Are writers born or made?

March 25, 2019

Is the act of writing hard-wired into our brains at birth? Or is it something we acquire throughout our lives? 

If you read the bio of most writers you find they talk about the 'need' to write. Something that is more than just an urge, it is nearer to being a compulsion. Let's face it, why would we do it otherwise? Writing isn't easy. There are times it can be a vicious form of hell, we torture ourselves with self-doubt and place ourselves in the centre of a firing range where others can take pot shots at our work - and at us as people. Yet still we persist. It's literary masochism.

 

So why do we do it? It's a question that struck me after visiting my son and his family in Ireland. He has two sons, one of them is three years old and my experiences of joining in with his play, sparked this thought process. 

 

 Everything in this little lad's play was about telling stories. He's got tons of toys but it's what he does with them that intrigues me. For instance, he's got a police officer pack - badge, handcuffs etc. We spent hours (no exaggeration) acting out different stories where he was the police officer and either my wife or I was the criminal. We were arrested, incarcerated in different places in the house, for different crimes and, on occasion, managed to escape briefly. We were fed, exercised, allowed to plead our case and be freed occasionally. 

 

He has Lego bricks of course. But they become dinosaurs, with different features that cause them to interact with other creatures in stories that make Jurassic World look positively tame. The stories have characters and clear narratives that are filled with excitement, puzzles, tension and drama. Last night we were sent a video clip of him playing with his tool kit - except it had turned into an ice cream stall and he pushed it along the floor calling out "Ice creams for sale!"

 

His behaviour took me back to my own childhood where I remember doing similar things, acting out stories with whatever came to hand. Some of my earliest memories are of writing little stories in notebooks. My parents bought me a second-hand typewriter when I became a teenager and it was the best present ever! With it my story writing took off as I pounded that thing. Sometimes I took my stories into school, to show to my teachers. After all, writers need an audience.

 

From there, onto to university where my writing took off. I wrote sketches and short plays which I produced using others from my drama group. As a teacher, with the absence of material that suited my kids, I wrote my own material for them to perform. My youth theatre went on tour with my scripted productions. And now, I've got books (both fiction and non-fiction) published, I've written regular columns for national journals and I write professionally in other aspects of my career.

 

Yet I cannot identify any moments where this writing "bug" bit me and made me into the writer I am today. It appears that 'need' has always been there, inside me, waiting to be allowed its freedom. I can see the same thing happening with my grandson as he takes on a variety of roles without any hesitation, to adopt narratives that are bold and exciting. 

 

So, to answer my question, I believe many of us are born to be writers. Not all, obviously. But I think that compulsion I mentioned has a genetic origin, our brains are formed in such a way that telling stories in one form of another, is central to our purpose. 

 

I'd be interested to find out your take on this topic. Why not tweet me your thoughts @PhilSpeculates - let me know about your writing experiences and if you were born a writer or you were made.

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