Are Good Writers Taught or Born?

by | Aug 6, 2008 | The Writing Life | 144 comments

Is good writing innate? Or is it learned?

And if it’s both, what’s the balance between the two? Which is more important?

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  1. Anonymous

    Learned, of course!

    Those people fortunate enough to be given lots of verbal stimulation and good books at a very young age will have a huge advantage.

    But I don’t believe writing talent can be called “innate.”

  2. Kat

    It’s like nature v nurture.

    I think some people are born with a drive to write, but unless it’s nurtured (parents emphasizing a love of reading, positive reinforcement and feedback on the development of voice and talent) the writer will not thrive.


  3. pjd

    As with any craft or skill, good writing is learned.

    Many aspects of being a good writer are innate or so deeply ingrained from influences during our early years that they seem innate, however. You can teach a person the mechanics of observing, for example, but you can’t necessarily turn an unobservant person into an observant one. You can teach techniques to elicit creative ideas from dullards, but you can’t turn a dullard into a creative person. You can give a person a hundred books on plot and story arc, but you can’t necessarily turn them into a “natural” storyteller.

    Greatness has a strong aspect of innate ability and deeply ingrained character traits. Goodness, however, can be learned in nearly any skill. Even people with no hands can play the guitar well. But even good guitar players with all ten fingers can’t become Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton without certain innate abilities.

    So it is with writing.

  4. Taylor K.

    I think it’s a combination of both, but with more emphasis on “learned”. The only way to get really good at writing (for 99% of us anyways) is to just keep doing it. Most writers (myself included) know that the first things they ever wrote were just terrible. Things only get good when you keep at it.

    That said, there is the occasional rare talent that can write amazing works from the start (S.E. Hinton is the first that comes to mind), but that’s a rarity.

  5. Robena Grant

    Hmmmm? I think storytelling is innate, but one must then learn the craft of writing before being able to put those stories to paper.

    There are many storytellers who can hold an audience captive in the bar but could never get published. *grin* There are also authors who can craft a book but are not true storytellers.

    How’s that for wishy-washy?

  6. Raethe

    I’m gonna go with “both”; I think people are naturally more inclined to do some things than others, as far as both desire and actual ability goes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that learning is more important, though. There’s a lot to be said for honing craft, and even more to be said for being *willing* to hone craft. All the ability in the world won’t get you very far if you don’t have the desire to use and improve it.

  7. Lil


    craft is only half learned, half already known.

  8. Keri Ford

    I’m with Robena. Storytelling is innate, writing must be learned.

    Are we cheating again??

  9. Chro

    Good writing is almost entirely learned.

    Being stupid enough to pursue a career in it… that’s likely the result of a mutated gene, I’m afraid. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Jill

    I believe “good writing”, as in, the great works of literature or poetry that grab you like no others, is innate the way musical talent is innate. No child, without training, can pick up a violin and know what to do with it, but take two people, train them on it – identical lessons – and one may be the next Itzahk Perlman and the next will just be – well, me!

    I believe writing is like that. Two people can have exactly the same training, and one will be the next John Steinbeck and one will be… oh yeah, me. !!!

  11. ekpngn

    10% born, 90% taught. But it’s an important 10%.

  12. Kate Lord Brown

    I’ve always thought of writing like a lightning field – you can’t determine the strikes, but you can attract and direct them (through inhaling every book you can lay your hands on and practice, practice, practice …)

  13. Dan


    You can’t learn talent (which is why neither of us is in the NBA, Nathan) – but you can refine it.

  14. Anonymous

    Goood writers are taught; great writers are born.

  15. elizaw

    I think the drive to write is innate, or at least it can be. I’ve always told stories: where most children would take paper and scribble, I wrote page after page of imaginary letters (lots of Xs, Os, and Ps included).

    I wrote my first book when I was thirteen. It was atrociously bad. Just yesterday I found a first draft of an idea that led to my current project. It was also pretty terrible. Good writing has to be learned.

    The desire to want to learn good writing comes with personality, experience, and character, though. And one’s personality stylizes their voice and makes something unique.

    I think that good writers are taught. Phenomenal writers are born and taught.

  16. Heidi the Hick

    I think some of us are born storytellers but it takes a lot of practice and learning and experience and living and reading and mistakes and improvements to become a good writer.

    Comparisons: I can teach anybody how to steer a horse and basically stay on, but not everybody has natural balance, or a good rapport with horses.

    My husband could get a decent vocal out of anybody if he had months to coach them through it, but some people will need to be edited one syllable at a time, and others will bust out a great performance.

    Having a talent for something is a starting point, but it’s not everything.

  17. Maureen

    I think writers are born with the talent, and training can obviously refine and cultivate that talent. But one thing I think you absolutely cannot learn is how to tell a good story. That is a gift you either have or you don’t.

  18. Mark Terry

    Storytelling is probably innate, although you might be able to learn it.

    In terms of writing itself, it can be learned and needs to be honed.

    I think the best analogy I got from Stephen King, who ripped it off from somebody else. Talent is like a knife. No matter how big, if you sharpen and hone it, it’ll cut what you want it to. But some people are born with big freakin’ knives. (He goes on to suggest that sometimes people with big freakin’ knives that don’t get sharpened sometimes seem to break, too).

  19. Scott

    Whenever I see this question, I think, “Oh, if only it were that simple.”

    I can’t draw. I could probably take art lessons and learn the skills to draw and paint, and I could work hard at it and get pretty good at it and maybe even become really good, but I couldn’t paint a Mona Lisa.

    I can’t sing. I couldn’t find a key in a locksmith shop. I could take voice lessons and develop my ear and work hard and learn to sing on key and sound good and make people say they wish I could sing like I can, but I couldn’t become a Pavarotti.

    I think there’s something about artists that’s innately different than “normal” people. Maybe it’s a thinner barrier between the conscious and subconscious, I don’t know.

    I see it all the time in technical writing. I’ve worked with some people who are really good at structuring a document and providing clear, grammatically sound instructions, but they lack a certain hard-to-describe language ability that some others have. I’ve worked with other people who have a decent vocabulary and never misspell a word or make a grammar error but they can’t write worth beans. No matter what they do, and how hard they work at it, their sentences lack flow and feel clunky, even though the most astute English teacher couldn’t find a mistake in the way the sentences are put together.

    I believe in talent. I also believe in hard work. I’ve known people who aren’t natural athletes who have a love for whatever game it is and work hard and become very good.

    Same with writers. I think there are writers with innate language and imaginative abilities, people who can make their work look effortless (although it almost never is). I also think there are people who love to write and maybe don’t have that extra in-born oomph who can work really hard and create good, even great work. But they’ll never be the Ozzie Smith of the literary world.

