Monday, November 16, 2009

NATURE vs. NURTURE

I pretty much knew I wanted to write by the seventh grade. Of course, in my version of “writing” I wanted to be a Journalist traipsing through jungles and war-torn regions trying to scoop some story that would land me on the cover of Time magazine, possibly win me a Pulitzer. And maybe it would be in the midst of gunfire? Maybe in an insect-infested rain forest with snakes and feral predators and giant spiders? Maybe, even, without a shower?

Can you picture me there? No, not so much? Right…me either. Plus, there’s all that fact gathering and truth-telling. I found it much simpler and far more satisfying to just make stuff up. And to shower daily.

But what was it that made me think I could write? What made me want it? Is writing something you are just born to do, some innate ability you either have or you don’t? Or is it something taught, some skill that must be honed and mastered?

Honestly, I believe it’s both.

But, just like everything else, what I don’t believe is that there is only one “right way” to get there.

I didn’t go the MFA in Writing route (which probably would have been a much smarter and much less potholed route). In fact, when I was in college, I was a Biology major. Um, yeah, not so much to do with the writing. More to do with Anatomy & Physiology, Chemistry, Physics, and a whole lotta math. But I could write a kick-ass paper on cellular mitosis or Newton’s Law. Because all along the way, even though I was studying Biology, I was also "studying" the craft of writing. Whether I was writing mid-term projects and essay problems, or writing and re-writing (and re-writing) my first novel, or just reading everything I could get my hands on, I was always learning about sentence structure and vocabulary and how to best use words for impact. Even if it wasn’t a highly formalized masters program.

Because here’s the thing: while I think I would have learned a TON from a writing program, I also don’t believe that a degree means you will be a great writer*. I think you can be taught all of those things I mentioned above…and a lot, LOT more! I think you can spend hours studying linguistics and dialogue and pouring over the words of every author who’s ever lived and died by the pen, but that does not, and let me just repeat that: That DOES NOT a great writer make! And it certainly does not guarantee a career in writing. Because what can’t necessarily be taught is a *feel* for good storylines or a keen sense of timing or the life experiences that are necessary to understand the way your characters should (or should not) relate to one another.

For me, I think that, yes, I was going to find a way to be a writer (one way or another) and it was called: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Did I have something there to begin with? Hell yes, I did! It’s called drive, desire, and ambition. And I’m not sure where that comes from exactly. Maybe growing up without made me work harder. I’m almost certain it did. But I would never discount the determination of those who were raised with more. There are probably just as many authors who have come from means as those who came from nothing.

Because here’s the deal, if you’ve got that fire then nothing can stop you. I truly believe that writers are as often born as they are created.


* I am not, in fact, referring to myself as a "great writer"...just making a reference to writers in general. Please do not send hate mail!

6 comments:

PJ Hoover said...

So I was born an engineer and turned writer. Seriously no MFA from this end (at least not yet).
i think writing is like anything else. Like you said, practice and you will get better.

Lisa and Laura said...

Yeah, we're pretty much self taught writers too. You know what I think makes a great writer? A great reader.

Little Ms J said...

Many routes, none perfect. I love that about life. I related to this post in many ways. A lot of people think a degree means that you have an advantage and maybe for some it does. For me, the only thing I need is desire and ambition.

And some chicklets to listen to me complain.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Practice ... that's the key to success!

Robin Burrows said...

Several years ago, I met a writer who writes books for a big-name fantasy company and he said he majored in Chemistry in college. I also had a couple of friends in college who were majoring in one of the sciences but also dabbled in writing. I, myself, have always wanted to be a writer since third grade when I realized that I could create the fantastic imaginary worlds that I enjoyed so much and share that joy with others. :)

Tam said...

Sorry, I'd comment, but I'm still laughing over the image of you in a jungle.