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Are good writers born or made?

Postby Starfire » Sun Sep 02, 2007 9:34 pm

Today I picked up Stephen King's audio book on writing. I have not gotten very far into it, but he makes the point very early that he believes writers are born. He wrote the book because he believes that writing skills can be refined and perfected, but only by those with the gift for it.

I think each person has the potential to express themselves in writing if they can really get in touch with their "higher self". I think some people just write on a superficial level because they just don't dig deep enough. You must understand the human spirit to be a good writer and sadly some people just don't get it. Granted some people are hopelessly boring. I just won't give up the idea that everyone of us has at least one good book in them.

What are your thoughts?
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Postby Bmat » Mon Sep 03, 2007 8:10 am

I'd say that the interest has to be there. I suspect that the interest is developed from experience. Whether there is a potential for the interest in some and not in others, I don't know.

Say that everyone has the same potential to be interested in writing. One person is exposed to others who value thinking and exploring, who encourage her to learn and to express herself verbally, who encourage her to read. Or she discovers and is enchanted by poetry and books. Another person is not exposed to such people- perhaps their time is spent struggling to make a living, there is not the luxury of reading or thinking beyond I must work to the point of exhaustion and fall asleep and awaken again and struggle. This person may not find value in self-exploration or in verbal communication.

The first person may be a writer, the second probably not, IMHO.

Let's take the other theory, that some have the potential and some don't.

The one who doesn't have the potential in this case but who wants to be a writer but never does well at it. Why not? Because their desire to write lacks experience or discipline? Because they lack the patience? the life experience? because they get bogged down and don't soar? It seems that even with this theory I am back to experience. Although physical attributes such as ability to concentrate, to learn, -these would seem to be part of potential.

So let's see: A person must have the ability to concentrate and to learn, these are born traits. A person must have the background that permits exploring and thinking and creativity, these are experience.

So we have a blend of born traits and experience. My conclusion is that you can have the experience but not be able to concentrate and learn. So I am back to agreeing that a writer is born, but that just as the acorn needs to have water, sun, and earth to develop into a strong oak, so the person with potential needs to be nurtured.

I'll be interested in what others have to say about this.
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nature or nuture?

Postby RHFay » Mon Sep 03, 2007 8:47 am

Ah, the old "nature or nuture" question...

Based on my personal experience, I believe it's a bit of both. I apparently had the talent to tell creative stories from an early age. My mother once told me that I would entertain the secretary and nurse in the dentist's office with my imaginative tales. They remarked about how rich my imagination was, and that they truly enjoyed my stories, even though I was a little kid.

The talent was obviously there, and I did impress a few of my teachers in high school with my creative prose and poetry, but it took years to refine my poetry to the point that editors accept it for publication on a fairly regular basis. I'm still working on getting some prose published, but currently I'm concentrating on the poetry.

My first poem written independently from any sort of school assingment was written around 1985. My first publication in a zine was just this year. I had a handful of poems published in contest-related anthologies prior to that. I consider the e-zine and print magazine publications to be much more important and credible. It took years of life experiences and practice to get my work to the point it is at today.

Now, personal experiences differ, and there are plenty of stories of writers being successful at a young age. However, I think there is always a need to refine that talent and learn the skills of writing.

By the way, I do know some people that barely function as human beings, let alone as authors. It might sound harsh, but I do believe that some people just don't have it in them. However, I do think there are those that have the innate ability, but never use it.
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Postby aldan » Mon Sep 03, 2007 10:40 am

Indeed, nature and nurture... a bit of both is needed to create publishable writers. However, that being said, there are exceptions. As RH said, there are some children published at quite a young age, when there wouldn't have been much time for the schooling and whatnot. Nurture still was involved, however, because the child's stories were listened to and the people who did so, most likely the parents, expressed pride and enjoyment in them, which encouraged more writing, which would add to the experience of the young writer. There are also, however, some that just seem to be 'naturally writers'. Those would likely have been bards and whatnot, back in the days. Today, they have the opportunity to, usually with some help, get their writings published. These writers seem to just 'have it'. They write quality pieces almost from the beginning, and they tend to do it without much encouragement or technical help from others, just as some great artists never attended any art schools.

