Is Being A Writer an Inherited Trait?

The other night my brother, Jay, and I were out to dinner with his wife and another friend. Jay and I were sitting next to each other and my friend said it was funny to watch us with our synchronized big smiles, expressiveness, and gesticulating.

We were talking about writing, something neither of us do professionally. My brother is a marketing guru and I’m an engineer/computer consultant. But we’ve both adopted writing as a passion. Jay writes a marketing newsletter called Curious About Marketing on Substack explaining interesting stories about companies and their marketing to shine some light on what works. (Perhaps one day we’ll get Jay to come on here and write about why he picked Substack). And I write essays here and on my other blogs about the mysteries of life, love, and growing up.

What interests me is if any part of this passion is inherited. Our dad, a Presbyterian pastor for 40 years, wrote sermons, speeches, meditative pieces for daily reflection, and maybe even a few jokes. So I’ve chronicled some of the ways that I think we can pass down our words.

Love of Language

Both of my parents were interested in language. I’d say that I got the majority of my sense of the rules of speech from my mother, who is incredibly adept in the proper use of the English language. Any shortcomings I have in that department are because I rely on my gut instead of looking it up.

Fortunately, my mom has also influenced the next generation of our family so her grandchildren have also benefited from her expertise. If I had to pick a word for my mom, in the spirit of my language associations that I wrote about in My Love Affair With Words, I’d pick precise.

Use of Metaphor

I think it’s safe to say that my dad spent a lot of time studying parables, poems, stories, and letters. While that’s an oversimplification of what my dad gleaned from the Bible, I think at least format-wise, much of the depth came delivered in those packages. Then he was effective as a writer and speaker because he’d rewrap it and pass it on.

One of the goals at the forefront on my dad’s writing was to make things portable for others; to deliver a sermon that people could take with them into their week. Another metaphor for how writing can stick with us.

So it’s not a surprise for me that I find myself thinking in terms of metaphors. I’m not very literal in my view of life, even though as an engineer I love equations and formulas. When I think about my dad, I remember things he told me like when our vertical relationship [with God or a Higher Power] is sound, it supports all our horizontal relationships.

Search for Meaning

I can attest first hand that wisdom isn’t inherited and prove it to you with a long list of stupid stuff I’ve done. But I did inherit the desire to make meaning from my messes.

Give me anything that goes wrong in a day, like a parking spot snagged by another car, and my brain works to find the meaning – that I get to have a longer walk. This is vintage Dick Leon at play in my head.  

Any time I’m writing, I’m searching for that bigger picture meaning. It’s why writing is therapeutic for me. It’s also why I think I can only write in the morning as I explained in the When I Write post – because I can’t connect the meaning dots when I’m tired.

And my brother is searching for the meaning behind the marketing stories he unveils. It goes beyond the numbers, but digging into why a marketing strategy worked or didn’t work in order to glean what is portable to our own efforts to sell something.

Wrapping It Up

So there are my suggested ways that we pass writing on to others, delivered in three points. When my dad studied homiletics, the art of preaching, at Princeton Theological Seminary, he told me that one of the guidelines was to have three points in a sermon. I find myself doing the same thing in my writing. Endless Weekend and I were trying to figure out why three’s a magic number and one of the explanations that I found was that three is the smallest number that you can have to make a pattern. It’s also a number that is portable.

Of course, this is all anecdotal – which feels like the perfect kind of evidence for a post about whether writing is inheritable. There is one thing I’m pretty certain of though – we all benefit from knowing or being related to a good communicator, one who regularly puts it all out there!

I’d love for you to check out and follow my latest project – The Heart of the Matter. It’s a blog of fantastic writers and thinkers delving into what matters in life (and also what doesn’t). You can find it at https://sharingtheheartofthematter.com

For most posts like this – a little story-telling mixed with philosophy, please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com You can also by my book about my father on Amazon: Finding My Father’s Faith

And if you want to follow me, you can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

(featured photo from Pexels)


31 thoughts on “Is Being A Writer an Inherited Trait?

  1. Are writing skills inherited? Perhaps, but I subscribe to the thought that we are all inherently creative, to one degree or another, and we can develop the skill sets. With practice we may even become good at it!

    Most humans feel a need to communicate, and writing is an offshoot of that. Not everyone is a good writer, for various reasons: they may not have spent enough time developing the skill set, they may be trying to use a voice that isn’t theirs but a copy of someone else, they may also be trying to write in a genre that isn’t suited to them or their target audience, or they simply can’t slow their thoughts enough to fully capture the essence of what they wish to express and so it comes out too brief or choppy.