    Fortunately, there can ever only be one best at a time, and you can still excel without being The Great One. And, whatever level of innate talent somebody has, it’s the hard work that leads to success. We’ve all known people with incredible abilities who don’t work hard at it and never reach their potential.

  20. KristiKae

    Anyone can become technically proficient as a writer, provided he or she is willing to put in the time and effort, but true greatness requires a spark that cannot be manufactured or wished into being.

  21. FireworksNut

    They are born. You can’t teach someone how to tell a good story. Sorry. Just ask the thousands of unpublished authors who have been trying for years.

    Good grammar, of course, can be taught, but that’s such a small part in creating a good piece of work someone besides your husband would want to read.

  22. Ryan Field

    I think it’s innate, and then practice makes it better.

    Because if it’s not innate, then why on earth would anyone want to do it?

    If I’d scored as high in math and science on my SAT’s as I did in English, I’d be running a cosmetic surgery practice in Beverly Hills instead of clicking on a keyboard all day, alone, wondering when the check’s going to be in the mail.

    Oh, I’m sure if I’d really studied hard and wrecked my brain I could have “learned” to be a plastic surgeon. But there would probably be an awful lot of bad nose jobs on Rodeo Drive.

  23. Elyssa Papa

    Talent is born with writing stories. You can learn to write better in grammar, etc., no question about it. But after teaching writing to students, you see the students who have a natural gift for writing and storytelling and those that… don’t.

    It’s like this: I’ve always been able to tell a story, and my sister is a fabulous baker/math whiz. She can cook things sooo good that it makes my mouth water. You give me the same recipe (which I follow to the tee) — it does not turn out the same. My sister has a gift with cooking; there’s something about her food that makes you want to eat it and satisfies you. As opposed to my cooking that barely gets you by.

    So, people can write. But the difference is this: some writers will fill you up, while others just leave you picking, while you look longingly at the other dinner.

    Writing is a natural born gift. You either have it or you don’t.

  24. Rollie Raleigh

    Sorry for being redundant – in this group, one had best post quickly. When I started my original post there were only two comments. My phone ‘rangeth over’ before I could finish.

  25. Rollie Raleigh

    I agree with David E. Kelley. In an interview a few years back, he answered this question in favor of innate ability. His Hollywood experiences drove him to conclude that many earning a living writing were not good writers, while unknowns and others, never to be known, possessed fine writing talent. His explanation for lesser writers working included fortuitous relationships, the insular community, and luck. He concluded his argument citing story tellers, embraced by civilizations throughout history, as the born writers of antiquity.

    It seems reasonable to believe that creativity and imagination follow a bell curve similar to athletic ability. One can only improve through work and practice, but Nathan, or I, or most among us could never practice enough to play center for an NBA team. That said, the reading public does not demand the perfection of play required by the pro BB fan, so the average among us have hope.

    In sum, I believe for writing, like most endeavors, a hardworking, good-talent can overcome a slothful great-talent, but endowment limits the ceiling of accomplishment.

  26. Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy

    It is a combination of both; writers – or those with a potential to become a writer – are born with a particular bent toward storytelling and an aptitude for words. These qualities, if nurtured, are the foundation for becoming a writer. Many people don’t – they simply are people who are avid readers or love words or teach school. Others, however, whose inate and inborn talents are nurtured, become writers.

    No one becomes a published, working, successful writer with blind talent alone. Honing that gift, learning the craft, and working at writing all come into play as well so it is truly both.

    Writers are born and then they are taught.

  27. Merry Monteleone

    They are born, and then they bust their ass for an awful long time to make it to the ever longed for position of “publishable”.

    Percentage – I think innate talent is more important than hard work, if you’re breaking down the percentages… maybe 60-40… hard to try to put your finger on it, but a person with no innate talent will never learn to write in a compelling way… there’s something in the voice, that indescribable spark, it’s either there or it’s not… but, I think there are a lot of people out there who have that innate talent and never do anything with it – so you can’t discount the importance of honing your craft, it’s just as important, but hard work alone won’t make you a great writer.

    I’m somewhat the same with the nature versus nurture debate – I think they’re both important… but then there’s that spark in there – in this case, personal responsibility and free choice.

    How’s that for a convoluted answer?

  28. JES

    From a psych course in college, I remember the terms “predisposing factors” (things which are in place from the outset) and “precipitating factors” (i.e., triggers, or things which tip the balance to a new state or condition). The subject was abnormal psych, so of course — OF COURSE — there’s no direct analogy to writing. *cough*

    But I think people who become writers must have been predisposed to it. There are too many examples of great writers who had little or no nurturing which contributed to their facility with words and storytelling.

    Which begs the question: How common is it to be predisposed to writing, but never to experience the precipitating event or experience which makes one fall off the edge into the real thing?

  29. Kristin Laughtin

    I agree with Scott. I practiced drawing and singing for years, and never showed any grand improvement because I was not born with those talents. Yet I know people who were born with the ability to sing the most beautiful songs and draw amazingly. And though I lack those talents, I’ve always had a big imagination and made up stories.

    I think, therefore, that there’s a balance between the innate and the learned. Technical writing–grammar, spelling, structure, etc–is mostly learned. Some pick it up more quickly than others, but no one is born knowing how to construct a perfect document. But one can write a linguistically flawless piece that lacks any life. The storytelling aspect can be learned and practiced to an extent, but one can’t force or learn creativity or imagination. So both inborn and learned skills are necessary to write a really good story.

  30. Skinny Monkey

    Imagination is inherited…

    Mechanics are learned.

  31. Beosig

    Almost anyone can be taught to be a good writer. However, to be a great writer you need great stories and plenty of imagination. I feel this comes naturally. Greatness is the combination of what comes naturally and what can be learned.

  32. Anonymous


    No one is born with a shining vocabulary or command of voice and language. Also, “good” or “great” writing is so subjective that it can never be formalized into any category or criteria – if there was a formula, everyone would follow it and there’d be no more standout authors.

    So many of us on this blog can’t stand the hailed “great” authors that routinely produce two best-sellers a year for ungodly paydays. Yet these authors are still tagged as natural story-tellers, nevermind the fact that they’re telling the same story over and over.

    Maybe there’s a certain unmapped bit of DNA that draws a person to writing by allowing that person to be passionate about writing but that doesn’t count. It still takes hard work and resiliancy.

  33. Dwight

    File me with Kat’s tribe.

    Nurtured nature.

  34. Dan

    I think Scott (10:00) is hitting a point most of ‘storytellers are born, writers are taught’ comments are missing. His comment got me thinking that my answer should be choice D – other.

    If the answer really was “learned, born, or both” – there’d be no such thing as bad or mediocre and the standard deviation surrounding average would be pretty small. Yet that’s not the case.

    You can be taught how to do anything up to the level of being serviceable, and talent certainly makes that climb easier.