But just as you can't 'build' an Olympic athlete from a person without talent in the particular field of athletics, great writers tend to be people who have had time (they started young, usually), some technical help from teachers/professors, and some help with learning how the publishing companies do things (to help protect them from others and from the companies themselves), and with that were able to become great writers.
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Postby Magus » Mon Sep 03, 2007 5:32 pm

I read On Writing, and, as a matter of fact, own a copy of it (although I currently don't have it with me). I never once cared for his advice on writing. It always seemed overly simplistic at best, and out-right wrong at its worst (an example of the latter being "second draft = first draft - 10%" ).

Obviously natural aptitudes play an enormously large part in the whole process. A person who is naturally gifted at writing will, of course, always be naturally gifted. A person who does not share that gift, will, of course, never share that gift. That is a matter of great certainty. However, that does not at all mean that a person who is not gifted as a writer will be a poor author, or that an extremely talented writer will make the grade as a good one.

I think that most of writing does not come from aptitude. I don't even think that most of writing comes from experience. I think that the lion's share of the process comes down to, very simply, work and education.

The harder a person works, the better they will be, almost invariably. I don't mean things that are a matter of individual artistic interpretation, but things that are, almost without exception, basic fundamentals of ability. Writing is not a walk in the park, nor a quick sprint from point "A" to point "B," but a grueling marathon of drafts and revisions, where the way is unknown and the distance unfathomable.

Work and revision improve one's writing, and education is at its base. Without knowledge of grammar, of diction, or syntax, of form and function, of the works of others, of the English language as a whole and the human experience in general, one cannot hope to be anything more than a mediocre writer.

One who lacks the will to revise and the fundamentals of knowledge of the English language cannot hope to be a good author by any means, no matter how naturally gifted they are. No first draft ever is as good as the second draft, and no first draft is ever good enough to stand on its own merits. Even Kafka's works, some of which exist only in their first draft, can escape the sense that something is missing, that it lacks something of quality, that its not nearly as good as it is supposed to be. I dare anybody to say otherwise concerning The Trial. This, actually, is a point that Stephen King makes later in the book, when he shows the differences in the first and second drafts of 1408.
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Postby berry » Wed Sep 19, 2007 10:25 am

I have been putting this question to myself for a couple of months. I love reading, and have been inspired in a profound manner by many writers. I love stories. I know people very very well, being trained in psychology and also being a professional counsellor has enhanced any natural talent I had for understanding people. That said I do not feel like I have a natural talent for writing, I know that overcoming dyslexia and my serious lack of grammar has been a trial and is very much ongoing.
I do not seem to be able to inject my knowledge of human nature into my work and though I have a good imagination I do not seem to be able to inject that into my work either, well not in a satisfactory way.
So maybe it is a case of whether you 'believe' in yourself enough to persevere until you are good enough.
Outside of a dog, a book is mans best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
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Postby RHFay » Wed Sep 19, 2007 11:05 am

Magus wrote:I I think that the lion's share of the process comes down to, very simply, work and education.


I agree with this, to a point. I think practice makes for a better writer, and knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and past literature can help writers develop their craft. However, I took a total of one poetry writing course in college, and had very little poetry exposure in high school, and yet I'm a published poet. Granted, I'm an avid reader and a homeschooler, so my informal exposure to poetry is probably greater than my formal exposure.

Still, I don't think a poet, or even author, can simply be made. I don't think any amount of education can make someone see the world in a poetic way. I also don't think education can create the imagination and talent needed to be an author. I think this is something ingrained in a person's nature, not something acquired through schooling. An education can help the talent blossom, but it can't create it.

My daughter has been writing fascinating and pretty well-written stories since she was in grade school. If work and education were the primary forces behind creating writers, then I think she would have developed this ability later on in her life, not when she was a mere child. She had the grammar and composition skills to do it at that age because of her education situation, but her imaginative talent was always there.

