• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Everything You Own in a Box to the Left


Where do you come down on the nature v. nurture debate when it comes to writing? Is writing an innate ability? Are there writing genes? Were you exposed to writers or books as a child? Did anyone read to you? Did you have any writing mentors? Why do you think you write instead of paint, or tie fishing lures, or build computers? Is writing a god-given talent, a tweak on the DNA, or some bad circuitry in your brain.


13 Responses

  1. I am so interested in this post and thank you for starting it. I have heard this same argument made about entrepreneurship; i.e., that you have to have entrepreneurial DNA in order to succeed as an entrepreneur. Personally, I think this goes against the paradigm of a growth mindset. I think everything can be learned and that with consistent, diligent and intentional application, you can succeed in any endeavor. That doesn’t negate the fact that some people will have a predisposition towards certain endeavors; giving them a foundation for that endeavor – also referred to by some as ‘natural talent.’ Although I am not sure I believe in this concept of ‘natural talent’ at all. I also look to the work of Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences as it has allowed for the idea that there is more than one way to define a person’s intellect/ability. So is it nature or nurture? Ultimately, it’s a combination of both and it is our self-awareness + our self-discipline that allows us to activate what we have in the service of our craft.

  2. My mom read to my sister and me from an early age, yes. Every night at bedtime, we got a chapter of whatever book we were on. But writing…writing occurred to me in the 6th grade and I have no idea why. I just started writing stories like a compulsive habit. Then the adults in my life encouraged it and I won a contest and I was hooked, so I guess that’s a mix of nature and nurture. At a certain age, I think writers have to decide if they’re going to keep it up and then it is solely self-nurturing. There are certainly days when I think that to give it up would be liberating, yet then I wonder: would I feel like myself anymore? And that is more fodder for the nature side of things.

  3. I bet there have been lots of discussions around the water cooler in the publishing industry about this very topic over the years.

    No one read to me, but as soon as I learned how, that was just about all I wanted to do. Did it impact my wanting to be a writer – absolutely, but not for years. Later, I read the works of a few authors who ended up serving as mentors – unbeknownst to them, and who inspired me so much, I found myself tapping away on a keyboard.

    For anyone who is an avid reader (most out here for sure) we’ve seen it all. Published works with good and bad writing. When I see good writing, and check out the credentials of that writer, they may or may not have an MFA. I’m always super impressed when they don’t, because I automatically think of them as having that natural ability. Then I might read what I perceive as not very good writing – and they DO have an MFA. I think it’s a mixed bag, and as uniquely individual as we already are.

  4. Definitely not nurture here. I was accepted to college as an English/History double major, with a desire to become a photojournalist. My father went behind my back, pulled a lot of strings and pressured me into accepting a place in the biology dept. I graduated, handed over my science degree to my sick mother, worked in medicine and wrote on the side. Needless to say, I left my father behind in the dust and never let on that I was writing. When he died, I breathed a sigh of relief and never felt more free in my life.

  5. I have no idea. I have always loved to read to escape from unhappy parents, won an essay contest in 5th grade, so…I go where the pen leads. Happy writer and memoirist today!

  6. I’ve always loved the written word and the way some phrases or sentences dance with abandon. I was sick a lot in 3rd grade and fell behind in the Stamford Achievement Tests, so I was placed in a group of kids not really interested in learning. My teacher, Mrs. Smith, recognized that I was a better reader than the few tests I had taken indicated and spent time with me during recess to administer tests I had missed and bring me up to date. She was giving up her time to work with me and I still smile with appreciation when I think of her. And I became a voracious reader of The Hardy Boys, magazines and whatever else I could get my hands on; “Myra Breckingridge” was above my level, but if that was what adulthood was like, I was somewhat curious…… From reading sprang writing (encouragement from a 5th grade teacher) and it all comes back to teachers dedicated to education.

  7. Hey Betsy. Probably a bit of both. My mom read to us constantly and took us to the library often. But also to the theatre – another way to love soak up words. But I guess you have to want to write too.