    However, only ambition makes you ‘good’ – not because you’ve become better than anybody else, but because you always try to be better than yourself.

  35. pth

    A combination of both. I think grammar and mechanics are learned but style is something you either have or you don’t. It’s like any other art. When I watch my cousin play the piano, it’s evident that it’s a learned skill for her and not a gift. She might hit all the right notes, but it’s not artistic. Same holds true for some writers. You can almost read the struggle behind the words. For others, you reread lines just to relive the experience.

  36. Elyssa Papa

    I’ll speak on the nurture topic to dispel that writing needs to be nurtured. My writing was not nurtured when I was growing up at all and certainly not when I was in college or the years following.

    I didn’t have anyone pushing me to write, no one telling me that I should write.

    I did it all on my own. I knew I could write. I knew I had stories in my head. I write because this is who I am–if I didn’t push myself to be a writer, no one else would. You have to have the talent to be a writer and you need to have the determination, talent and bit of luck to become a published one.

  37. Jolie

    I think that for everyone, it’s a combination, but the combination isn’t the same for any two people.

    I saw one commenter say that storytelling ability is innate, and writing ability is learned. For me I think maybe it’s the opposite. My ability to use language is innate. The rest (particularly storytelling) has been learned.

    The very first commenter said writing talent isn’t innate, but isn’t what defines talent? Talent is what you’re born with; skill is what you develop. You need both to write well, but not everyone will have the same talents vs. skills. We’re all born with different talents and have to work at developing different skills.

  38. borther

    Like all arts and crafts it’s an innate talent that is made better through learning.

    There’s nothing innate in the ability to write, but there is something innate in the ability to choose topics that universally mean something, as well as the ability to twist learned words into a beautiful or twisted image that actually effects people.

  39. Sam

    Good writing comes from a mixture of the following:

    1. Talent (a quirk of birth, really)

    2. Knowledge of the craft (mostly learned)

    3. Determination (sheer mental will, people)

    My theory – which I’ve just this second made up – is that if you mark each quality out of ten, you need a score greater than 23.5 to write good writing. (The Greats – Tolstoy et al – would have scores of 29 or 30).

  40. Joseph L. Selby

    This applies to so many things, not just writing. There are the talented. There are the educated. Then there are those that are talented and educated. The educated must work twice as hard to be half as good as the talented. But neither can even compare to those with both talent and education.

  41. shariwrites

    You have to learn to be a writer. Given that, many, many, many people have taken writing courses and still aren’t and never will be great writers. There is something inherent (in the ability to tell a story and string words together) in great writers that goes beyond mere learning.

    And, like Sam says, you can’t discount persistence.

  42. Kate H

    I believe it’s both. You have to have a certain complex of traits that add up to talent, and you also have to work to develop the talent. I think the greatest geniuses, however, are mostly self-taught.

  43. Jeanne Ryan

    There are three parts of this issue I’d like to address. The first is the importance of being read to and reading on your own. A big part of writing is unconsciously influenced by what we read, thus learned.

    The second are the differences between people that leads to becoming writers. Not every child read to will become a writer or even a voracious reader as an adult. There has to be innate characteristics that lead to this difference. Attention span, ability to absorb and process oral/visual stimuli, creativity, and determination are just a few of these characteristics.

    Another is opportunity. Innate creativity can be channeled all sorts of ways. As long as it is expressed some way, the psyche is content. Writers fall in love with writing, perhaps because of their limited or negative experiences with other forms of creativity.

  44. Amie Stuart

    Good writing is taught/learned. Storytelling I believe you’re born with (or not!).

  45. Gregory LeFever

    I have to come down on the side of “born.”

    Certainly you can teach people the rules of grammar and the mechanics of plot and character development. And what you’ll get is someone technically proficient. You will not get an artist.

    The ability to recognize and develop stories is in the blood. That’s why some superb writers have scanty academic records and some professors of English are terrible writers.

  46. April

    I agree with what Kat said. I believe that most people who write are born with the passion to do so. Fine tuning their talents must be learned – I doubt there are any authors out there who got published without any practice, without doing some research, without talking and networking with other writers and agents, and without quite possibly reading books about how to write. And not just books on writing, but other books within their genre.

  47. Will Entrekin

    My advisor, Sid Stebel (“The greatest writing teacher that ever was.” -Ray Bradbury), has a neat e-mail signature:

    “Talent can’t be taught, but writing can.”

    I pretty much agree. Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You can dedicate yourself to the craft and the discipline and the skill, all of which encompass that 99%, but none of those quite account for that final, nebulous 1% that, no, can’t be taught.

  48. R.C.

    I think the truly great, one-in-a-generation kind of writers are born with a unique gift of insight and creativity that sets them apart.

    I think anyone can learn/work hard and be a successful writer. But maybe that is just wishful thinking.

    Genius, in anything, is born.

  49. Other Lisa

    I’d say it’s both (and I agree with those who list “passion” and “ambition” as additional factors).

    Part of what I think you are born with relates to musicality – your “ear” for language, your sense of tone and rhythm.

  50. Scott

    Dan (10:52) makes a good point about ambition.

    It’s like running track. Anybody who’s competed in track or something like it will understand. You want to win. You want to be the best. But sometimes you come up against somebody who’s better, and not everybody’s going to be the best.

    But, if you beat your best time and finish third, you’ve had a GREAT race. And sometimes it takes going up against somebody better to push us to do our best.

    Most of us are still trying to qualify for the writing track meet, but if we’re constantly getting better, we’re doing the right things.

    So, Dan clarified part of what I tried to say earlier. It’s ambition, that need to constantly improve, that gets us beyond whatever limits we have.

    But still, there are those Ozzie Smiths who have something extra none of us will ever have. It’s not fair, but we can learn from the Ozzies and work hard and try to get as close as we can.

    Unlike baseball or track, steroids just ain’t gonna make the difference for a writer.

  51. Polenth

    I don’t think there’s one answer that applies to all writers. For every balance people have come up with, you could find authors it fits and authors it doesn’t. Some writers are stronger on the natural talent thing and others got there with extra learning.

    You can’t go through bestselling books and point at what balance of talent/learning an author had. You can only work that out by asking them. In the same way, you can’t predict which aspiring authors will make it based on their early talent (or lack of it).

  52. Joel Sparks

    The basic points of view have been covered, but I do want to make one distinction. Unless you consider the marketplace to be the only judge of writing quality, then good writing and published writing make distinct, overlapping categories. Art and craft, you could say.

    Since the original question is about “good writers”, nature is more important than nurture. Technical competence can be learned, and inborn talent may never come alive without instruction, but no amount of experience or drive can replace talent. Even child’s story told in crayon and broken English may possess a unique charm.

