Are Writers Born Or Made?

baby-boy-206x240You’ve probably heard the sad news that novelist P D James died today. She was still writing detective novels – at 94 – which is no mean achievement but what I like most about her, is that she didn’t publish her first novel until she was 42. (Ahem, there’s still time for me, then..).

Here are her top ten tips for writing a novel.

It’s interesting what she says about writers being born and not made. (“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.”). What d’you think about that? I have to agree. Although I do think it’s possible to improve someone’s writing, through tips and practice (otherwise, what would be the point of the classes I teach?), to a certain extent, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.

Years ago, when I lived in Birmingham and went to loads of writer-ly events (ah, bliss), I went to see P D James interviewed one evening.

At the end of the night, questions were invited from the audience and a girl sitting near my friend and me, at the back of the hall, put her hand up and asked Phyllis about her latest novel.

The questions started going down a rather strange track. The girl wanted to know about Phyllis’ experience with a sub-editor. How had she found her? After a bit of prompting, Phyllis agreed that it hadn’t, perhaps, been the best relationship and that the sub-editor had taken liberties with her latest novel, wanting to change things that she, as the author, hadn’t agreed with.

And then, in a dramatic moment that was worthy of a crime novel itself, the girl announced (she might even have stood up at this point), “I WAS THAT SUB-EDITOR!”

Ooh, handbags at dawn. I can’t really remember what happened after that (apart from horrified gasps, a lot of nervous giggling and general embarrassment) but I suppose, if it had really been a crime novel, the affronted sub-editor would probably have started waving a gun around.

Anyway, for that memorable experience and for her novels – in particular, The Children of Men, which I loved, I’m raising my glass of Pinot Grigio to P D James tonight.

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14 Responses to Are Writers Born Or Made?

  1. Downith says:

    Oh my gosh what a story! And yes PD James is an inspiration.

    On another note I read your Cake Baby story and loved it !

  2. P. Douglas Hammond says:

    Being able to write and having a care for words is still not enough, if you want to make it as a writer – or even just get something published. Like any other worthwhile occupation there many hoops and challenges ahead, and just being able to craft a good story won’t get you very far on its own. Mind you, PD James was no ordinary person.

  3. Linda says:

    Great post. Great PD James tips. Can you tweet the link if you haven’t already? Linda

    Sent from my iPad


  4. Nicola says:

    A passing is always sad and thought provoking but isn’t it lovely that we are still able to enjoy her work – for many years to come.

  5. philippabowe says:

    A sad moment, but what an inspiration – particularly the late starter aspect for some of us! I agree that you are probably born with the desire to write in your creative make-up, and that a writer cannot be ‘fabricated’, but giving that inner writer concrete form does not always happen, or may take a very long time, and of course is not always crowned with publication – which will not stop a writer writing. Thanks for the dramatic tale – I can’t imagine how she must have reacted! I will raise my glass of Friday night Blanc de Blancs to her!

  6. It’s sad to hear about her passing, but in general, I agree with her comments. You do need to work hard for success, no matter how talented you are!

  7. juliathorley says:

    Sad that she has gone, but what a life she had and what a legacy she leaves (though I STILL don’t like ‘Death Comes To Pemberley’!).

  8. Linda says:

    Love the PD James story – it could have come straight from one of her novels.
    I think a writer needs to be a reader first. For many years, I read everything I could from comics to the classics, but it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I wondered if I could write a story that someone else might want to read. I knew nothing about publishing – I didn’t even know that an unknown writer was ALLOWED to send a story to a magazine editor! – so finding a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook in the library was a wonderful revelation. After that, it was a matter of try, try, and try again. Publication is an encouraging bonus, but It’s not the only reason I keep writing. I’m so addicted to it now that I don’t think I could give it up. I’m hoping I’ll still be writing at 94. I might even get a novel published by then!

  9. Patsy says:

    I think she’s right – if a person doesn’t care for words they wouldn’t have sufficient interest to rewrite and work on their book until it was worth reading.

  10. Wendy Clarke says:

    What a fabulous story! Like you, though, I hated ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’.

  11. Helen Jinks says:

    I do believe that, to a certain extent, writers are born not made. A love of the music of words is necessary to be a writer.

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