Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Is writing talent genetic?

Author Topic: Is writing talent genetic?
Member # 2729

 - posted      Profile for Shawshank   Email Shawshank         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Do some of you think that writing talent (meaning of course- natural talent- which can easily surprassed by good crafting of the.. craft) is passed down?

The reason I ask is because it seems like in my family- everyone's a good natural writer. Grandfather's a poet- uncle's a writer, and all my aunt's and stuff are just good writers who never refined their craft- but can pack an emotional punch (probably not with fiction- but with letters and stuff) and I know this also happens a lot of times- do you sometimes think that that's even possible?

And no I'm not suggesting there is a gene for good writing- I just meant something that could be passed down in a family like an heirloom.

Posts: 23 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2703

 - posted      Profile for Chessna           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It's possible. All my siblings have been complimented by teachers in their writing back when they were in elementary school.

My great-grandmother was a great singer, and my mom says that I could be a good singer too. My mom was a natural pianist, and we all play the piano and some of us even more instruments. If these things can be passed down, I suppose writing can too.

Posts: 32 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2745

 - posted      Profile for Carlene   Email Carlene         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think they can be passed down, through the environment that the family shapes for the child. For example, Chessna mentioned that her mother and grandmother were both musically inclined. There can be some hereditary component to musical ability, but it's likely that a child growing up in such a family would have lots of early exposure to music, and lots of encouragement as well. I think the case is easily made for writing, reading, and other activities.
Posts: 32 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2147

 - posted      Profile for Jeraliey   Email Jeraliey         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I don't believe in talent.
Posts: 1041 | Registered: Aug 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2267

 - posted      Profile for wbriggs   Email wbriggs         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
... and I don't think it's inheritable, beyond the bare bones (working brain and eyes, etc.). But that's not really a writing question, but a science question.
Posts: 2830 | Registered: Dec 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2192

 - posted      Profile for Beth   Email Beth         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 

What difference does it make if you have talent, or whether it was inherited or not? You still need to sit down and do the work, and that's the hardest part.

Posts: 1750 | Registered: Oct 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2442

 - posted      Profile for Elan           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I don't think talent is generic, although being raised in an atmosphere that nurtures and supports artistic development tends to affect all siblings. My family is talented, but I am the only fiction writer. My dad did woodworking as a hobby, my brother gives speeches in Toastmasters, my mom is a quilter, my sister collects antiques.

I am glad writing is MY hobby, not that of my whole family. What a burden to be the child or sibling of a successful author; you would always be comparing yourself to them.

Posts: 2026 | Registered: Mar 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1680

 - posted      Profile for MaryRobinette   Email MaryRobinette         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I don't think talent is generic,

Elan, I totally agree. I think everyone's talent is fairly specific.

Posts: 2022 | Registered: Jul 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2719

 - posted      Profile for Miriel   Email Miriel         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
You said your aunts write very good letters, but never refined their craft. I assume they write letters with some frequency? Practice is the best way to become a better writer. After so many letter, you just get better at it.

No, I don't believe talent is inherited genetically. I believe in hard work. In my family, just about everyone is really good at math, but it's not genetic. You just grow up understand that math is awesome, and if you suck at it, your siblings are going to make fun of you. So we can all do calculus without breaking a sweat. It came to some easier than others, but we're all good at it now.

Posts: 189 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1214

 - posted      Profile for rickfisher   Email rickfisher         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Intelligence is at least partly genetic. There are different sorts of intelligence, and some of them would be more relevant for writing than others. But talent? Without the necessary brain capacity, you'll have trouble developing the talent, but I wouldn't say the talent itself is inherited. Maybe if we define "talent" clearly enough, someone will do a study on it.
Posts: 932 | Registered: Jul 2001  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
My dad barely passed algebra, and my mother has one of her kids balance her checkbook, but I earned a bachelor's in math education with a physics minor and a master's in mechanical engineering.

My mother's father was quite good at things mathematical, but he's the only close relative I might have inherited math talent from.


I believe in talent, but I think all the talent in the world is not going to make a difference if you don't enjoy something and if you aren't willing to work at it.

Posts: 8634 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2733

 - posted      Profile for dee_boncci   Email dee_boncci         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think that if you define talent as an inherent ability then you almost have to say it is programmed into your genes or DNA or whatever.