    If the question were, “Are Published Writers Taught or Born?”, the equation would be very different. Drive predominates, and luck, and of course at least a certain amount of skill is required. Talent, when it occurs, is a nice cherry on top. Many things can be published and sell well without possessing any particular artistry that lifts the reader beyond his or her self.

    IMHO, anyway ๐Ÿ™‚

  53. Criss

    I think by now it’s all been said. (But I’m going to say my piece anyway – ha!)

    It’s obviously a combination of both, unless you’re the Mozart of writing. However, talent (the “born” part) has to be there, or the teaching won’t do much good. You can get by with talent and no teaching much better than you can with teaching and no talent.

    The butt-in-the-chair-ness, though – which might be the most important part of the writing process… given that this is the part that actually puts the “writing” in the paper – that can be either innate or learned. (I, myself, am on the waiting list to be admitted into the latter category.)

  54. Authoress

    Writing is a talent. Excellent writing is the result of hard work.

    Liken it to a musician — let’s say a bassoonist (why not?). The gift of perfect pitch, natural musicality, etc., is something inborn. You are either a musician “by birth” or not. But if you never pick up the bassoon, you won’t learn how to play it. And if you never practice the bassoon after you’ve learned how to play it, you will never become a master.

    Likewise, if you pick up a bassoon and practice every day, you’re going to learn to play it pretty darn well — but you’re not going to have that “special something” that a truly gifted musician will have. You will not be a master.

    So it is with writing. It’s a gift, an innate talent, brought to fruition through much toil and dedication.

    *wipes brow, steps down from podium*

  55. Anonymous

    I hope taught or else what the hell am I doing pursing this?

    A better question would be, how many published writers do you think are “genius” writers? “Born” to write?

    Two that I can think of. The rest, myself included, probably just lucky hacks.

  56. Shelli

    Whether born or not, I think there’s a lot of learning involved. But sometimes I listen to interviews of writers who said they never planned to write – they just thought of something, wrote it, and it got published quickly. I’m so envious. I’ve wanted to write since I was little, and I’m still trying.

  57. Mystery Robin

    Writing is both art and craft, and a gift for the art can certainly be innte to a person, just as some are more gifted musically or with logic or math. But the cultivation of that art and the craft of novel pacing and turning points and killer pitch paragraphs can certainly be learned.

  58. Cam

    The desire or drive to write may be innate, inborn. But writing talent and the creativity necessary to express that talent are learned and cultivated over time.

    Creativity is like love; it’s not easy. Those first drafts — the words that spill out of your fingers onto the screen on the first go round — are the “lust” part, if you will. Lust is easy.

    But it is the finished product, to be shared with the world, that comes only after a painstaking process. Like love, creativity is not easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort (especially if you sell the darned book) ๐Ÿ™‚


  59. Nanci Block

    Good writers are born. Being born a good writer creates the innate motivation to learn, the desire to seek superior teachers, and the daily struggle to perfect the craft.

  60. Elissa M

    What defines a “good” writer? Some are better than others, but few (if any) are considered “good” by every reader.

    I am an artist, musician, and writer, and I find it difficult to believe I was “born” with some sort of special talent, especially knowing how many hours (decades) of work I’ve put into my skills. Saying people are “born” writers or storytellers implies they put no effort into it. Stories just “flow” from them like an open tap. True, sometimes the writing (or whatever) does come that easily, but not always. Even Mozart had times when all was not perfect.

    To write well, one must observe well, then communicate those observations to others. There may be a germ of inherited talent, but everything else is learned.

    As many here have said already, drive or ambition makes more difference than talent. All the talent in the world won’t put ink on the page.

  61. Lauren Fobbs

    I would say you’re born with it. Like people who pick up the techniques of an instrument quicker than others. That’s natural talent. But then, someone has to teach them to read music notes in the first place and show them how to be a better musician. That’s, of course, learned.

    Sometimes you get those wanna-be musicians who are tone deaf and have zero rhythm. Those things can’t be taught, or at least people refuse to believe that. You have to have those chips inserted into your brain long before you’re born. Just because you can identify an “A” when you hear it doesn’t mean you can sing it back.

    Clearly, I have music on the brain. :3

  62. Andrew

    Both storytelling and writing are learned.

    The problem comes from understanding how they’re learned. We sometimes assume a trait is innate because we don’t see where it came from. But this is like assuming that the earth is flat because we haven’t seen its curvature.

    I have identical twins, genetically the same person, raised in the same environment. One is a creative storyteller. The other has a good musical ear. Both these things are in their shared environment, and neither has been pushed in any particular direction. Their interests have simply diverged, and so they are learning different things.

    Some skills are learned early in life and can’t easily be cultivated later. It’s difficult to wilfully reinvent one’s personality. These things, if you like, you can call talent, i.e. innate ability. They’re not truly innate, but they’re what you bring to the table when you sit down to write.

    The drive to write could be in this category. Writing well comes from hard work. No drive, no hard work, no skill — this, we could confuse with a lack of “talent.”

    But to suggest that writing skill is innate, or that the desire to write is innate … nope.

  63. sam

    It has to be a mixture of born and learnt, doesn’t it?

    If it was all born, then we’d have masterpieces being written by teenagers. Which we generally do not. Many – most? – of the great writers have produced their best work in middle-age.

    But, then, if it was all learned, then everyone coming out of a creative writing programme would be a genius on the move. Clearly this is not the case.

    So, a mixture – or an admixture, if you prefer – of talent, craft and determination.

  64. Kathleen

    It seems that I’m far from the only one saying it’s a mixture!

    I think it’s learned… but there’s an innate ability to understand what needs to be learned, and that is necessary, too. There are things that I simply cannot seem to learn, no matter how long I try. It’s not “in” me. All of us have skills that come more natural than others… but I don’t think anyone is born a good writer. Some do, perhaps, “learn” more at earlier ages, depending on what their environment was like, but they still “learned” it.

    I’m also going to say that there’s another factor that’s probably more important than either of these.

    Being willing to learn.

  65. the1stanonymous

    I agree with Andrew. Of course good writing is not innate; language itself must be learned.

    In fact, I am wary of all this mystical bowing before the great innate TALENT, without which no one can write…. hogwash.

    I also think it’s a way people make themselves feel special or different from others, to believe they are BORN talented.

    Most people have enough intelligence to write well. Whether or not they grow up in an environment which allows them to learn what they need in order to write is more a matter of luck.

    Just by being born in a wealthy country where you have enough to eat and get and get an education as a matter of course improves your odds greatly. But this is not some talent you’re born with: it’s luck. What you do with you$r luck is your own business.

  66. Anonymous

    What some think is good, others think is crap.

    Personally, I think talent helps but the hard work is the cake and icing too.

    If I’m ever published and described as “talented” I may change my mind.

    Time for Nathan to stoke this fire.

