Writers: Born Vs. Made

Part 2 in WFTF Series on Parents Nurturing Good Writers

by Cora Daniels

My kids are only 5 and 8 so at least a decade away from writing their college essays. But both have been writing before they could read. At first they would make drawings and dictate to me narrations to go along with them. Now they don’t need me as their tool and writing is an activity they both voluntarily gravitate towards like playing superheroes, or soccer, or sugar. My son who is still in the early stages of reading can barely spell, relying on his own creative phonics, but that has not stopped him from writing. Just as he draws page after page after page, he writes on page after page after page. When he gave me his “Book about Mommy” for mother’s day, he told me it “would melt my heart.” I could barely read a word of the jumbled spelling, but he was right, it still melted my heart. That is because his love affair with writing had already begun.

03-BICcristal2008-03-26Many people think writing is a talent. True, if you are a good writer you are indeed very talented.  But there is an assumption we too often make when we label something as talent: we think of it as a gift – something you either have or you don’t, instead of something that can be taught. Jack Kerouac wrote a passionate piece in Writer’s Digest back in 1962 under the headline “Are Writers Born or Made?” in which he came down a little more on the “born” side of the debate than the “made” side. But that’s because Kerouac’s focus was not on good writers but the most exceptional ones, what he dubbed originators or genius. The first line of his piece: “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write; but geniuses of the writing art like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.” Truth is, even Kerouac would agree, good writers are developed, it takes practice and work. And just like any talent it is never too early to cultivate it. We do that with musical instruments or sports, what makes writing any different?

In my first post of our series about raising good writers I talked about how it is never too early to nurture a writer’s voice. Now I am telling you that we need to actively develop writing skills in our children as we do any of their other activities and interests. It all sounds a little like eat-your-spinach type of advice, even self-serving coming from someone who makes a living writing. So what’s the point? Why does a love affair with writing matter for the rest of us?

Jack_Kerouac_Naval_Reserve_Enlistment,_1943_2One practical reason is if you develop children who truly enjoy writing then the college essay becomes just another piece of writing in life instead of THE piece of writing of their life. And those are the voices that will stand out on every page, always. Kerouac ended his piece with this: “Oftentimes an originator of new language forms is called ‘pretentious’ by jealous talents. But it ain’t whatcha write, it’s the way atcha write it.”

As much as the mother in me wants to think my kids are uniquely special, their specialness had nothing to do with spawning their love of writing. Instead, that came from me putting a pencil in their hand and telling them to play with their words.

Cora Daniels, a Write for the Future coach, is an award winning journalist and author. Her upcoming book, Impolite Conversations, is a collection of essays.

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