Writers: born this way?

A FB writing group I’m in posed a question about whether writers are born or made. It garnered many, many enthusiastic responses. Most members asserted writers are born, or are somehow a combination of both born and made. You may not be surprised to find I have a problem with this. Otherwise I wouldn’t be addressing it here.

Let’s parse why, or alternatively, you can get on with your life elsewhere:)

Born to write? Born to read? 

I understand the concept of tabula rasa, and how we are not born as blank slates to be filled over the course of our lives. We are born with personalities and abilities that grow along with everything else. Equally, I’m not sure we are born to ‘do’ anything. People kept repeating they were born to write, and the image I have is of Athene, born sprung fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, only with pen and paper in hand, declaring a debut novel. But human babies aren’t Greek Goddesses. Thus it is interesting that it is only after some success that writers apply their twenty twenty hindsight to claim they were born to fulfill what they deem were their manifest destinies.

Yeah nah mate.

Born this way?

Being born to do something indicates a life fated and freighted with duty. But destiny is only ever evoked for royal, creative, or adventurous lives, or to control others, and this upsets my sense of equity. It means we can blame those who work hard in jobs that are undesirable, unfulfilling, low paid, or unsafe, because either these workers lack an important destiny, or alternatively, must be destined to their lives in the same way princes, artists and gods are, and therefore should be as happy to experience these situations as anyone else. Because they were born to. These types of arguments are also used to justify slavery, feudal systems and indentured servitude, as well as apartheid and rigid caste systems.

Hatched with wings, yet not born to fly.

In my experience few call centre workers declare after their final customer hangs up that upon reflection, their professional lives were destined to follow this path. This is regardless of the sense of satisfaction over how many sales they closed or customers they helped. Call centre work, cleaning, clothes manufacturing, abattoir work, or any number of jobs, are done without them being imbued with a romanticised sense of calling like exist for many in the arts and sciences and in former times for religious roles. Even though, of course, people sense vocations to do all sorts of things, including any of the above.

If you do have calling, and have any opportunity to follow it, then good on you. It might work out, or you may have to continue working in the shop at the same time. Whatever happens, just don’t think your colleagues were born to stay where you were, while only you were born to leave. Don’t self-aggrandise. You are not better. Anyway, you don’t know all the secret niches of your colleagues’ hearts, where longings are kept.

Born writing?

The statement very clearly was about writing. I have a problem with this too. Writing is taught as a part of literacy. Literacy is a learned skill that improves with practice. Some lucky children ‘get’ literacy like how Mozart got music – they can sit down and just do it at age two. Most don’t though. Most take a while to learn how to read, and longer to apply all the rules of grammar to writing.

If writers are born, why are they sometimes born deaf-blind, or with dyslexia, or with other sorts of learning delays? Why is writing so gorram hard? The answer is no one is a born writer. Writing is a complex task that came late in our evolutionary history. Some have a talent and an ambition for it, some don’t but write anyway.

However, if my FB group had debated story telling, that’d be a different ball game. Oral story telling, often accompanied by song, dance, and ritual, has been a thing for longer than writing has existed. Thus, I say to born writers, what humans are born to do is communicate. Even if we try not to communicate, that is communicating.

Sure, Victoria was born royal & became Queen. But it was touch & go for a while. Nothing was certain.

Are writers made? 

If we are not really born to do anything, and are not born as writers, do I believe writers are made? Yes and no. I suspect we are born with talents, and some are uncovered and others are not. You may never know you have a talent for piano if you have never seen or heard of one. But if you demonstrate a felicity for (oral or written) narrative, a curiosity about words and the stories of others, if you develop a taste for reading, then this can be directed into a writing life, given the opportunities. Then again, plenty of writers making money now demonstrate little talent, no interest in other stories and have been openly mocked instead of encouraged. They still do all right.

In conclusion, if you are a writer, great, but don’t be a douche about your birth into the world heralding your later success in your divinely inspired craft/apparent calling. You’re one story-teller among millions, not a messiah.

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