  67. Erik

    Life happens around people. Some are called to say something about it. A smaller number yet have the talent to do it, and even fewer are willing to work on the skill to make it happen.

    It is not something you learn in a class. There are many, many ways to learn – but the hard way is usually the best in affairs of the heart.

  68. Michael

    This one has certainly stirred interest. An analysis of that alone would be worthwhile.
    Andrew’s description of his identical twins is scientifically interesting and worthy of research.
    To be pedantic, what is “good writing?”
    Most persons would seperate correct writing from interesting writing.
    A fascinating story told in poor English can always be corrected. A dull story told in perfect English cannot be made anything other than dull.
    So I believe correct writing can be taught, mostly by eliminating defects.
    But a good story teller is born a good story teller and that cannot be created by a teacher. Yes, a mediocre story teller can be improved, but will always lack that little “je ne sais quoi” of genius.
    If Walter Scott submitted a manuscript to you Nathan, would you represent him? I doubt it. But if Dickens did, I think you would.

  69. Nathan Bransford

    Time for Nathan to stoke this fire.

    Happy to oblige.

    I heard a great quote that said something along the lines of “You can’t teach someone how to write. You can only teach them how not to write.”

    As in, you can teach people to avoid obvious mistakes (i.e. “the craft”), but ultimately you can’t really teach someone how to write.

    I have to admit, I come down much more on the “born” side of things than the “made.” I think the basketball and singing comparisons in this thread are good, both in terms of describing innate talent and the practice that has to happen as well.

    Good writing is just as innate as a 40″ vertical, it’s just harder to see.

    Of course that talent has to be refined with practice, but the talent is essential — not everyone can become a great writer, no matter how much they practice.

  70. Troy Reaves


    Being driven to write โ€“ born
    Proper grammar and sentence structure โ€“ learned
    Knowing when to break the rules of proper grammar and sentence structure โ€“ both
    Writing large amounts of text to a specific purpose โ€“ learned
    Knowing when to stop filling in a scene โ€“ born
    Accepting critique and growing from it โ€“ learned
    Not stopping when you know you should โ€“ born
    Finding an idea for a novel in a bus full of strangers โ€“ born
    Bringing a pen and pad with you everywhere โ€“ learned the hard way
    Believing your novel is finished and ready for the world โ€“ born with a dash of stubbornness
    Finding out the first hundred agents you query disagree โ€“ learned
    Knowing one of the next one hundred will โ€“ born

  71. Lynne

    Learned. One starts by having parents who have lot of books and read *to*
    you. Then you learn to read by yourself. I read GONE WITH THE WIND in Grade 4. As long as we were reading, we were quiet, which my mum needed, since my little brother and sister (twins) were LOUD. We escaped into books. Dad took us to the library every Saturday. Words, words, words. He never answered a question that concerned homework without saying ‘get the encyclopedia.’ Had 2 of those! Sometimes we read the encylopedia for fun. Interested in horses? Memorize every flippin’ breed. Dogs? The same. Jewelry, cats, ohmigosh history? Read. Job preference? Journalism is a start and is portable. You can move and still have a job. When I thought I had a book in my head, I had no clue whatsoever. I started by typing dialogue, then added descriptions and scenes. Found a great writer’s forum and that, my dear, is why I’m here, bothering y’all!

  72. Dan

    Nathan, you cheated on your own question! (At least semantically):

    “Good writing is just as innate as a 40” vertical, it’s just harder to see.

    Of course that talent has to be refined with practice, but the talent is essential — not everyone can become a great writer, no matter how much they practice.”

    You didn’t ask about great writers, you asked about good ones!

    But I agree with you.

    There are studies that show most everybody thinks their traits (some or all) are above average (good). Given the definition of average, someone is wrong, and I don’t think it’s math.

    Which is probably why a lot of people believe good writing is learned or a combination of both – it’s something they can do (not necessarily well) and it’s also something much more subjective than the 40″ vertical – meaning it’s easier to rate yourself much higher than where you belong.

  73. Anonymous

    I concur with Robena.

    And, I am wondering if anyone here has had any experience taking writing courses or workshops at Absolute Write and what your experience was. Good? Bad? Forumulistic? Do you recommend it?

  74. Sam Hranac

    A creative mind/temperament has somewhat more to do with nature vs. nurture, but still can be taught, to some extent. The craft of writing, and understanding good story structure, etc. I believe falls very solidly on the nurture side of things. Many aspects of a well rounded and tutored consciousness comes into play when one is writing well.

  75. Anonymous

    The writing is innate, the storytelling is learned.

  76. Anonymous

    Both. The need and desire for story are inborn; the craft is learned.

  77. gerriwritinglog

    Good writers are taught or self-trained. Most people can become good writers.

    Great writers, however…Whole different ball-o-wax. I think that with a serious amount of determination and struggle, some good writers can become great. But for the great ones, talent starts them off at a higher level and caps their maximum at a higher level.

    In the end, though, the good writer who works for the skill will beat out the talented writer who doesn’t do the work.

  78. Anonymous

    I believe that it is mostly innate. I see writers write on poetry boards and prose workshops too, that have been at it a long time and don’t improve.

    Like with any art, it is inborn and nurtured by reading and practicing.

    Sometimes writing is excellent but the “people” arent’ ready for it, they want plain, boring, distant prose, and if someone comes along to shake that up, they don’t like it – including agents and editors – UNLESS the author is already famous.

    Also, most people don’t want to think, so the status quo is just fine for them.

  79. Betty Atkins Dominguez

    Architects are born with the ability to see volume, writers need stimulus from family and school.

  80. Daniela Soave

    Interesting – both. You can have the raw talent and that is the most important factor, but you do benefit from learning disciplines. I know this as a journalist and a fiction writer. But you need to have the guts and talent to start with.

  81. Anonymous

    I’m a professor in the environmental science field, and have guided many M.S. and Ph.D. students over the years. Over 100 of my scientific papers have been published in refereed journals over the years. I am also trying to write a novel, and it is a learning experience for me. I find fiction writing much harder than scientific writing. I guess I would say that at one point in my career (graduate school) I had to learn scientific writing, and now that I’m somewhat bored with that I’m having to learn new techniques that are foreign. I have innate language skills, but creating something that readers enjoy is tough.

  82. abc

    you can get a boob job, but everyone will know they are fake. what?

    I vote for born.

  83. sally

    The ability is mostly there from the start, but can be perfected.

    I base my answer on what I’ve read by (too many) college-educated (in WRITING, no less) people who should, theoretically, be able to write decently.

    My college degree is in science. I have no clue about the parts of speech, how to diagram a sentence or the purpose/use/definition of gerunds, participles and the like. However, I work full-time as a science writer. No one ‘taught’ me how to write. Somehow, I just can.

