers are made.

    • I agree with you that there is something inherent in creative people that pushes them to write, paint, sculpt, make music etc. I also believe you will find the same drive and compulsion in people who do charity work, volunteer, or any occupation someone chooses.
      And like you, I think I am a good writer, but want to be a great writer. And that requires learning and growing before I am ‘made.’

  3. I don’t believe a writer is born – I’ve met plenty of folks like you who only discovered writing as an idea later in life and never felt that burning need for it. I think Rebecca’s got a point in that all writers are in some way creative folks, and maybe it takes a while for them to find the medium.

    But I agree with Jenn in that ALL writers are made. No matter how much natural talent you have for ANYTHING, you have to hone the craft. Even if your first piece is brilliant, it’s not the best you can do because there’s so much you don’t yet know about writing and yourself as a writer, so much more to develop and become better at.

    Making a writer is a hard, tough gig. But it’s worth it.

    • Thanks for the comment, Nicole. I agree with you that no matter the natural talent you might have (in whatever field) it requires dedication and honing of the craft. I’m on the beginning of that journey and loving it.

  4. I’m with Jen on the whole black and white thing. It’s a way of trying to claw intellectual superiority I think (whether its a conscious thing or not is another debate altogether). It’s an attempt to assume some divine right to write. It’s exclusive, rather than inclusive and because of that it rankles me.

    In my mind, it is a little Column A, a little Column B and I’d like to throw into the equation a little of Column B – tenacity and work ethic – which draws both from inherent passion and creation/evolution.

    Therefore I wouldn’t say we are “taught” so much as shaped by the world around us, and we have control over our level of engagement with that process. Michaelangelo said he “released” David from the marble and I think as writers, we’re bit by bit shaping ourselves through our engagement with words and storiers (ours and others), people and their experiences/wisdom (other writers, published authors, mentors, teachers, editors etc) and the world at large.

    The compulsion to write has been with me for 28 years! I am glad I came to writing early because it provided what I needed as a kid lost in the cultural cesspool which was small country life in the 80s (I was transplanted from the city just before my 9th birthday). Then later it provided a safe space to explore and make sense of myself and the world around me as a teenager. In those early years it gave me a sense of power in a world in which I was predominantly powerless.

    Having said that, a passion for stories and words hasn’t been enough to get me over the line. I’ve worked hard in the last five years to hone what one of my early mentors called “raw talent”. When she said that, I wasn’t sure what to make of it – if that was a good or bad. I’ve taken short courses, attended writing festivals, completed a six month short story clinic, participated in writing communities, beta read, written and read articles on writing (I think the writing about writing was what really created the biggest learning platform for me!), written with several partners, spent hundreds of hours talking writing with my colleagues but more importantly, written-rewritten and written some more. Wash, rinse, repeat!

    I consider myself having almost completed “my apprenticeship” with the decisions I’ve recently made, I feel like I’m stepping out as a “journeyman” in the next month to attempt to make it in the world beyond. I’m looking less like a misshapened piece of marble, the end product is more evident but there is a lot of toil left. It will require passion, tenacity and a whole new level of learning, as the skills I’ve already learned are honed.

    • There could be so many metaphors used by artists to describe their creative process, but passion by itself is not enough, as you said. Dedication and commitment are partners to improving. It’s why I chose the Hilltop Hoods’ song “Chase That Feeling” as one of the PROMPTed songs. There’s a line in there about dedication to the craft; you chase that feeling by pursing your craft to make it the best possible.

  5. “A writer is born. But a writer is also taught.”

    I think this line sums it up best. I truly believe I was born to write. I wrote my first short story (illustrated and all) for a 6th grade project. I have notebooks going back to 7th grade with stories and poetry (utter crap) in them. Since I began, I’ve had a compulsion (as Rebecca said) to continue. It’s something I have to do and love to do, but it doesn’t mean I excel at it. We all must continue our education no matter how long we’ve been doing it. Just like a musician, sculptor, painter, etc.

    However, having a passion for something doesn’t mean you were born to do it. I have a passion for music. I could (and do) get lost in the sway of a song. I memorize lyrics like Rain Man. Everything from The Beatles to Kelly Clarkson, Pink to Juanes, Fleetwood Mac to Evanescence. I’m never without music, even when writing. Pandora is on in my office all day. But no matter how much I love it, there is little I can do about the fact that I was born without rhythm. Seriously. It’s quite sad. I tried to learn guitar and it was painful (literally and figuratively). I know if I had kept it up, I would have been competent, but I would never be great. I was born with the passion for it, but I wasn’t born to do it.

    On the flip side, just because you haven’t done something since birth, doesn’t mean you weren’t born to do it. You may have to come writing later in life, Adam, but your words have a magic to them that’s not often found. It’s a gift that can’t be taught. A magic that some artists are born with and others are not.

    • I’m like you when it comes to music. I love listening to it, and I can play drums adequately and am learning guitar and bass (slowly). I can become competent, but I am amazed at the elite players who are able to see and perceive their instrument in new ways. Always brilliant. And they were practicing 8 hours a day to get there.
      And thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.

  6. Writers are indeed born, not made. But no one is born a complete writer, only made so.

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