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Writers: Born, Not Made

Most people aren't meant to be writers.

It's okay! We can say that. There are plenty of incredibly smart people who can't string a coherent sentence together to save their lives. Of those who can write well, few choose to take that talent beyond business reports, e-mails, Post-It notes. People willing to sit down and crank out hundreds of thousands of words for one single project (that may never be read by anyone else, ever!) are in the minority.

What motivates that fraction of the population? The astronomical paychecks? (Ha!) The support of family, friends, and strangers?

Let's be honest. Writers write because when they don't, they feel badly. Writing is something that has a positive impact on their lives and they crave it.

I was reminded of that recently when I was reading a New York Times article about people who exercise regularly. The article explained that most people who start working out because of motives outside themselves (for better health, to lose weight, because they're told they should) rarely stick with an exercise regiment for the long term. That's contrasted to a fraction of the population who can't seem to stop working out, even after injuries or other factors make it difficult or dangerous, because it makes them feel so good.
Most who start exercising say the goal is to lose weight or improve their health. But those who begin on the promise of imperceptible health effects often stop, Dr. Dishman said, saying they do not have time, or are too tired after work, or they just lost interest. And there are no good studies investigating why people keep exercising. Dr. Dishman and others suspect the motivation is sheer pleasure — feeling energized, a boost in mood, feeling restless and uncomfortable without exercise. And you may not be able to will yourself to have this response. ---Gina Kolata Sold on the Feeling, if Not the Benefit, to Health, NY Times
In my opinion, that's a pretty exciting idea---that my love for writing is more of a personal disposition than something I have to force. It's something I'm going to keep in mind on the days when the writing is rocky and the words aren't kind. I'll try to be aware that, though the pervasive advice to write every day, make sure you set a consistent time to write, and meet minimum daily quotas will help make me a more productive writer, nothing can ever take away the fact that I am a writer. Always will be, even when it's not good for my (mental) health.
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  1. Great observation/find! So very true in most things: if you're in it for any other reason BUT "I love doing it" your success will have a ceiling, and probably a reduced lifespan to boot.

  2. Sarah, you are so dead on with this. I don't know what it is inside me, but as much as I love to consume (ALL THE THINGS: food, books, music, movies, etc etc), it pains me not to be actively producing something creative as well. It's just a part of who I am, and I completely get how other writers feel similarly. Still working on understanding people who don't feel the creative drive. ;)

  3. For me it boils down to this: if I'm not writing, I'm miserable.

  4. I'm linking this in my weekly round-up!

  5. Makes sense. And I think that's why I hate that I have to choose daily between my exercise time and my writing time. There's so little discretionary time available after work, kids, house, and other obligations.

  6. So true. If I'm not writing I'm still thinking up stories. I can't seem to shut that part of my brain off.

  7. Yup. If I miss too many days of writing, I feel this sense of impending doom crushing me, or the sense of drowning or suffocating in too many thoughts. And I like the comparison to exercise, if only because it makes me feel better about my long lapses. :-)

  8. I'm not so sure I agree with this entirely...Certainly that any individual given's dispositions sets them up for, say, certain propensities (e.g. those who enjoy storytelling being more likely to read/write or some such thing), but I feel like the title of the post is a liiiiitle misleading. I'm probably just being nitpicky and needling, but I've always held that the ability to write well is not an inherent, natural talent, but one achieved over time through experience. Absolutely anyone can become a writer; few do because of circumstance and predispositions that develop either early on or later in lafe.

  9. I'm going to disagree with our anonymous friend here on the whole "great writing can be learned thing" on the basis that there are certain basic necessities for writing well that *cannot* be learned: An innate understanding of how language works, a capacity for strong emotional understanding, and the kind of intellect that can synthesise these into a coherent work are all traits rather than skills, and while it is essential that they be honed through the development of skill, it is essential that those seed be there to grown in the first place.

    But that's not what this article is about. What you speak of is *drive,*and that is incontovertibly essential, regardless of what kind of drive it is.

  10. I love this comparison to exercise! Yes, we must do it for the love. If it's for the money? Forgetaboutit

  11. GOOD! i enjoy this reading! thank you very much for writing it.

  12. I'm glad you posted this. Most of the time when people say "What makes a person a WRITER?" the answer is "writers WRITE." It's to encourage people who write but aren't published, or warn people who WANT to be published but have no concept of the hard work it takes (like, how you actually have to WRITE SOMETHING and all). But I've been in a rough patch creatively for the past few years. I've had a lot of trouble writing, um, PRODUCTIVELY-- writing actual, like, WORKS-- writing STORIES. "Writers write" didn't feel like the whole story to me. I actually put "wannabe writer" in my Twitter description because I was self-conscious, that maybe I don't write enough.

    So what does it mean for someone who has been writing avidly since she learned to make a pencil spell words, who carried around all her works in progress on the off-chance she might want to write something at the playground, at lunch, during class? Now that I've had this rough place, when other people seem to be SO much more productive than me even with (apparently) some of the same outside stressors, am I NOT a writer anymore?

    But I still take my journal with me when I'm staying overnight somewhere else, and write a little in it every day. I still take notebooks with me in case I want to jot something. I had a getaway weekend with my girlfriends a few weeks ago, most of whom were english majors or poets or something of the sort (a couple of whom are now English PROFESSORS), and somehow I was the only one there who'd BROUGHT a journal and a binder full of writing. I HAVE that urge, constantly. Honestly, I sometimes think I haven't really had a thought until I can see it written down!

    So it's encouraging, encouraging that someone else believes my "writer's block" really IS WRITER'S block, not some kind of failure on my part to BE a writer. It means I just might be getting through this.


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