  84. Baysidemama

    I think it comes down to many factors, including a person’s inbuilt ability to observe others. However I am a firm believer that a person’s very early years – and an early introduction to books – has a huge impact on making a writer.

  85. Giacomo S

    I believe Robena Grant has struck the nail on its head; good storytelling is innate, good writing is learned, both are essential to be ‘GREAT’!

  86. Hilary

    It’s both, but all the training in the world can’t replace inspiration. I worked very hard at writing for a long time and couldn’t complete anything. then I put it all away and one day I knew I had to write. Then it came and I have felt as if there is a writer inside me telling me what to do. This doesn’t mean I haven’t rewritten and rewritten and will do it again. It just means I’m inspired and that is a very natural state to be in.

  87. Gidde

    I have to agree with the 90% work, 10% talent theory, but disagree on where the talent lies.

    Many have said that the drive is innate, but I agree with the minority who said the “ear” is innate.

    To create beautiful writing you have to be able to recognize it … then comes the hard work in learning how to make it.

  88. T.A. Northburg

    I believe a good writer is both born and taught. 60% innate talent, 40% teaching.

    I have read some things from good technical writers that is garbage because the inspriation and idea was just not there. They were technically perfect but they lacked a certian connectivity.

    Then there is the inspired writer who has that innate ability to paint a great picture with words and captures the true essence of a character’s feelings and emotions. That writer just needs to refine their craft. They can be taught that.

    I believe good writers are born with talent. You can not teach talent.

  89. Sally Ketchum

    From personal experience and knowing those of my students, I say one needs innate potential to reach greatness, often even modest success. One needs at least 75% of innate ability (My dad was a writer, and I FELT that, and that is all I ever wanted to be.) and then the reading, reading, reading, writing, writing, writing. Innate is the soul, experience and education are the soul developed.
    Sally D. Ketchum

  90. Betty Atkins Dominguez

    I agree with several of the lastest posters. Artistic talent is inate. Many writers also paint or play an instrument and vise versa. The talent is there, but it must be nurtured.


    This is a test

  92. Jeanne Ryan

    I am interested in one thing. Many are talking about how the craft of writing can be taught. I’m getting the impression that they mean through workshops and books.

    For me just the act of doing it is part of the learning experience. Every time I edit, I learn. Every time something doesn’t work, I learn. Every time I get all that crap out, that is part of the learning process.

    And more beneficial than all the workshops I’ve taken and books I’ve read. All professional writers give the same advice “write.” I participated in NaNoWriMo last year. It takes something three weeks for something to become a habit. Those three weeks are part of learning.

    Butt in chair, hands on keyboard is learned behavior.

  93. cttiger

    I learned to play the piano very well, but I am one deaf and will never be a virtuoso. Writing is the same type of gift.
    Exceptional writers are born; competent writers can be taught, but it will not come as easily or be as successful.

  94. Anonymous

    Kathleen mentioned “being willing to learn, and I think that’s key. Also being smart enough to figure out what we need to learn, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how to use them.

    I feel like we make a choice to go down this path, to immerse ourself in the hard stuff, fumble, and constantly try to do better. And it’s that choice–which is not a one-time choice but a choice that we make over and over and over again–which guides us through from our earliest attempts to our current best and our even better future best. In a sense, then, good writers teach themselves.

    Probably there is something innate that gives some people the drive and ability to traverse the learning curve. And different people have different innate potential that we recognize, in its realized form, as the difference between the craftsman and the genius.

  95. Anonymous

    When I was a young journalist my editor told me that she could teach me the writing – anyone could write – but having the “nose” of a journalist was something you’re born with.

    Twenty years separated from my editor’s advice, my gut reaction: You must be joking, or seeking an easy way out of posting a legitimate blog today. Jeez, Nsthan, it’s freakin’ easy to write a book. It’s damn hard to write a good book.

    So here’s my answer: Subjects are taught. Good writers are “born.”

  96. Furious D

    I think good writers are born with a good imagination, but practise and education are what make someone who can tell a story into a real writer.

    Stephen King compared it to having a knife, people have different size knives, but it’s the properly sharpened one that gets the job done right.

  97. Anonymous

    It’s been my experience that wankers who couldn’t trouble themselves to put in the time and effort believe that artistic ability is inborn.

    Those who’ve walked every inch of the trail know that nobody don’t get nothing for free.

    In reference to something I wrote a while back, if you CAN’T NOT do it, then you have little choice but to invest all that is necessary.

    And where will that get you? As far as you need to go.

  98. Nikki Duncan

    I’m with Dan in the opinion they’re born.

    Anyone can write a story, sure. Not everyone can learn to write a great story that is well crafted and publishable.

  99. Natalie Hatch

    I think it could be a mutant genetic variability that shows up in every generation. These people are born to become slaves to their writing, putting their effort into telling stories (or maybe not)…
    You can certainly learn to improve your writing ability, anyone can, but the passion to write? I don’t know where that comes from.

  100. ORION

    A love of reading leads to a love of writing – it can be enhanced and developed but you are born with the desire and talent.
    The quality of perseverance (to me) is more important than writing talent…

  101. superwench83

    Oh, boy.

    I think that for everyone, it’s a combination, but the combination isn’t the same for any two people.

    I saw one commenter say that storytelling ability is innate, and writing ability is learned. For me I think maybe it’s the opposite. My ability to use language is innate. The rest (particularly storytelling) has been learned.

    I’m inclined to agree with this. In a sense, writing or storytelling or whatever you want to call it is inborn into every single person in some way or another. It’s part of being human. We crave stories, our lives are built around them…. Even non-writers tell stories every day. We tell jokes, we tell each other about our dreams, we tell each other about the weird events or touching moments or scandalous secrets we encounter. Every human being on earth can tell a story, and is in fact driven to do so.

    Some people have a way with words in that they are very persuasive. Some people have a way with words in that they know how to tell a joke just right. Some people are great storytellers. Some people hardly speak at all, and yet when they do speak, everyone listens. So I think that for those of us who choose to write, some of these abilities are stronger in us than others are. We build on those strengths and beef up on the things we’re weak in.

  102. Sheryl

    There’s more to being a writer or author than putting beautiful words onto a page with proper punctuation and impeccable grammar. THAT can be learned.

    Writers and authors bring something more to the page… called it spark, passion, need… that part is born.

  103. Erik

    Every culture has a story about innate talent waiting to be discovered. Moses was cast among the bullrushes. Arthur wasn’t known until he produced Excalibur from the stone. Granted, writing isn’t the same talent needed to be King, but the principle is there.

    Let’s say that writers are born, not made.

    What happens to a culture that is unable to recognize them? What happens to all that talent that goes unidentified and undeveloped?

    What happens to a publishing industry that lacks a mechanism for doing the same?

