by Jenny Hansen
My husband and I had an interesting discussion about the nature vs nurture theory of writing. Our question: were accomplished writers born intact like Beethoven, with words rather than music, or were writers nurtured along by adversity and pain?
We came to the conclusion that the majority of writers are made, rather than born. And that even though there are a few perfectly happy souls (with perfectly happy childhoods) who just love to write and somehow have the perfect words, that isn't how most of us came to the page.
How did we get there?
Most of us read extensively from a young age and fell in love with words.
As young readers, we came to treasure the power and magic of story. Stories took us out of our own world and dropped us into other worlds that held characters we wanted to know. Maybe it was a fairy, a wizard, or a talking lion. More often it was a boy or girl our age, who lived in a world that had rules that made more sense to us.
Perhaps your favorite story contained a character who became your friend. Perhaps that friend was someone who gave you enough courage to keep living in your everyday life with just a little more hope or happiness than you had before you met them.
Many years ago, I was lucky enough to hear Dean Koontz speak for almost three hours. The first part of his talk was about his own writing journey but then he answered questions. One of them was what made him want to write, another was why he always gives his books a happily ever after.
He explained that he lived in a home with a volatile father who sometimes made life scary and nearly unlivable. When things got very bad, his mother would farm all the children out to safe spaces somewhere else.
She'd often send Dean to an elderly neighbor, a grandmotherly type whose kids had all grown. She lived alone and had a big quiet library where she would make up a cot for her traumatized little neighborhood boy. He would lay in that cot, surrounded by books, and read in the soft glow of a lamp. The house was quiet and safe. There was no yelling, no abuse, and no fear. And the young Dean could breathe and relax and fall into a story.
That neighbor changed his life. She gave him safety and she gave him books. And he forever associated the two. He loves to know that however tortured his characters are, they will walk away from his pages only after they've found their way toward happiness.
I firmly believe that writers are made.
They are made from shyness and bullying and a million awkward moments. They're made from abuse and codependence and loneliness, and from thousands of sharp words that bruised their tender souls.
I believe the majority of writers are forged from fear or pain or loss.
I believe many writers began writing to create worlds that were better than the one they lived in. They filled those worlds with the people they wished they knew and the relationships they wished they had. Sometimes they used the page to look for solutions to problems they didn't fully understand.
I believe there are people who began writing because they felt compelled to make sense of things that made no sense, to speak the unspeakable, and to create hope and a way forward when there was no clear path in their everyday lives.
I believe that most writers are compelled to try to make the world better for others.
It takes some strong motivation to do what we do.
Let's face it, being a writer is rarely the easiest career choice. The pay is crappy and the hours are weird. Sometimes we have to repeat a task over and over again, until it is "just right." (Even though "just right" is kind of a unicorn.)
Most of us never truly know when our work is done. We write and write until "we just feel it," or until someone more experienced tells us we are done.
There are a hundred professions that are easier, but very few that we'd find more satisfying. We like seeking out those unicorns. We like finding just the perfect word. And we love to create.
That last statement wasn't meant to imply that creating comes easy. Creating is hard, and so so worth it.
We go to writing classes, write endless drafts of our stories, and read blogs like this one. We learn all the things so that we can get to those "perfect words" more quickly. We keep putting our fingers to the keyboard because of all the reasons I mentioned above.
Here are six first novels that became bestsellers. But...just because these were first novels doesn't mean these were new writers. They weren't. Like every "overnight success" I've ever spoken to, their success was years -- and probably decades -- in the making.
No matter what brought you to the page and to this crazy writing life, I hope you stay for the challenge and gain access to the joy. I hope you stay for the difference you make in others' lives with your words. I hope you keep on writing because your stories matter, and the act of writing them down is a very brave and inspiring thing.
Do you believe writers spring up fully formed (nature), or that they are forged from the fire of adversity (made)? I'll be interested to hear what you think down in the comments!
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By day, Jenny Hansen provides LinkedIn coaching and copywriting for professional services firms. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20 years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.
Top photo purchased from Depositphotos.
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