However, talent is just a starting point. Writing is a skill, and most of the skill one develops is due to work and practice rather than some predisposition. Someone with more inherent talent might learn faster, and arguably could reach a higher level of achievement given an equal amount of work, but I believe hard work will swamp talent levels at the end of the day.

Environment is also important because that is where I believe the desire to write comes from. I can't see someone with lots of writing talent who never spent time reading turning into much of a writer.

So to answer the question that seems to be lurking behind the original question, I believe someone can learn to be a capable writer through hard work and lots of practice (otherwise there ain't much hope for me). I think talent is a continuum, nobody has none at all. Lesser degrees of talent is not an excuse, just something most of us have to overcome through stubbornness.

Posts: 612 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2083

 - posted      Profile for Robyn_Hood   Email Robyn_Hood         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There have been studies done that look at why certain people have a propensity for certain activities.

Right-brained, left-brained. Big brain, small brain. Neurotransmitter levels. Environment, genetics.

Every so often you hear about these kinds of things. A scientific explaination of creative talent -- the quest to know "Why".

I guess I believe in it to a degree. After enrolling in journalism, I discovered that one of my relatives (great-grandfather or great uncle or something) was a journalist around the turn of the century. Aside from that I know of no other authors on either side of the family. However, my mom's family are all very musical and my dad's family are a bit artistic (woodworking, photography, graphic design).

How much of it is environmental conditioning and how much of it might be genetics...who's to say? But if athletic talent and physical abilities can be affected by genetics, then why not things related to brain function and creativity?

Posts: 1473 | Registered: Jul 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2145

 - posted      Profile for hoptoad   Email hoptoad         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
On Mum's side I'm related to Rudyard Kipling and Dad's side Robert Louis Stevenson... I don't know about the genetic thing but one can only hope.

The word 'talent' smacks of value judgement from the start.

Your kids tend to notice what YOU value, even if you can't do it yourself, they see that YOU think it is important.

Therefore kids often excel at things their parent's value.
It takes a particular type of genius and self-confidence to recognise the patterns that exist within families, (which can be powerful for good OR evil), to choose the ones you wish to perpetuate and to disrupt those cycles you wish to end.

I don't believe that anyone is born without natural tendencies, but development of them is often dependent on what we are taught to value.

SHAWSHANK: In your family, clearly, writing was emphasised and there was a good deal of satisfcation/pride associated with it. There was also probably an emphasis on conversation/discussion and reading. Whether or not they REALLY were active conversationalists and readers is immaterial. The 'internal image' is set and is part of a cycle. This may be way off the mark but serves as an example.

In Henri Toulouse Lautrec's family there was a good deal of emphasis placed upon painting and drawing. But equally there was emphasis placed on horses, hunting and womanising. No one particularly excelled at any of them, not until circumstance intervened and Toulouse could not ride the horses, womanise or go hunting like his dad.

Painting became his focus and therefore his talent.

Many talents lay dormant, like a leaf bud half-way down the stem, waiting for the rest of the twig to snap off and give THEM a chance to grow.

As Kathleen said, it is focus and hard work that counts.

That is all.

A person may be full of natural flair but without focus and hard work it remains in its raw, natural state; wild and unproductive. The whole artististic temperament thing, where one has an unerring belief in their own artistic ability but not the productivity to match, is a tension that results in angsty self-torture.

The fact remains, we see what we look at. When we excel at something we tend to enjoy it. Another self-affirming cycle.

Choose your focus and you choose your talent.


/end rant/

[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited August 08, 2005).]

Posts: 1683 | Registered: Aug 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2729

 - posted      Profile for Shawshank   Email Shawshank         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'd definitely agree with everyone about the hard work- I never said it didn't.

I do agree with hoptoad- about that among family members it's just based off preconcieved notions of what we're good at and what we value. It's all environmental.

I was just curious to know what everyone had thought.

Posts: 23 | Registered: Jul 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1950

 - posted      Profile for NewsBys   Email NewsBys         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think I developed my artistic "talent" as a result of the praise I received for it as a child.
In early childhood, my parents praised my painting and drawing "flair", so I worked hard at it to get more praise. Then it became second nature.

I was also praised for developing my reading skills and was encouraged to write stories as well. Actually, I think my dad got tired of answering questions like. "Hey Dad, what do you think would happen if..." He normally would say something like, "I don't know, but it would make a good story. Why don't you go write it."

But having said this, I have to wonder about the mysteries of "flair" or "talent". It's strange that some of my first artistic attempts were drawing on the wall of my playroom (age 2). Now, I've painted over 10 murals.

