• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
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Boy You’re Going To Carry That Weight

Is writing genetic? There are certainly writing dynasties and by that I mean Kingsley and Martin Amis, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, The Brontes, the Cheevers, Cheech and Chong. My mother wanted to write. Does that count? My sister is a writer. I think the Safran Foers have seven or eight writers in their family. On the nature/nurture spectrum I gotta say these thighs are from my dad.

Were you born to write?

 

28 Responses

  1. My dad never wrote anything down, but was an amazing storyteller.
    And i’ve read things his mother wrote, letters mostly, and they are beautiful, lyrical, poetic. I think it’s natural for most humans to tell stories, and for many of us to see and feel and know words the way others do music, and those who do, if given the opportunity, become writers.
    Unless they’re sane. Then they do something else.

  2. I was born to read. The writing probably happened because I ran out of new books and Mom couldn’t get me to the library soon enough.

  3. I just found out a year ago that I have absolutely no genetic connection to the people who reared me, that I was likely illegally adopted, and so finding my birth parents would be a very difficult and uncertain proposition. But if my mother was anything, she was a storyteller, and a connoisseur of stories. She loved to read the “life stories,” biographies authorized and unauthorized, of movie stars and famous people. Growing up in a second-rate motel, you hear a lot of ordinary people’s life stories too, even though their anything but dull. So even without a genetic legacy, I was bequeathed something.

    • Out of sheer insecurity I will correct a typo:

      *even though they’re anything but dull.

      (Did I really need to do that?)

      • Ha, no, but I get you. I have to correct myself when I spot these things – or at least point them out via yet another comment, as if to say “yeah, yeah, I know I made a mistake.”

    • Wow! What a mid-life revelation! How are you handling this, TP? You’re amazing, not matter what your origin.

      • It was a shock, but not devastating. Haven’t decided if I’m going to track down bio-mom, but if I do, it will only be because I want to make a story of it. I have no desire to find a lost family at this stage of my life. I do plan to get a DNA test to determine what ingredients are in my pot of ethnic soup, though.

  4. Yes.
    Scribes scattered around from way back.

  5. My father wrote a wonderful science fiction novel (never published). My brother is published (trade magazines). My mother, well that’s the most heartbreaking story. This year on her birthday, while cleaning out my attic, I found her novel which she gave to me to read years ago. I never finished it, we never discussed it and she never wrote again. That I did’nt give it, and her writing a chance, breaks my heart and is one of the greatest regrets of my life.
    I am inching my way through it, the writing is wanting, but the story is really good.
    I’m trying to figure out a way to do a duo sort of thing, Julie, Julia or something like that but can’t come up with a format.
    All I know is that I don’t want her writing legacy to remain, unknown forever.
    Yes Betsy, my DNA is peppered with the profound and profane writing of my mom and dad.
    What’s interesting is that both of my daughters are amazing writers and don’t even know it.

  6. Born to raise a little hell — she’s 8 now, going on 16 — and struggle to compassionately understand a world gone quite insane, while at the same time wanting to say fuck you real loud. No knowledge or recollection of anyone in my family writing. Or reading.

  7. “Were you born to write?”

    Yes. Damn it. I was born in fear and sorrow and determined to get my revenge.

    Born to write. As all of us here know, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, we wouldn’t know what to do without it, and we wouldn’t give it up for the world.

    A life sentence for a crime we didn’t commit.

    I think there’s a writer in my ancestry, about three or four hundred years back. Clearly a recessive gene.

  8. Were you born to write? IDK, maybe. My mother has written poetry, although her style isn’t representative of any of the possible 30+ forms of poetry.

    I think she wrote a couple of little short stories too – b/c she used to operate a daycare and she would tell them to the children. And that’s the extent of any familial literary endeavors until I decided to try on this writer thing.

  9. No one else in my family is a writer. I have letters that my biological, Welsh, schizophrenic father wrote to my grandparents in the 1970s. They are emotional, intense, and very well written. In them, he mentions that he was writing a book titled THOMAS.

    So I suppose, if there is one, a genetic writing foundation may have been passed on. Let’s hope none of the other issues did.

  10. No. Nurture, not nature in this one.

    You must suffer to be beautiful.- mother.

  11. My grandfather was a prolific screenwriter and one of the founders of the original Screenwriters’ Guild. My father was a failed writer/director. He has one IMDB credit to my grandfather’s dozens and dozens. He told me once that my grandfather was furious my father’s name came before his alphabetically, making him the first Mahin people would see when they Googled. Which can’t be true because he died long before the Internet existed, or maybe–probably–I’m just remembering it wrong. Re nature/nurture, I think it was my early and constant exposure to reading, not anything in my DNA, although I do have a lot of their other bad habits.

    • One of my favorite Shanna Mahin quotes on nature/nurture: “We’re all cooked by the time we’re 2 anyway.”

    • I’ve heard that inherited traits skip a generation. I know success isn’t heritable (or is it?), but you might have gotten the persistence necessary to achieve it from your granddad.

  12. Born to write? No. Born to be a fucking workhorse? Yes.

  13. Seems there were a lot of Hallam’s that wrote — and still, I find many w/ the Hallam name on twitter who are writers. My father says he’s always wanted to write. I tell him it’s not too late. After all, one of our greatest ancestors was written about by Tennyson with: In Memoriam, and Arthur Henry Hallam was a Victorian poet, himself.

  14. My mom, bless her, carried a Shakespearean sonnet in her wallet
    (“When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes”–that one) until the day she died. She revered the words of poets, and rained them upon me, and seeds germinated…

  15. My (slightly OCD) 5 year old son tells me something new to write down for him every night when we tuck him in. Things like, “Mom, write down that I got a skin knot on my head when I hit it on the piano.” (skin knot vs a knot you tie w/ a string, he explained) He’s got something new every night. “Mom, write down that dad forgot to get us milkshakes” & one of my personal favorites, “Mom, write down that my poop was green twice today.”

    I don’t know if it’s in our genes or if he assumes from our nurturing – or lack thereof – that we should find something worth writing down in each one of our days.

  16. Yes, middle sister and youngest sister (me) are both writers. My mother recently listened to a taped session with a psychic she visited when she was in her early thirties, who told her she should be a writer. She said she might have had a drop of such inspiration once, but she never gave it any serious thought–since she was simply struggling with being a good wife and mother.

    And so it goes for so many people. Genetics and talent play a much smaller role in most lives than does reality and practicality.

  17. Apparently so. Before I could write the letters in the alphabet I was drawing out little stories with stick people in drawing pads that I called my books. No one else in my family writes, likely due in part to their lack of education and love of alcohol and crime. They are, however, all excellent story tellers and lord knows they have stories to tell. It could be that I’m just the only one in the family with the sense to write it all down.

  18. My paternal grandmother wrote poetry. But I only learned that from her eulogy. Otherwise, I think I’m the only writer in my family. Am I a genetic anomaly? A mutant? That would make sense. I have green eyes, too, which I’m told isn’t a gene in itself, but a mutation of the blue-eyed gene.
    What do get when you cross a brown-eyed Italian with a red-headed Irishman? A green-eyed writer! (Worst joke ever.)

  19. As far back as my great grandparent’s generation were hard workers who revered learning. Voracious readers and wry storytellers, they gave me curiosity.

    So, I am curious, all right, and a skeptic by inclination and training, and a genetically predisposed smartass. Writing seems a natural result of all that, a way of asking, and maybe, just maybe, getting a glance at an answer before it flies.

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