If you’re not familiar with PD James (aka The Right Honorable Baroness James of Holland Park OBE), she is a British crime writer best known for her investigator Adam Dalgliesh series and her dystopian standalone, Children of Men. James published her first book at age 42, and at 93, she has just begun a new project.
Here are the Baroness’s top ten tips:
1. You must be born to write
2. Write about what you know
3. Find your own routine
4. Be aware that the business is changing
5. Read, write and don’t daydream!
6. Enjoy your own company
7. Choose a good setting
8. Never go anywhere without a notebook
9. Never talk about a book before it is finished
10. Know when to stop
Of the ten tips, I found #1 the most provocative. Here’s what James has to say about being born to write:
You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.
Nobody could make me into a musician. Somebody might be able to teach me how to play the piano reasonably well after a lot of effort, but they can’t make a musician out of me and you cannot make a writer, I do feel that very profoundly.
￼In part I agree. If there is one rule of writing that brooks no argument it is that writers must love words—both reading them and arranging them on the page. But I also believe each of us has something unique to say and a distinctive voice if we’re willing to cultivate it through hard work.
As fledgling writers we learn the technical aspects of writing, acquiring the the basic skills necessary to employ words in a way that will engage readers and express our ideas. While it’s true we can’t all be Neil Gaiman, Hemingway, or Carlos Ruiz Zafón, as I’ve said many times, they can’t be us either.
It’s also true that if you don’t love words, you’re never going to be a writer, but then why would you want to be? Maybe we can’t change what we’re born with, but I do believe we can learn to love words, and hey, that’s a damn fine start.
What are your thoughts
Are writers born or made?
Is it skill, natural talent, both?