What Makes A Writer? Nature or Nurture?

by Janis Patterson

What makes a writer? Is it genetic? Or the way we are raised? Or something we choose that we feel we must follow? Or all of the above?

To begin with let me say I am the third generation of a wordsmith family. One grandfather was a small-town newspaper publisher in a time and place where that was a position of power. Both grandmothers were at one time teachers. My father was editor and/or publisher of several Texas newspapers, taught journalism at Texas A&M (he also separated the journalism department from the English department and made it a separate discipline) and, with my mother started and owned one of the top 300 advertising agencies in the US. My mother was an English teacher, a play producer and a magazine columnist. I started working in the family agency when I was nine – as a stripper, no less. (And no, it’s not what you’re thinking, but it is a great line to use at a cocktail party!) I graduated to writing copy when I was twelve.

Obviously I didn’t have a snowball’s chance of becoming anything else but some variety of wordsmith!

But was it nature or nurture? Yes, our house was full of books. It still is. The Husband and I live in a house with two dedicated libraries and a hobby room with five enormous bookshelves. For that matter, little drifts of books stacked on the floor and almost every flat surface seem to breed in our house. But not all readers become writers, so I ask again, is it nature or nurture?

I don’t know, but the question did strike me a couple of days ago. I was going through some papers of my late father’s and there, between two of the radio scripts he had written long ago, was a copy of my birth announcement.

It’s a simple thing, a plain white piece of paper with black print with a left-hand fold so it opens like a book. On the cover is the image of a book with the title “Janis Susan – Announcing a New Edition – Best Book of the Year.” There is also a picture of a rather startlingly disgruntled looking stork in a top hat and glasses. I always wondered why he had such a peculiar look on his face.

Open the ‘book’ and it says “The Author and Publisher proudly announce the issuance of their 19XX (no, I’m not going to tell you the year!) edition entitled Janis Susan May.”

Below that, it says “Author – Donald W. May – Publisher – Aletha B. May.”

Below that it says “Publication Date – (the date of my birth) – DeLuxe Edition, with pink and white binding weighs X pounds X ounces (I’m not going to tell you that  either, then or now!). Cover jacket – white, removable. Reprints and Second Editions not available this year.”

See? I was doomed from the beginning. Nature or nurture makes no difference, for when one’s beginning of life is announced as a book, one really has no choice but to become a writer.

In the for what it’s worth department, my father did the announcement himself. He had a telling wit and I personally think the concept hilarious. My sentimentalist mother loathed it and, once recovered from her ordeal, sent out very proper handwritten announcements herself, probably confusing a lot of people as to whether the Mays had had one child or two.

Sometimes, knowing the many dichotomies of my nature, I wonder that myself. But then, I am a writer.

7 thoughts on “What Makes A Writer? Nature or Nurture?

  1. What a great post! No one in my family was a writer–but many were readers. I was a library fanatic as a kid, 10 books a week. Mom belonged to Book of the Month Club and I read most of those too, especially those she told me not too. Was writing my own stories as soon as I knew how to write.


  2. I love the “announcement” your dad made for you. What a great thing to look back on and be challenged with. I’m glad you took up the baton. I announced receiving our adopted child as a newspaper article. But… so far, he’s not show an inclination to be a reporter. Haha


  3. I think the baby announcement was fantastic! Sounds like something I would have done had I been from that type of background. No one in my family is or was a writer. They were all in agriculture. I started reading when my older brother started school and found I could go to other places by reading books and loved them. I also wrote short stories and plays the my brother and I acted out with stuffed animals. I’ve been writing since I could put letters together and make words. My family has a lot of creativity in use all used in different ways.


  4. No one else in my family is a writer, but they’re all storytellers. As for the nature or nurture question, I think all of us have a variety of NATURAL possibilities born in us; how we are NURTURED determines which of those possibilities will become predominant in our lives. Always an interesting question to debate.


  5. None of my relatives were writers either. But both of my sons collaborated with me on YA fiction. However, as adults one is a business executive and the other an attorney. No fiction writing, but they do use their writing skills.


  6. Love the birth announcement! I knew at a young age I wanted to write–I never doubted it. I grew up in a home with books, lots of them, but I also wonder what would have happened to me if I’d grown up without books. My parents were great readers but both grew up poor with few books in the house but with parents (my grandparents) who were educated and read but owned few books. I think of my choice as nature encouraged by nurture/environment.


  7. Nobody in my family was a writer, not even close (dad worked on the railways, mum was a science tech at the local university). My father read voraciously, my mum only read the occasional magazine. But I WAS brought up a reader, dad fetched books out of the library that he thought I might like to read, so my taste was formed as an aglomeration of his tastes, what he thought my tastes might be and my own tastes.

    Out of my five children, only one has turned out to be a writer! So far only fan fic, but I have high hopes of her. She is also the reader in the family. So I wonder if it’s not so much being brought up by writers, as being given access to words when growing up, in whatever format?


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