I’ve enjoyed writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve also enjoyed reading for as long as I can remember.
When I was younger — and I’m talking high school years here — I had an arrogant belief that I was born with the talent of a writer. I felt that, because I was me, this born writer who was quite obviously fantastic with words, I could do things that my classmates hadn’t even considered. So while one classmate was just about finishing writing a linear story, I was throwing the elements back to front, all because I felt I was born a writer. It was a ‘talent’, and therefore I could. Sarcasm alert.
This belief in the myth of ‘talent’ continued up to the point that I finished my first novel. Writing that first novel was hard, don’t get me wrong. It was a test of motivation and endurance, and believe me, no novel is ever as tough to write as that first one.
Writing that first novel made me realise that writing isn’t a talent. It’s an ability, sure, but I wasn’t born with it, and neither were you.
Writing is storytelling, and storytelling is reading.
Let me elaborate: when we’re born, I truly believe that we’re born a relatively blank canvas aside from basic survival instinct. If this doesn’t align with your beliefs, then that’s fine. Take what I have to say here with a pinch of salt. Anyhow, I believe that when we are born, we aren’t born with any real interests or talents. But from that moment we’re born, however, we start absorbing a wonderful thing called story.
Whether it’s a nursery rhyme or a lullaby, a first book, a television show or a family anecdote, we become absorbers of story the second we enter the world. We base the future on narratives of the past. So, we don’t put our hand in the fire, because it’ll bloody hurt, because we learned from when we did it in the past that it BLOODY HURT. That’s story, right there. The avoidance of the burned hand is the (fortunate) resolution based on past experience/story/etc.
Fast forward to present day. I’m assuming you’re an adult of some age or another if you’re reading this. Over the course of your life, you have absorbed billions — and I mean billions — of stories. You absorb them every second of every moment of every day, whether it’s a feared trip to the dentist or sitting down in front of your favourite weekly TV series, or Dan Brown book, or action film, or whatever. The truth of the matter is, we aren’t born with a talent for writing. Writing, as in spelling and grammar, is taught. Storytelling, however, is absorbed.
In essence, whether we read ten books a week or haven’t picked up a book in our lives, we’re all readers. Watching films is reading. Watching television is reading.
So what is reading when framed in this manner?
Reading, in my opinion, is the simple interpretation of narrative signs. Reading results in a subconscious understanding of story.
And that is why, in my opinion, when a person picks up a pen for the first time to write that first novel, assuming they watch way more TV than read, they are at the exact same point as a person who has spent a lifetime reading thousands of books.
Sure, the person who reads more books might have a better idea of how to format into chapters and the like. And obviously I’m assuming here that each person has a basic grasp of spelling and grammar. But the person who watches all the TV serials will be at the same point as a storyteller as the avid reader, because they too have been subconsciously absorbing story all their life.
Writers are just readers who decide to pick up the pen. We enjoy story, like everyone, and decide to share stories of our own in the written form. It isn’t a talent. Sure — writers improve their craft over time, but again, that’s a learned thing. A practise thing. Just like we’re always improving our reading with every story that drifts into our life, we’re always improving our writing when we commit words to paper.
So yes, that person who told you you couldn’t write because you weren’t ‘born to write’ because you haven’t got the ‘talent’ is speaking absolute drivel. You weren’t ‘born to do’ anything.
But you’ve lived to learn story. So pick up a few books on spelling and grammar, have a little read about story structure to grasp the essentials, and then just write a story.
Keep on reading, too.
Even though it’s impossible to stop reading.
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When you decide to write a book, such as a sequel to “The Painting”, do you plan it out in detail in advance or does the story develop as you write it? I think I’d trip myself up without planning. “Ron was born with brown hair” (page 27 of my supposed book); “Ron was born a red-head” (page 42). And how do you remember all of the details about characters? You write a lot of different books and some with sequels.
It is interesting your definition of how we are readers even when you watch TV. Thought provoking, like your books.
Planning depends on the project. When I started The Painting, I didn’t plan ahead and had no idea where it was going. Same for the sequels. Other books, like Killing Freedom and Dying Eyes, I planned in advance. Just depends on my mood and how confident I’m feeling. No right or wrong way.
Character details are just something you have to address in the rewrites. When I’m writing about a character, I usually get a trigger that says, “wait, have I mentioned/contradicted this potentially elsewhere?” and I go back and check, changing if required. If I miss it completely, I address in the rewriting stage. If I miss it then, then one of my first readers/editors always pick this sort of thing up. I hope, anyway. 🙂
Everything you said makes sense, Ryan, and your post has caused me to review my own genesis as a writer. Although we’re probably not born with the talent to write, perhaps our imaginations are hereditary, leading us to create stories and ideas which we then yearn to express as books, videos or even movies. Talented parents often begat talented children… although you could then go on to argue that this is nurture, rather than nature. My mother, however, did not reveal to me that she’d always loved to write until I was in my 20s… by which time I’d been inventing stories for a decade. It seemed she’d given it up to raise family, then returned to it once we’d flown the nest.
Inherited talent, then?