Writers: nature or nurture?

I’ve started a new story. Brand. New. For me, this is the hardest part of writing—thinking of a what if, expanding it to a framework, and filling it all in. I must get to know new characters, flesh them out, and give them all different personalities, foibles, flaws, and personal crises.

This is creation of a human sort. Bringing into being a stage full of people I’ve never met before, giving them life. Designing scenes, costumes, set dressing, and props. I am the writer, producer, and director. Not the star, of course, but there are elements of my personality scattered amongst the players. There are elements of everyone and every situation I’ve ever been involved with or heard of throughout my life. You could say that I filter through on every page.  

But does all that make me a writer?

Stephen King believes one cannot learn to be a writer. You are born one, or not. You can acquire certain writing skills, but you cannot learn to be a writer. If that is so, how can you tell if you have that inborn ability, or whether you are simply very skilled at wordage? Does the latter mean you’re a fraud?

Where am I on that scale of measurement?  I love to write. Is that enough? Would Stephen King say I have the raw material with which to add skills, or would he tell me to call it quits right now? (Actually, If SK spoke to me for any reason whatsoever, I probably wouldn’t even hear what he said. I’d be too excited!) But really, who is in a position to determine it? If the proof is in the pudding, then I’d venture to say that  a writer is one who writes.

When I read that Mr. King gave Stephanie Meyer, creator of the Twilight saga a definite thumbs down, comparing her most unfavorably to J.K. Rowling, I felt a jab in my own writer’s gut.  Words like that could crush me–I might never put another word on paper ever again. (I suppose for Ms Meyer, though, the great success of her books and movies helped cushion the blow of that critique.)

But it was more than the cutting remarks about Ms. Meyer that hurt me.

Obviously, the more well-known an author becomes, the greater the chance of hearing harsh criticism. Naively, I see writers as a community of like-minded individuals, wanting the best for each member of the pack. So, it hurts to think one best selling author would turn on one of its own kind. Aren’t there enough critics around who are paid to write pithy remarks hurtful enough to tear the heart out of a writer? Must we do it to each other?

I believe writing a best selling book that is turned into a hit movie with a rabid fan base is a noteworthy achievement, indicative, surely, that one is a writer. But I also doff my chapeau to all  writers (published or not) who slave over each word to pull out of their very souls the next story that wants to be told. Please don’t give up.

You may be the next best selling author of your dreams.

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