  8. I am a deep thinker, so writing comes more easily to that innate quality than painting, although I have dabbled in that art form as well. Reading conveys ideas beyond time and distance. I can find inspiration from souls long gone from this world or from people who live a globe away. The internet has only made this even more possible. Exciting.

  9. I think there’s perhaps a genetic inclination to be ‘creative;’ in which art one works may tend more on the exposure(s) one receives. E.g., I’m only half-joking when I tell people I write ’cause I made a critical mistake and never learned an instrument. (Started w/ saxophone once, loved it and wasn’t half-bad, didn’t stay with it, and I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.) And I’m often struck by how many actors grew up in acting families.
    But I don’t know that such genetics also bring an ‘innate ability’ – I’m sure there are folks who are hell-bent on writing but don’t do it very well, or who have to work at it harder than others. That may be where the ‘nurture’ part comes in more, particularly with writers – education and environment may weigh more heavily in that field than some others.
    Just my .02 – guess I think people may have a genetic bent toward creative endeavors, and the chosen creative field may have to do as much with how they grew up. (Also, for whatever it’s worth, I haven’t done it in ages, but I did use to tie fishing flies for myself.)

  10. I think routine is my only natural gift from nature. I cherish the doldrums and highs of its charted daily wake. It’s difficult to exact a reason for writing, my own reason, but it could be revenge. I was laughed at a lot when I was a kid, into my twenties, for grammar gaffes. The true revenge is centered on my first rejection from Binky, the infamous agent, in 2002, whose rejection came in the mail and burned a hole in my chest for an hour and changed my life. Of course, the real reason I write at all is to engage in the creation of characters through the maze-work of the English sentence.

    Mom read Cervantes to me as a seven year old, and then again when I was nine. We saw the play when I was eleven. But, I couldn’t handle libraries–I would fall asleep. And until eight grade, at thirteen, I hadn’t read a book on my own. My first was Hot Zone, about ebola. I read it during SSR in a classroom of kids and I remember looking around me as I read thinking about the delicacy of mortality. Why Mrs Legget recommended that to me, I will never know. Until Sophomore year of high school, until I was given the gift of Annie John, and Life & Times of Micheal K, I hadn’t read fiction on my own. And I wouldn’t have chosen, at any time before I declared my English major to sit and read for pleasure. It was always an act of focus and work–the work of sentence after sentence exploration. I’m one of those few people blessed with some gene hindering my ability to speed read. Sure, I can buzzsaw through my own drafts by seeing a page for two seconds, but I’ve never had the gift, nor have I desired to own the gift, of speed reading.

    Revision, revision is really where I learned I’m somewhat mediocre at the practice and art of writing. The second through however many drafts drives my ambition to get at compression and meaning. I don’t know really when it hit me that drafting wasn’t polishing, but it was well after the MFA. Maybe after three novels were left in the dust, I began taking structural, plot editing seriously. A hell of a thing to re-discover the love of language through its drafting.

    Finding my deficits: stollen, stolen; lay, lie, lain; lead, led; and many more has been my great pleasure in drafting.

    Also, not letting go of work after years, the doggedness, I think, isn’t learned. It’s a personality thing. It’s tantamount to abuse in social situations with people, but in the art world that kind of obsessed seeking is the nature of revision and extraction of quality and clarity.

    This is my second go through this, as I lost the first draft of my response due to some log-in interruption.

  11. Nature, only because my cousin is a writer and my father is an avid reader. My mother also liked to tell me stories at night when I was a child. Instead of Cinderella, she told me her whole life story, which was a bit on the wild side, and how crazy the ’80s were in NYC. Nurture because her stories prompted me to write about her life…. maybe I took on too much. Also she bamboozled me into becoming a writer after telling me, as a child, that a psychic told her I would become one. I don’t know what I got myself into, but there is no escaping, that is for sure! So yes, definitely nature but nurture brings out the innate talent, which of course, needs to be honed. We have to work at it.

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