Are writers born or made? I often have people ask me how to become a writer and I’m not really sure that there’s a single answer. There are as many ways to become a writer as there are writers in the world. We all have different stories, but I think we also have a few things in common.
Are Writers Born or Made?
Eight common traits of writers today
1. A love of stories.
Not every avid reader becomes a writer, but every writer I know was an avid reader as a child – and remains one. Writers love stories and love storytelling. We’re voracious readers. We also tend to be what I call omnivorous readers: writers read all kinds of things. We read cereal boxes. We read the encyclopedia. We read fiction of all kinds and lots of non-fiction. We read biographies, myths and fairy tales, history books. We are always looking for the story behind something. We are always intrigued with the development of the conflict and its resolution, even when we’re too young to realize that’s what is holding our interest.
2. A love of words.
Writers also love words. I read the dictionary one year in elementary school, which was considered somewhat odd. Since then, I’ve met lots of writers who either have read or do read the dictionary. Words are our tools, so it makes sense to learn how best to use them. There are writers who are fascinated by grammar, those who never met a word they couldn’t spell, those who learn other languages to broaden their understanding. These are all manifestations of the same interest. I learned more about English from one year of studying Latin, for example, than I had in countless years of grammar classes. I love learning where words came from, or how their meanings have changed, or even checking out the updates in the new version of the dictionary. Are writers born or made? My guess is you are born with the inclination to love words.
3. An active imagination.
When I was a kid, teachers always noted that I had an active imagination. I’m not sure this was considered a very good thing at the time – there was a sense of it being impractical or possibly a distraction from the real business of life. I made up a lot of stories as a kid, as well as songs and characters. My imagination was well trained in that sort of exercise by the time I became a writer.
4. A fascination with people.
Writers who create compelling and plausible characters are writers who understand something about real people – usually, they are writers who study people. How people react, how they think, how they speak and why they choose the words they do are concerns of writers. What kind of person would do such-and-such? Why? How would he or she justify the choice? Writers watch people. We are shameless eavesdroppers. (I think this might be why so many writers like to work in cafés and coffee shops – there’s so much opportunity for inspiration.) Writers are students of human nature.
I believe that what feeds an active imagination is curiosity. There has to be a steady stream of new information feeding the well for new ideas to take shape. The writers I know are a curious bunch – they ask questions. They read voraciously, not just in one area of specialty but through every section of the library or bookstore. Writers ask how things work, or why things are this way, or what would happen if things were that way instead. That curiosity applies to writing as well – good writers are always learning about technique and craft. Asking questions is a good tool for doing that.
6. A commitment to put words on the page.
That sounds silly because it seems self-evident that writers write, One visit to a writers’ group, though, will reveal that many aspiring writers don’t actually write much. Some don’t write at all. They think about writing. They plan to write. But there’s always something else to do first. Writers must write and they must write regularly.
7. An increment of confidence.
While it is possible that a person can be a writer without anyone knowing the truth of it, most authors aspire to publication. And publication of an author’s work only happens when the author sends the work out into the world for judgment and review. This is somewhat terrifying and it’s not easy for anyone – maybe that’s why a lot of writers duck out of it. Many aspiring writers don’t complete projects. Many complete projects but never show them to anyone. An aspiring writer needs enough confidence – in herself and in the work – to show that work to others.
It’s very useful for an aspiring writer to be persistent. Even stubborn. My mother calls this ‘sheer bloodimindedness’, which is a phrase I like a lot. (If I ever get a tattoo…) Publishing can be a challenging business – and like all marriages of commerce and creativity, it’s hardest on the creative party. A writer needs to be able to send work out, even after receiving rejections. A writer needs to be able to continue to write, no matter what kind of reviews or feedback are received. Publishing is full of stories of writers selling a work after a ridiculous number of rejections – persistence can be a big part of success.
Can you think of any traits of writers I’ve missed? And what do you think now, are writers born or made?
Deborah Cooke (http://www.deborahcooke.com) has always been fascinated with dragons, although she has never understood why they have to be the bad guys. She has an honours degree in history, with a focus on medieval studies. She is an avid reader of medieval vernacular literature, fairy tales, and fantasy novels, and has written over forty romance novels and novellas. In October and November 2009, Deborah was the writer in residence for the Toronto Public Library, the first time that the library has hosted a residency focused on the romance genre. Deborah has also been published under the names Claire Cross (http://www.clairecross.com ) and Claire Delacroix (http://www.delacroix.net).
Deborah makes her home in Canada with her husband. When she isn’t writing, she can be found knitting, sewing or hunting for vintage patterns.
Deborah’s current release is DARKFIRE KISS, book #6 in her Dragonfire series of contemporary paranormal romances featuring dragon shape shifter heroes. That series continues with FLASHFIRE in January 2012 and Dragonfire #8 in October 2012. (http://www.deborahcooke.com) Deborah’s new YA trilogy, The Dragon Diaries, is loosely linked to Dragonfire, focusing on the coming of age of the new Wyvern, the only female dragon shifter. FLYING BLIND will be a June release, followed by WINGING IT in December and book 3 in June 2012. (http://www.thedragondiaries.com)