It's often not considered to be politically correct to say that certain people just don't have the talent for certain things, but that's the way it is. I will never be an opera singer or an Olympic athelete; I just don't have the talent for either of those activities. I did show a talent for story telling at a very early age, and a bit later in life showed a talent for poetry composition. Education did play a role, especially in terms of poetry, but I wouldn't say that it was the lion's share.
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Postby Bmat » Wed Sep 19, 2007 1:04 pm

My friend, who teaches math in a community college, says that she is convinced that some people just aren't able to understand math, which goes along with what you are saying about lack of talent in a subject. I don't know if they would get a tutor to help them find out why there is a problem would help. I know that I tutored some students when I was in university and we were able to get their math grade up a point or two.

These days I am teaching line dance, and I find that 80% of learning line dance is self-confidence, another 15% is practise, and maybe 5% is miscellaneous- hearing well, coordination, and maybe innate talent. Of course, line dance doesn't require precise moves such as ballet or tap would, but it does require getting the feet and body to move a certain way, and hearing the beat of the music. When a student tells me that they are going to drop out because they can't get it, I say it is their decision but that I feel that with practise they could get it. Silently I comment to myself that if they drop out they definitely aren't going to get it. And I've had so many success stories that it seems a shame to give up like that.

My favorite success story is the student who couldn't "get it" and I kept encouraging her to try. She took three sessions of the class, did fine, and gained enough confidence to pursue other experiences- piano lessons for one.
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Postby Violanthe » Thu Apr 17, 2008 10:44 am

I would say both... not meaning that one option happens sometimes, and the other happens other times, but rather you need both to happen at the same time.

The drive to want to write, the creative impulse, if you will, is born. The ability to write well must be learned.
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Postby Magus » Fri Apr 18, 2008 8:56 am

some people just aren't able to understand math


***COUGHCOUGH***me***COUGHCOUGH***
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Postby RHFay » Fri Apr 18, 2008 10:46 am

Magus wrote:
some people just aren't able to understand math


***COUGHCOUGH***me***COUGHCOUGH***


Algebra? - Piece of cake! Trigonometry and Geometry - okay, alright, doable. Calculus - ugh! Nightmare! (Especially Calc II - my only C in college. And I was lucky to get that.)

Anyway, back to writing...

Interestingly enough, I was just recently called a "stellar poet" by an editor, fellow-poet, and writer who just had a how-to-write poetry book published. She has an MA and has been writing poetry and columns about poetry for years. (This discussion took place on MySpace.)

Now, she also said that if I wrote a how-to-write-poetry book, she would buy it in a heartbeat. I told her that my method for writing poetry could be summed up in one line - I go with my gut. I'm an instinctive poet.

Writing poetry instinctively...think about that for a moment. I actually took all of one college course on poetry (creative writing - poetry) - I took mostly science course in college (I have a BS in Biology). My education has certainly helped hone my writing skills in general, but it wasn't what made me a poet. I think I was always a poet at heart.

There are plenty of people out there that know more about the theory of poetry and the different forms of poetry than I do. I will admit that I'm still learning about poetic form. However, the raw talent, the natural ability to write poetry, was always there.

Now, obviously my education helped introduce me to poetry to begin with - I would never have thought about writing poetry if I had never read any poems. And my voracious reading over the years has certainly helped, even though I haven't read a whole lot of poetry. Still, I don't think that's what really made me a poet. It just helped that talent to blossom.

I will say this - I bet it happens differently for different people. So perhaps there really is no single right answer to the question "are writers (or poets) born or made?".
"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did. I'm going to recite poetry!" Andrew of Armar.
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Postby aldan » Fri Apr 18, 2008 3:32 pm

My own belief is that while there are always exceptions to the rules, the great majority of writers who get published have some innate talent at writing that they were born with, but they had to not only learn the forms and whatnot, they also needed to be exposed to the art form, as you ended up being, RH. IMO, therefore, it's not an either/or, but is instead a both or neither, except, as I said before, in very rare exceptions.
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