Are good writers born or made?

I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. Aged 8, I penned my first “novel”, aided by my school-friend Sharon. It was set in “Natureland”, a lovely place with lot of ponies, and just one drawback: a hand that would sometimes emerge from the ground and drag people down below. Once it was finished, I put it in an envelope, addressed it to Puffin Books and asked Mum to send it off so they might publish it. She didn’t. Instead she kept it in a drawer for posterity. I am now seeking a new agent.

Natureland was followed by a book about teaching music in primary schools, Easy Wedding Planner about how to have a big white wedding without breaking the bank and Freedom from Loneliness, which was a mix of personal story and self-help. For a few years, I wrote three different blogs, about loneliness, dating and inspiring things, and then another book, a very honest account of my 13 years of internet dating which I hope might be published one day.

Aside from the books and blog posts, I also have dozens of notebooks filled with my scribblings. For years, I did “morning pages” after reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a book for blocked writers and artists. For me, it was a kind of therapy.

And now? I want to write a novel. How hard could it be?

Very hard, as it turns out. I had an idea for a children’s novel and another for an adult one. As usual, I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to write more, so I have started writing both.

Writing fiction is very different from writing non-fiction. With my non-fiction books, the material was there already: all I had to do was structure it into some kind of order and write clear sentences to get my meaning across to the reader. But fiction requires me to invent stuff. A whole new ballgame.

What I’m wondering is this: how much are writers blessed with natural talent (and if so, have I got any?) And how much can I learn to be a better writer?

So over the next few weeks, and perhaps months, I’m going to write about my efforts to become a better writer, review some of the courses that I’ve taken and the books that I’ve read.

Trying to learn new things at the age of 51 feels so positive. I doubt I’ll ever pen a bestseller, but I know I’ll have a good time trying.


  1. You can definitely learn a lot; good grammar, including the difference between fiction and non-fiction grammar, punctuation (but you know that already), how to write dialogue that sounds natural, how to create three-dimensional characters, how to get your facts right without your research showing, the difference between show-and-tell.
    The main thing missing from this list is the imagination to come up with a plausible, gripping story (or several), and I’m not convinced you can learn that.

  2. I have to write as part of my job/study. Research papers, reports, that kind of thing. Different requirements but I do think lots of the skills can be learned and improved with practice. Sadly, I’m often reluctant to get down to the task, so if you find any silver bullets to beat procrastination, I’’m all ears!

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