Are writers born or bred?

Did you always want to be a writer? People often ask me this. The answer is: YES. My mother can attest to this as she still has many stories, books and poems that I wrote, and occasionally even illustrated, when I was just a child.

Writing is something that I have always loved to do. But is passion enough? Is there a set of skills that you need to have as a writer and do you have to be born with these skills or can you learn them later?

Time to introduce my first guest blogger. Nick Thomas is a gifted writer who I was lucky enough to teach at uni last year. (Check out his website here) Rather than just giving my opinion on the subject, I wanted to find out what someone who is currently being ‘taught’ creative writing, thinks of the question. Here are Nick’s thoughts.

Are you born a writer or can you learn to be one?

I’m going to fly in the face of the polarising “and / or” persuasion faux pas (thanks Writing Rhetoric 121) and say, “Yes and YES”.

I have no omnipotent answers and I’m sure John De Lancie appreciates my unpresumptivity (yes this is a word I’ve created. Today), so bear in mind this is all from my own point of view.

Writing can be a pain in the ass sometimes. Apparently I’m better than the average bear, but this doesn’t mean I jump out of bed in the morning brimming with new and inventive ideas. Many of the better than average ideas I’ve had have popped up mid stream. I’ll suddenly stop and think “ooh…. that’s interesting….” and go off on a completely different tangent. And let’s face it, writing is only fun when you’re excited about what you’re writing about. This is the part where it becomes a pain – forcing yourself to write when you really feel like sleeping, or playing CoD, or chatting on FB or eating the last bit of the cheesecake you’re sure nobody will miss (yeah, I did that this morning. My gf won’t be impressed).

I’ve heard that many good writers (and probably some bad ones too =D) write a certain number of words each day. They don’t have to be good words, they just have to be words. From these words perhaps something will occur, perhaps they’ll end up on the cutting room floor, who knows. It’s certainly more literarily positive than eating that cheesecake (it tasted great, btw). This is something I really should be doing,  but I’m not at the moment, hence my book’s not moving and once it doesn’t move in a while, it stagnates; you get different ideas, you feel different about your work, you have new outlooks on life, you’re less jaded and your work loses that ‘edge’ you were so fond of, etc…then you just feel like writing less.

Persistence and Momentum and Want are key.
You’ve got to WANT to write, that’s half the battle. All the talent in the world won’t help you if you don’t LIKE to write. No matter your talent, if you WANT to write, you will. You’ll write words, then pages, then chapters; they’ll feel like achievements, they’ll feel good, they’ll encourage you to keep going, they’ll reassure you, they’ll be as good as a personal trainer sitting on your shoulder urging you on, sans the clichéd buzz words. And remember, if people without legs can run, you sure as hell can write.

I don’t think people can be taught to write creatively. Everyone already can – sure it might not read like poetry all the time, but that’s what editing is about.

What I believe people can be taught are techniques to support their creative writing. Surrounding oneself with other folk who are of like mind and vocabulaic acuity is a start (see? I just made another word, aint being a writer swell?). This can lead to mental breakthroughs of your own. Structure can be taught as a scaffold to fall back upon when the well of inspiration runs dry, forms and protocols can be used as much as a crutch to support one’s literary endeavours as they can be a lighthouse to steer clear of. When you speak with other writers, you learn what techniques they employ to help them on their way and through dabbling in these you’ll learn what works and what does not for you. (cheesecake, apparently, works for me =) ).

Being taught Creative Writing is, I’ve found, to be a lot of fun. I’ve learnt as much from those around me as from the teacher, the atmosphere generated by a classroom full of writers is quite exciting and inspirational and the friends I’ve made through the course have made the writing field, which can be a lonely place, much less so =)

For what it’s worth, I think Nick is right. I’ve been teaching Creative Writing for a few years and based on what I’ve seen, I think a handful of people are born with a wonderful ability to put words together in a unique and expressive way. This cannot be taught. But many other things, such as plotting, narrative drive, character development – the techniques of writing if you like – can be taught. Put natural ability together with passion and technique and you get an amazing writer.

Which leaves me with the question: what if you have the passion but aren’t born with the natural ability to arrange words? What happens to a person who has the desire but not the gift? A sad place to be, surely? Perhaps it’s a question for another blog.


  1. I often wonder about this. For me, I have never wanted to do anything else except be a writer. BUT, that doesn’t mean writing is always easy. A lot of the time it’s difficult, lonely and hard to make time for.
    I feel like I am meant to be a writer, becuase its the only thing I have consistently done and loved since I learnt how to write as a kid. Creative writing at Uni was very helpful for things like pace, plotting, style etc, but I find the number one things that help me to write better are to read a lot and to write a lot.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. The key piece of advice I always give is that, to be a writr, you have to read and write every day. It amazes me that many people who say they want to be writers cannot remember the last book they read. For me, reading and writing go hand in hand. It was my love of reading that made me want to be a writer.
    Thanks for your comment.

  3. A friend and I were mulling this very question over on the weekend as we sipped G&T’s at the beach. Neither of us are writers and are both only occassional bloggers. We concluded that many people want to write and many people think they are writers, but very few actually can write. It is a gift. While it takes practice and training, just as a painter needs practice and training, it is a form of art that comes from within. Or so we concluded….

  4. Yes, I am always surprised by the number of people who tell me they have written a book, have started to write a book or want to write a book – more people, I’m sure than want to paint a masterpiece, compose a symphony or craft a sculpture. I suppose it’s because writing – and reading – is so accessible; we all do it every day at some level, even if it’s just sending someone a text.

  5. Trin

    From a persons perspective who is definately not a writer. I just wanted to make that clear because it’s probably, not my place to comment but I do love reading and at times in mind I feel I can be quite creative in my ideas I come up with and often say to myself that would make an excellent something….. However here is the crunch I have absolutely no interest or gain any joy in doing the actual writing even when most inspired. So I would say that although at times writing is very difficult and time consuming as a writer you must love writing and putting ideas to paper. The skills you learn along the way just build on this love. This would have been so much more enjoyable if i could have said it versus writing it.. trust me!

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