Writers — Born or Made?

- by Karen Tintori

Are writers born, or made, or simply encouraged along?

I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade.  Somewhere upstairs in my mother’s or grandmother’s old hope chest (I have both for some reason) are writing assignments bearing red As and the red-penned comments of my first editor, Sister Mary Theodora, O. P.  Wherever she is now, I owe my decision to become a writer to her effusive enthusiasm for my early work.

Thinking back, I itched to write even younger.  I loved words and word games.  I can’t tell you how many word games I won at wedding and baby showers.  Loved spelling, too, and always wrote longer sentences than sufficed to prove I knew how to use the new spelling words correctly in context.  I loved diagramming sentences, exploring synonyms, antonyms, metaphors.  And I loved reading.   By the time I was thirteen, I’d read every book on the children’s side of our public library.  My only regret about that now  now is that I didn’t exercise more as a kid — I was too busy lying under the dining room window, reading all summer long.

I balked when the librarian refused to let me borrow books from the adult section until I’d turned thirteen.  She told me to go back and re-read the children’s section, but I didn’t want to.  I knew even before someone printed up T-shirts that there were too many books and too little time.  It makes me sad that I will one day die with too many unread books in my TBR pile.

I kept a diary all through my teen and college years, and all of them are up in the hope chest, too.  I wrote the family letters, and collected pen pals from the UK after the Beatles landed in the States.  In college, I majored in journalism, worked on the student paper, and never got used to the heart-stopping phone calls that came in the middle of the night from the New York Times with another assignment.  I was the Times’ campus stringer.  God knows why they insisted on scaring the life out of us like that, when the phone calls were always followed up by telegrams the next day.  [The next call I want to receive from the NYT is one telling me I’ve made “the list.” :) ]

Writing is like breathing, it’s what I do.  Fiction, nonfiction, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, emails, journals on vacation in Italy — but not so many handwritten letters any more, alas, and no longer a diary.  If I wanted a running chronicle of my life, I’d have to CC myself on daily posts shared with a group of writer pals.

Many writers have said they were avid readers first, but few have shared how they knew this was their calling.  So to my fellow scribes, I’m curious — when did you realize that writing was your passion?  Your career?


  1. Writing has always been a passion. I realized this sometime in my twenties. But ‘being a writer’– that is something altogether different for me. I’ve had to become a writer.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Karen, I ran into that same issue at the library. I am fortunate enough to have an older sister who used to get adult books for me. Sometimes she did it unknowingly , as in when she was home on break from college and studying The Brothers Karamazov. I was in first or second grade and started reading it — thought those people had verrrrry strange names.

    As to when I knew I wanted to be a writer: It was reading Dickens’ DAVID COPPERFIELD and his description of Uriah Heep as unctuous. Unctuous . . . Uriah Heep . . . The combination of those syllables still combine to send a shiver down my spine.

    That’s when I knew I wanted to put words together to draw as strong a response from a reader.

  3. You’re right, Curtiss Ann. While we have the passion for words, and for writing, we have to work at being writers.

    And the best writers of all are the ones who are not obvious in their writing. Who just write beautiful prose or poetry that reads effortlessly — even if they worked their fingers to nubs crafting it.

    I think the greatest gift would be to know another language well enough to be able to write well in that language/culture.

    Wow. I should live so long!

  4. Ooohh, Pat…thanks for sharing that delicious story! How cool that you remember the moment and the words that spoke to you so life changingly.

    Somewhere in my family, we have a history of writers. Just haven’t found those ancestors yet. But I have a passel of screenwriters, journalists and journalers in my family — story tellers all. A cousin’s daughter just won a journalism award here in Detroit, and it makes me proud.

    Some vocations and avocations are not accidents.

  5. Hi. I love to write also. I write short articles about anything that interests me, but I’ve never had this chance of writing a novel. I wish someday I could.

  6. Writing is a SKILL. Therefore it can be LEARNED by anyone, and anyone can be good at it. Writers can be MADE. However, there will always be SOME people without or with less training than the others who will find it easier to write and who can write BETTER. These writers were BORN writers. And in their case, writing is not merely a skill. It’s a TALENT. Thus, there is nor rigid answer to this question. Some writers are made while some are born. I was born. :)