Are Writers Made Or Born?

Earl StaggsEarl Staggs earned a long list of Five Star reviews for his novels Memory of a Murder and  Justified Action and has twice received a Derringer Award for Best Short Story of the Year.  He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine, as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, is a contributing blog member of Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery and a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars.  Email: Website:

Visit my homesite at where you can:

. . .read Chapter 1 of JUSTIFIED ACTION

. . .read Chapter 1 of MEMORY OF A MURDER

. . .read “The Day I Almost Became a Great Writer,” a short story some say is the funniest one I’ve ever written,

and more.

Remember those “Paint by Numbers” kits from years ago? Anyone could pick up a brush, put the right color in the right little space, and produce something called a painting. But would it be a true work of art? Not likely.

It’s the same with writing.  Anyone can learn the basic mechanics of the writing craft and string words together to tell a story.  But does that mean they can become great writers?  Not likely.

Many wannabe writers learn the basics and, more or less, write by the numbers. They may take one writing class after another, try one genre after another, one formula after another, but never reach a point where they can produce truly great writing.

RescueWhy is that?

Spencer Tracy, legendary actor with a wry sense of humor, used to say when asked how to be an actor, “Learn your lines. When the director yells ‘Action,’ say them, and don’t bump into the furniture.”

Anyone can do that and be an actor.  And let’s be honest. Many of the people we see on the screen act by the numbers. There’s no mistaking, however, those actors with genuine and immense talent. Once in a great while, for example, a Meryl Streep comes along.

For her, the furniture moves out of the way.

I think it’s the same with writing. Anyone can learn what it takes be a writer. But for your words to impact readers with feelings and emotions exactly as you intended, to carry readers vicariously from wherever they are to a place you created for them, to make them care about your characters as if they were real and intimate friends, you have to have a special something.

Justified ActionThis is not to say, however, that writers with less than great talent cannot be successful.  There are many examples of average writers coming up with a terrific story which appealed to and interested a great number of readers.  Result:  many books sold.  Those books and those writers can become faint memories when their few days on the bestseller list come to an end.

A book from a great writer, on the other hand, will stay on the shelves to be remembered and reread through the years and become a classic.  When truly gifted writers sit down to write, the best words, characters and plots come calling.

And no one bumps into the furniture.

Call it a gift.  You have to be born with it.  It comes in your DNA, and you either have it or you don’t.

That’s only my opinion, of course, and occasionally I’m reminded that the rest of the world ***gasp*** doesn’t always agree with me.  What’s your opinion?