    More interestingly, what happens to an agent who becomes the first to be able to recognize and develop talent, or helps to see the creation of such a thing?

  104. Anonymous

    As an astrologer, I suggest that good writers will share some astrological features – what I’ve found most prevalent is a good dose Mercury (the planet) and this often manifests with a good dose of Gemini in conjunction with Neptune/Mercury contacts. But I must agree with some of the other comments that while these are indicators of interest and talent – they may come to naught for a variety of reasons, as has already been so adequately pointed out!

  105. Whirlochre

    There must be a mathematical formula for this somewhere, taking account of books read, words written, shoe size, wobbles of Mercurial orbit when sperm fused with egg and inability to pilot a helicopter, but I’ve yet to google anything more suitable than endless recipes for goulash.

  106. Maris Bosquet

    After years of teaching students and cub reporters how to write a simple direct lede, I’m convinced that good writers are born. But talent is nothing if the writer doesn’t have the will to do better.

  107. pseudosu

    I agree w/ Nathan and many of the rest of you.

    Talent is inherent, but the rest needed to capitalize on it (drive, ambition, technical skills, ability to accept constructive criticism, self-editing, etc etc ) is learned.

  108. Bethanne

    don’t think it’s possible to pigeonhole writers…same as you can’t pigeonhole an artist. This isn’t math–thank God. Oh wait, maybe it is like math, how many ways can you get 100? Um, LOTS. Darn it, they were right. Math is a part of my life.

  109. Just_Me

    I think a good deal of imagination is innate. Some children just can’t understand fantasy. Fairies aren’t real and that’s as far as they can go with that line of thought.

    But good writing is learned. You can be an excellent story teller and a lousy writer. You can have a wonderful, vivid, well-thought out imaginary world and still have trouble conveying that world and it’s importance to other people.

  110. Kimberly K.

    I would have to say born. I was adopted and have been writing for most of my life. About 8 years ago I found my birth family. As it turned out my birth mother’s side of the family was and is chock full of writers and philosophers. Both of my adoptive parents are “math people”.

    Writing brings me such great peace – I have always believed it was in my soul, and perhaps by default in my genes.

  111. Marge

    Good writers? Merely born with the desire to learn!

  112. freddie

    I think it’s a mixture of the two. There’s gotta be some talent, but even talented people have to work hard at writing.

  113. Yuri

    To rephrase Thomas Edison, when it comes to writing, success is 10 percent talent and 90 percent perspiration.

    You must have at least some talent to be a good writer. But you will never become one unless you try and fail and learn from every mistake and write your every book as your best one. You need to know your craft and to get there you have to practice and learn, practice and learn.

  114. Anonymous

    Writing is a craft, and writers need to work at their craft to get “good,” whether that means reading a lot, taking classes, joining critique groups, etc. At the same time, I’ve had editors who can pick up just what’s wrong with my writing, but when they try to rewrite or add a sentence of their own, it’s clunky, like deadwood. They know all the rules of good writing, but don’t have that certain something that makes for a good writer.

  115. Here, There, Elsewhere... and more

    I’m convinced it’s very much a learned skill which, like all skills, can be perfected – some people do have an advantage though; particularly people from homes where books were very much part of everyday life and it’s pleasures…
    Love your blog BTW..:)

  116. Tom Burchfield

    Both and I think it breaks down this way: someone can be born with an innate sense of language, structure and story-telling and if the environment is there for them, along with discipline and luck, then you have a great writer. On the other hand, as noted above, a dullard born into a houseful of books, will never become a Nabokov, but may find a successful career writing paperback entertainments because they at least have the discipline.

  117. Anonymous

    I think it might be very cool for folks here to list the best writing,critiquing, or editing workshops or conferences they have attended and why.


    (workshops and conferences indicating they did not go back to school, but they did go somewhere concise to refine and develop specifically.)

  118. Laurel Amberdine

    (Late on this, but it took a lot of consideration.)

    Neither born nor taught — I think it’s developed through living.

    I mean, there’s a certain amount of natural intelligence and verbal skill which is required. Any good writer would have to be born with “enough.”

    And, yes, there’s a certain amount of study and training to be done. But that’s true of any field which requires technical ability.

    The essence of writing (particularly fiction) is: saying something meaningful in a compelling way. (“Meaningful” and “compelling” being highly variable quantities, of course.)

    Obviously, no one is born with that; experience is essential. It’s true of any art. Maybe the inborn talent determines whether a future artist is a writer, a painter, or a musician, but I think an artist is developed through reaction to experiences.

  119. Chumplet

    I think the ability to turn a phrase that strikes a chord with the masses is innate.

    To develop that skill further, and to make a living at it certainly takes a lot of practice.

  120. Sprizouse

    @ Dan: “everybody thinks their traits are above average. Given the definition of average, someone is wrong…”

    You’ve got to be careful here Dan my man, because given the definition of average, it’s entirely possible (even PROBABLE) that they’re not wrong.

    Most of the world’s population could, hypothetically, be above average writers. Just like most of us could have above average looks, musical skills, math skills etc.

    This is a common mistake with the definition of average. It also leads to problems with extrapolating results from those Harvard studies. Everyone might think they’re above average simply because they are. By the way, as a statistics / finance corporate muckety muck, I see this mistake all the time by quants and traders so don’t feel bad.

    Anyway, holding to the definition of average, it’s likely that 75% of the world is capable of “above average” writing, but how many of that 75% are truly “good” I think, depends more on innate ability rather than learned skills.

  121. Lupina

    With good instruction and much practice, anyone can learn to write, draw or sing creditably. But using that tool brilliantly enough to grab others in a striking and memorable way is a gift.

  122. Erik

    chumplet said:
    I think the ability to turn a phrase that strikes a chord with the masses is innate.

    Forgive me for harping on what may be a small part of your argument, but the word “masses” leaves me very cold.

    The relationship between the writer and the reader is a very personal thing. After all, climbing into someone’s head is more intimate even than sex. I’ve never considered what the “masses” want, nor really cared at all – but I do care a lot about what an individual reader will experience by reading my stuff.

    Difference of semantics? If I thought it was, I wouldn’t respond. I think that the author/reader relationship is the key to good writing.

    I’m glad to see that a lot of people agree with me that experience, and how you respond to it, is what makes a good writer. To go back to the idea that you are born with the skills, however, it certainly helps to be born an outsider in your own culture.

    This happens to many people for many reasons. You can be shy, gay, black, non-English speaking, or nothing more than naturally inquisitive. The way a writer responds to this what matters, just as the writer/reader relationship is what is key.

    I don’t think this happens on a “mass” level. The experiences that allow an outsider in their own world to learn how to develop a cultural intimacy happen one at a time, as individuals. The result is most likely to be personal.

