The Natural-Born Writer (and other myths)

Saw this via a post on Patrick Ross’s blog: Want to be a writer? Have a literary parent – Science – News – The Independent. Apparently some researchers in Britain have unearthed, through a complicated study, evidence of a “writing gene.” And they support their theory by noting the existence of “writing families” — the Bronte sisters, for example.

I think I agree with Stephen King. Yes, writers have a gift. If you don’t have it to begin with, no amount of training or education can give it to you. In that sense, writers are born, not made. But a gift for writing is not a particularly unusual gift. Lots of people have the knack. So what turns a possible-writer into a writer?

The indispensable trait in a writer is that you begin as a reader — a voracious reader. I have a strong suspicion that “writing families” are, in fact, reading families. Clearly, if there are writers in the family — and especially if the writers happen to be your parents — you are going to grow up in a household where books are revered, reading is taken for granted as a primary source of information and entertainment, and any writing you attempt is both encouraged and intelligently critiqued. The “writing seed” will fall on fertile soil.

I did not discover until several decades into my life that there are people — indeed, entire families — who frown on reading as a waste of time, call magazines “books” (evidently discerning no difference between People and War and Peace), and equate a love of literature with snobbery. These people have a point — although it took me years to see it. I have spent a large portion of my life oblivious to my surroundings, for example. Would my childhood have been better spent in the “real” world – doing chores and riding bicycles, for example, instead of sitting motionless with my nose in the Chronicles of Narnia or Girl of the Limberlost? Because it wasn’t all great literature that kept me from my chores, you know. Sometimes it was Trixie Belden and Cherry Ames, Student Nurse. When you come from a family where reading is sacrosanct, whatever you are reading is, ipso facto, more important than fresh air, exercise or an uncluttered closet.

I’m guessing that Charlotte Bronte was excused from embroidery and piano lessons when she was writing or reading. I bet the Waughs lived in a dusty house and ate a lot of sandwiches. Mark my words, that “creativity gene” theory is going to be debunked. It ain’t nature — at least, not the lion’s share of it. It’s nurture!

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