What defines a writer? Are they born or developed? Is the drive to write genetic?

Is writing in the blood? Are writers born and not made? Can the desire, if not the talent, for writing be inherited? I write, my parents wrote – my mother authored a couple of non-fiction books – and my maternal grandmother was a published author of a memoir, Upheaval. I have even discovered that my great-grandfather’s daughter by his first marriage was Lydia Charskaya, a well known Russian writer of her time.

I have written before about stories from the memoir my grandmother wrote, and my father’s short story, which surprised me as I had no idea he was interested in writing. I have also written several times about trying to sort through the documents and papers I brought with me from my father’s house after his death.

The picture above shows just a portion of the writing my grandmother left behind. It is strewn over the floor in my study as I attempt to sort it. I am blessed that so much of her writing has survived. There are a couple of drafts of books, notes on the book she published in 1932, pages of thoughts for other books, scribblings, ideas and plenty of pages written in Russian – I have no idea what they are about.

My grandmother wrote by hand. Her handwriting can no doubt be viewed as elegant but the fact she also wrote in pencil is making it difficult for me to decipher – and those are just the pages in English! I have my work cut out for me for however long it takes to transcribe her scribblings. But I am already fascinated with what these pages might hold. No doubt she has written more about her life and I am eager to learn where she went and what she did. Perhaps she has written about the places they lived in France? Maybe she has detailed her pregnancy with my mother? I hope she has explained why my mother was an only child.

I also have some of my mother’s scribblings and notes for books she never got to write. Her interest lay in the theatre, its history and the history of costume and fashion.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a prolific scribbler. I have started diaries, journals, stories and books. I have scribbled on paper, in notebooks and, nowadays, on the computer. Every now and again I throw out some of my jottings or hit delete on the pages I have saved. Sometimes the things I write are too personal to be left for someone else to find and read. Sometimes they are simply not well written or, in my mind, have no future.

I am still not certain whether writers or born or made but I am also not certain I agree with Jack Kerouac, who said “Writers are made, for anybody who isn’t illiterate can write; but geniuses of the writing are like Melville, Whitman or Thoreau are born.” I do not think you need to be a genius to be able to write well. But I think you need to be driven. Perhaps George Orwell summed it up when he said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle… One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven…”.

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