Posts: 579 | Registered: Mar 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1681

 - posted      Profile for EricJamesStone   Email EricJamesStone         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Of course there's a genetic component to a talent for writing -- or a talent for just about anything.

Yes, environment is an influence on talents as well, but environment cannot account for all of it.

Posts: 1517 | Registered: Jul 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Pyre Dynasty
Member # 1947

 - posted      Profile for Pyre Dynasty   Email Pyre Dynasty         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Everyone in my immediate family is a creative in some way or another,(But Of course I belive that all people are) But I'm the only writer. If you look at my extended family and take it out a few steps there are quite a few writers.
Posts: 1895 | Registered: Mar 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1343

 - posted      Profile for JOHN           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I wouldn't say it's exclusively genetic, my sister can't write herself out of a paper bag.

I think there's something to be said for natural talent, and just how you were raised, and what you're drawn to.

I was always a big sci-fi/comic book guy growing up which helped in the imagination department. I was read to a lot as a child (more than my sister actually) and read a lot once I was able to do so on my own. Also, I'm left handed, using the right side of my brain, so that's a benefit too.

It's a combonation of things.


Posts: 401 | Registered: Jan 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 213

 - posted      Profile for Survivor   Email Survivor         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Your sister is also, well, your sister, rather than your brother.

Which is just to say, just because a trait does happen to be genetic, that doesn't mean you'll share it with everyone in your family.

Almost all writers are related to other writers. In fact, nearly all writers on this planet seem to belong to just one species (which is discouraging to me, but I'll...get over it ).

So, I'd say there's a very strong genetic component somewhere in there. But I believe that genetics aren't everything.

Posts: 8322 | Registered: Aug 1999  | Report this post to a Moderator
franc li
Member # 3850

 - posted      Profile for franc li   Email franc li         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I was first inspired to write by this guy who wasn't related to me.

I think writing talent is inherited... but is probably only somewhat genetic. It's largely cultural in the scope of a family. Mainly, if your parents are basket cases you have an endless source of material. Or if they make you seek the refuge of the imaginary universes inside your head, that can also help.

I love my parents, but life with them was a veritable laboratory of human nature.

Posts: 366 | Registered: Sep 2006  | Report this post to a Moderator
Lullaby Lady
Member # 1840

 - posted      Profile for Lullaby Lady   Email Lullaby Lady         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
As a mother of seven, I can testify to the fact that babies come as a complete package. It's my job to just stay out of the way and let them be who they were born to be.

I also realize that I can influence them, and nurture those talents I value, but in the end, they decide who they are and what they want to do with their lives.

My story is similar to Kathleen's. Neither of my parents can really sing. However, I started putting on productions in my parents' living room at the ripe old age of three. I had to beg and nag them to get singing teachers.

I have some children in whom I can recognize a propensity for music. But there's a few around here I'm still trying to understand. One daughter is crazy about learning to cook, but let's just say I'm not the best example to her...

Talent DOES exist in its rawest form. But environment CAN have a great influence, as well. To dismiss one or the other seems odd to me.


Posts: 212 | Registered: Dec 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2083

 - posted      Profile for Robyn_Hood   Email Robyn_Hood         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I was going to start a thread a while ago to discuss talent and think it might fit well here:

Why does society have the attitude that talent in the arts is basically all you need to succeed?

For example, In order to become a famous singer, actor, model, writer, etc., you either have it or you don't. You will either have your talent recognised and become famous, or you won't. But if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, techy, etc. you have to go to school and learn how.

I know that a lot of us who are here, are here to learn from each other so that we can succeed, but I think society still has the attitude that either you are born with it and will succeed, or you won't.

At a cocktail party, a famous writer (possibly George Bernard Shaw) was told by a famous surgeon, "When I retire, I plan to write a novel." Said the author, "When I retire, I plan to operate on people."

Posted By Troy, http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/forum/Forum1/HTML/002217.html


Posts: 1473 | Registered: Jul 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1343

 - posted      Profile for JOHN           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I also agree, as far as it involves me and my development as a writer, with some of author Jennifer Weiner’s (she’s a guilty pleasure---don’t judge me) tongue-in-cheek steps to becoming a writer. Especially since a lot of them apply to me...
1. The Unhappy Childhood
The big joke in the publishing community is that smart editors shouldn't waste their time at lunches or conferences, but should instead proceed directly to the local elementary schools. There, they will carefully note the boys picked last in gym class, the girls sitting alone in the cafeteria - all of the outcasts, misfits, geeks, dweebs and weirdos - and give them some kind of small identifying tag (much like wildlife services will tag animals to follow their progress through the years). Twenty years later, the editors should track down the kids they've tagged, now hopefully grown to more successful adulthood, and say, "Okay, where's the book?" ...