    However, what matters most to me is how a fragmented society finds those voices from the near outside when there are very high barriers to entry and no encouragement. The writing world is as much about self-promotion as writing, if not more – and if I was a good promoter I’d make a lot more money in sales than this stuff.

    But consider the population of writers for a moment. Think of how many people you’ve met at workshops and so on that weren’t rather pale and deeply immersed in the writerly world.

    Now, think of all the people you haven’t met at any of these gatherings that have real talent and come from just beyond the mainstream culture. Think there’s anything that’s being missed?

    I’m sure there is. I guarantee it. That’s not writing for the masses, thats writing by and for the people just on the edge of the crowd, peering over at it. Their reactions can only be personal and genuine.

    That’s the good stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

  123. DeborahBrent

    The mechanics of writing can be taught, but great story tellers are born.

  124. emily

    I think good writing is definitely something you learn. Some people automatically have a good sense of how to put words together in a way that flows and is easy to read; this is a good start. But there are so many more vital aspects to good writing. Over time and through practice and experience, writers must learn how to create better sentences, how to structure their plot just so, and how to create realistic and sympathetic characters. An innate ability to write well is not enough.

  125. Precie

    Oh, all right, I’ll join the fray with a few random thoughts.

    Overall, I think it’s a combination of both. If I had to pin down a percentage, I’d say 80% taught/20% born.

    Here are a few of the thoughts that keep nagging at me about this:

    1) The concept of “good writers”–Does good = published? Critically praised? Bestselling?

    2) When I think about who I’d categorize as a “good writer,” I KNOW my list would vary WILDLY from some of my friends and colleagues. Other people might consider the writers I admire most to be boring or pedantic or wordy. Some of my very favorite novels, I could never in my wildest dreams hope to equal in technique and breadth. And yet others would drop them after the first 5 pages.

    3) But on the flip side, almost everyone I’ve ever met has at least a few stories within them, is definitely capable of putting words and paragraphs and pages together to form an interesting narrative. It might not be something that would get them published, but they’re definitely capable of writing a good story. Are they good writers?

  126. Anonymous

    I feel I have an innate sense of story. How that came to be, I am not sure. Was it affected by hearing stories, reading them? Of course!
    Reading also honed my understanding of how a story is crafted. And still, I benefit enormously from my daily or weekly ongoing practice and learning of the craft of writing and its structures -even when I chose to break free of those.

  127. Anonymous


    You must learn “good” writing, but you must have something first on which to base your learning.

    The “innate” talent exists as the foundation, but a foundation isn’t a structure in and of itself.

    You build on that with learning and life experience. Then you *might* have something that will last.

  128. Sally Ketchum

    Mostly born. The great ones must have inate talent, then read, read, read and write, write, write.

    This inate ability fuels the drive the writer must have to improve, to write well. Sally Ketchum

  129. Jill

    Hum… well, I’m a science writer, and I know lots of writers who are technically and grammatically correct. Editors consider them “good writers.” But we write continuing medical education and research articles – scientists read us, not because they want to, but because they have to.

    That being said, you’d want a different set of skills as a novelist, magazine writer, or copy writer. You have to be able to grab people’s attention and keep it to gain readership. And I’d argue that this is an skill that can’t be developed in just anyone, and it absolutely differentiates them from the rest of us.

  130. Rebecca

    Allrighty. I’m in the minority, I think, but: I think good writing is learned.

    That said, I think “talent” is the ability to learn a lot from a very little, or to learn very quickly and effortlessly, or something like that. Someone with no talent, but a lot of dedication, time, and access can become a good writer, but will always have to work at it. Someone with talent can be a good writer much more easily. But they are both good writers.

  131. Kimberly Lynn

    I do think there is a large population in the creative industry who inherited a portion of their talent, but many lack the necessary passion and ambition that it will take to become a success:

    Mick Jagger stated once “I was always a singer. I always sang as a child. I was one of those kids who just LIKED to sing.โ€

    Jaggerโ€™s parents were teachers โ€“ not musicians and singers.

    Education, hard work, and determination is what will win in the end.

  132. Brian Jay Jones

    Are good writers taught or born? Why, they’re torn of course.

  133. Anonymous

    Vision is closer to the soul, writing is the learned skill that communicates the vision. In the end they are inseparable and indispensible to creating a truly memorable read. Good writers can be taught, great writers are born.

  134. Anonymous

    What it takes to write well, really well, is a good ear. And that, folks, is something people are either born with or they aren’t.

    Poodle Girl

  135. nona

    The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.

    — Ernest Hemingway

  136. Beth

    Some writers have an ear for language and you can tell it — it shows in their word choices, in the cadence of their sentences, in that indefinable thing called “voice.”

    That’s inborn. It can be enhanced and refined, but not taught or faked.

    The craft of writing — that’s learned, though some writers do that instinctively, simply by absorbing the structures and rhythms of stories, and others must do it more mechanically,through seminars and how-to books.

  137. angelique

    I do think it is both–one must have a driving force, however, to pursue it. In my family I am a published author, my brother is a published author. My aunt and two of my uncles were published authors. Another aunt was a very fine poet but died young(17). My daughters both have a keen sense of story structure and the one who is old enough to write starts every story with something happening. My father was also an author and very successful. His name was Louis L’Amour. So when you ask if they are born or made…In our family they are both!

  138. Nathan Bransford


    What a coincidence — I met your brother a long time ago (actually before I was an agent). Thanks for commenting!

  139. Magnus Thor

    Some people seem to have an innate knack for telling a story, regardless of their vocabulary or grammar. They know how to build it up, create suspense and anticipation and how to get the point across. That knack is both learned and inborn.
    If those people were to learn the rules of the language they wish to write in they would be great writers. Vocabulary and grammar are just tools to tell a story in a way more people understand.
    I think you can teach most people to become competent writers, but you can't teach them to be good storytellers. Just like you can teach most people to drive safely, but they won't be Michael Schumacher.
    You need to have the urge to create and tell a story to become a good writer. That urge can't be taught, it can only be focused and sharpened.

  140. jon

    Anyone can write a story, sure. Not everyone can learn to write a great story that is well crafted and publishable.
    Locksmith Fort Mill Sc

  141. Leah

    It can go both ways. Some people might just be more creative than other people and use more of the right side of their brain than others, so they could jsut be like that personality wise. Other people can still be good writers though. James Scott Bell says that in his book on Plot and Structure. Writing can be learned, and there for you are able to be a good writer, even if you aren't born with the natural knack for it.

  142. Anonymous

    I think it's both. Some people can just write well and create interesting character possibly because they have a interesting life, while others have learned throughout life and can write about similar things.


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Hi, Iโ€™m Nathan.ย Iโ€™m the author ofย How to Write a Novelย and theย Jacob Wonderbarย series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and Iโ€™m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams.ย Let me help you with your book!

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