Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Born to Write?

Paula wonders: Are you ‘born to write’ or do you make a conscious decision to become a writer?

Last week I read P.D. James’ 10 top tips for writers. She’s now 93, and is probably most famous for writing the Adam Dalgliesh mystery series.

Her first point was: You must be born to write.

She said: You can't teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don't think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.
Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can't make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.

This really intrigued me. Was I born to write? All I know is that I’ve written stories ever since I was about 8 or 9. Throughout my teens, I wrote cheesy stories one after the other. I also kept long diaries – I remember one (when I was 16 or 17) which ended up as a folder about 3 inches thick by the end of the year (oh, how I wish I had kept that diary!). I wrote lengthy letters to penfriends and, later, when I moved away from home, to several friends back home. In that sense, I have always been a writer.

That doesn’t necessarily mean my writing is good! I know I write better than some authors I've read, but I'm also very aware that many others are far more talented than I am. However, during the past few years, I think I have learnt to write more effectively. Not necessarily following all the ‘rules’, but certainly making my writing ‘sharper’, using simple techniques like getting rid of speech tags and overused words – like ‘that’ (etc)

One thing in P.D.James’ words struck a chord with me. Unintentional pun there, but as child I learnt to play the piano. I wasn’t good, I knew I wasn’t good, but I persevered and by my late teens I played adequately enough to accompany the hymn singing at my local church. However, I wasn’t a musician. I played from technique and practice, and not the ‘feel’ of it. I think the same applies to writing too. There is a world of difference between techniques of writing and the ‘feeling’ I have about words, phrasing, and sentence flow.

I’ve read blogs and articles where some people have said they ‘decided’ to become a writer. That’s something I’ve never understood. Can you ‘decide’ to become an artist or a musician – or a writer? In my case, there was never a conscious decision. Writing is as integral a part of me as breathing! I don't think I ever made a decision to 'become an author' either. I wrote my first full-length romance novel when I was in my twenties, but I was writing it simply for myself. It was only after I finished it (in longhand) that I decided to type it out and send it to the only romance publisher I had heard of at the time - and no one was more surprised than me when it was accepted!

What do you think? Can you ‘make a decision’ to become a writer, or are you born with something within you to create stories and write them?

The rest of P.D. James’ tips are here:
She makes some very pertinent comments, in my opinion.


  1. I think it comes down to passion. You must have a passion for writing, for the craft of it in and of itself, if you hope to have a chance of making it as an author. There's no other way to get through the hard parts and overcome the many challenges you'll face.

    Passion tends to be an instinctive thing. People rarely learn to become passionate about things as a matter of training or logical thought. It's a deep, visceral emotion, a response that we can't incite at will and can only fail to try and suppress.

  2. A very good point, Paul, especially about passion not being something that can be taught. It's the driving force that keeps us going - even when the going gets tough!

  3. I think you can practice your writing and become better at it, but that may hold true in a more technical sense. Maybe the creative and voice side of things is definitely more of a born with kind of thing.

  4. That's how I would divide it up, too, Debra. The practice and improvement of your writing can actually change your 'voice' too (which is probably why I cringe when I read my early novels!). However, I don't think you can 'learn' creativity and/or what I call my 'gut instinct' about a story.

  5. I think you can decide to DO anything, but you're born with an innate ability to BE something. As you said, Paula, you can exercise the muscle, but there are certain artistic things that you just can't learn.

  6. I'd agree with that, Jen. Innate abilities can be improved with study and practice, but if an innate ability isn't there, there are certain aspects of it that you can't learn. I once tried to learn to draw, but I definitely had no innate ability for that, despite my grandfather being an artist. Those particular genes did not reach me!

  7. I always say that writing is inherent; good writing is learned.

    I write because my soul requires it. I do not write particularly well because I don't require that. My writing is truly for my therapy and sharing is my joy.

  8. I LOVE your first sentence, Jo. You have summed it up perfectly!
    I think I write because I can't 'not' write! At the same time, I am thrilled when editors like what I write, and doubly thrilled when readers like it too!

  9. I think there must a need inside to write - then everything we do to bring the words to the page or publication is about learning and honing the craft of writing, perhaps.

  10. Great comment, Rosemary. A 'need' to write is a better concept than 'born' to write, and then, as you say, we work to improve our writing.