2. The Miserable Love Life
Again, a crucial ingredient for the formation of a novelist - romantic humiliation and heartbreak. The unhappy childhood gives you the tools of observation. Unrequited crushes, romantic despair, a few memorable break-ups, will give you something to write about, an understanding of grief. No prospect of heartbreak in sight? I can provide phone numbers upon request...


My point, I don’t think you can point ONLY to genetics. And while I’m not trying to refute modern scientific discoveries or research, it seems like EVERYTHING is being chalked up to genetics these days.

Posts: 401 | Registered: Jan 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1906

 - posted      Profile for rjzeller   Email rjzeller         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm with EJS here -- I think there definitely is such thing as Talent. I DO believe those of us who lack talent can still earn the skill, but it will require much more work and will take much longer to master. And ultimately, if they who are talented work as hard as we who are not, then they who are will ultimately pen the bestsellers whilst the rest of us wallow in anonymity.

I think Steven King and J.K. Rowling clearly have talent.

I DO believe, however, that without the effort or work or desire, talent is worthless.


Posts: 207 | Registered: Jan 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2802

 - posted      Profile for Thunderduck   Email Thunderduck         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Of course genetics play heavy in ones ability to write.Doesn't matter how many schools one attends, or how many others they study. If your not born with the gift of seeing into others minds and feelings you can never be a good writer. Just about every profession from films to books shows a definate family trait, and genetic hand me downs. To be called a writer, poet, or any other such title is never a crown one can place upon ones self. It's up to those who read and truly enjoy their work to bestow that royalty upon them. If your family tree bares the fruit of writers, then bet your life it's inside of you too.
Posts: 26 | Registered: Aug 2005  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 1944

 - posted      Profile for Inkwell   Email Inkwell         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think that basic constructive elements of writing (intelligence, curiosity, dedication, empathy, etc.) might be passed down through genetics as traits of character or personality. However, they must be molded in the proper environment to take root and grow into what we would consider 'natural' talent. I think 'natural' talent is a near-perfect fusion of favorable inherited traits and the proper developmental atmosphere.

For instance, my mother read to me at such an early age that I could not have possibly understood her. However, I later grew up with a voracious thirst for reading (and, subsequently, writing). When she had my sister and brother, her hands were so full of dealing with us that she had far less time to read to them. They do not enjoy reading...at all. This says something to me, even though it is only one case. Then again, I have a grandfather (on my mother's side) who also likes to read. So there could be genetic residue at work also. Who really knows? Until we further unravel the mysteries of DNA we cannot be certain.

"The difference between a writer and someone who says they want to write is merely the width of a postage stamp."

Posts: 366 | Registered: Mar 2004  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 213

 - posted      Profile for Survivor   Email Survivor         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Too many people seem to think that the ability to write well is some kind of mysterious gift. It isn't.

In my own case, there is no chance that I would have become a writer before the popularization of the personal computer with a keyboard interface. Why? Because it is physically difficult for me to communicate using handwriting. And that's purely a question of genetics (something like that can be caused by injury to the arms or nervous system, but in my case it's genetic).

Sure, that's a crude example, but it happens to be a factual one. When you get down to brass tacks, most of the specific factors that go into making up "writing talent" are strongly influenced by genetics. Environment/nurture can limit those factors, but it can improve them in only the most exceptional circumstances. To put it another way, I can devise external circumstances that will prevent any given person from ever becoming a writer/dancer/singer/whathaveyou, without fail. I cannot devise external circumstances that will make a person without the right genetics into a writer/dancer/singer/whathaveyou without basically resorting to magic.

Of course, the exceptional occurs quite often. Personal computers are exceptional, and allowed me to overcome one of several genetic barriers to my being a writer.

Besides, genetics are merely one more circumstance of a person's life. They aren't really fundamentally different from any other aspect of the "nurture" you get from your parents and environment.

Posts: 8322 | Registered: Aug 1999  | Report this post to a Moderator

Quick Reply

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins

Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:

Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2