    Writing also requires an ability to be real and vulnerable, in order to write in a way that speaks a personal truth. That’s scary for many people. My mother deeply desired to write about her life experiences as a child in London during the Blitz, but she wasn’t able to write honestly about herself, so she ended up plagarizing someone else’s book, feeling if she changed a few words around that it would be okay since she had lived through similar experiences. She made a couple of other attempts, never finding her real voice in spite of having great material.

    Also, since writing is a subset of creativity, their creative strengths may lie in other creative pursuits!

    1. Excellent points, Tamara. So interesting about your mom’s attempt at writing. Vulnerability is so hard! But I agree that we all have creativity to mine in one way or another!

  2. Like any skill, some people have a natural tendency to excel in said craft.
    One a side thought, I wonder if people with the gift of gab are inherently good writers.

  3. My thought moved to the inherited part of the question, not what is inherited. We all inherit what our parents, or those who raise us, “do” while we are learning more direct and express teaching they do for us. We all read their body language as they ponder their life in process while we are present.
    Being raised by a preacher gives you and your brother an appreciation of those in the congregation!

    1. I like this line of thought: what traits are more influenced by nature vs. nurture? I recently read in Don’t Trust Your Gut that some sports, like basketball are heavily influenced by genetics, so if one sibling is a basketball player, there’s a much higher chance another sibling will be a basketball player than say, for wrestling.

      As for writing… it’s a great question: I know Stephen King’s son is a successful writer, maybe not to the degree Stephen King is, nut how many are? 😁 Is it because the son inherited it? Is it because he grew up in a house dominated by writing? I know I inherited my love for reading from my parents. Is that genetic or is it because they read to me as a child and the house was filled with books?

      As for wisdom, I would say, Wynne, that your learning from mistakes and leveraging that learning IS a badge of wisdom 🥰 How can one learn without making mistakes? The biggest mistake would be to hide under the (metaphorical 🙃) bed, too afraid to make mistakes or to learn from them.

      1. I love that you’ve generously let me earn the badge of wisdom, EW. And that you’ve given me the example of Stephen King. How interesting, as always. I suppose there’s also the distinction in whether someone is as successful in marketing their writing.

        But you brought up another great question – does inheritance mean both nature and nurture?

        I love that you inherited a love for reading. Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful comment, as always, my friend!

    2. What a good point about our practice of being an audience. That’s true! And you are so right about learning from what our role models do. We pick up all sorts of things, intended or not, that way, yes?

  4. I love this, “the desire to make meaning from my messes.” Yes, yes, yes!

    As to whether the passion for writing is inherited or not, I’m not sure, but the writing skills certainly seem to be. Or at least it is when it comes to you and Jay. I checked out his newsletter recently and had to smile, because his writing reminded me of yours.

    Thank you for another wonderful post, Wynne! Lots of wisdom here to mull over and digest. ❤️

    1. I love that you found similarity in our writing. You should see us when we’re together – especially after a glass of wine. We think we’re hilarious!

      Thanks for the lovely comment my dear friend!!

  5. I think that writing is not an inherited trait but it’s the environment you live that makes the difference. For instance the fact that your parents were interested in language helped you developing a kind of the same interest. The same is for your brother. Also school and friends may influence you somehow. But you have to be interested in the first place. Intriguing post Wynne!

    1. Environment- that’s a great way to put it, Cristiana! And maybe a little but of willingness to be vulnerable along with the interest? Thanks for the great comment!

  6. If its inherited I’m not sure who I got it from. My mum was more or less illiterate, although she was more creative in other ways – drawing, she was a French polisher to trade. My dad was an marine engineer and I don’t think I ever saw him really write anything. My sister doesn’t write – she barely communicates – she’ll call and then go silent. My brother, I’m not sure about either. I don’t know where my love of writing and reading came from, but its been part of me as long as I can remember

  7. I write mostly to sort out my own thoughts. Writing provides me clarity and an entry point to my day, from which I find it easier to navigate the landscape of my own mind and the world around me.

    My dad has never been a writer. It is painstaking for him. I don’t know enough about my mother to establish if she might’ve been a writer or not. I tend to think maybe she passed some linguistic aptitude down to me, as I’m told she was a wonderful singer, and song is also a passion of mine. So…I’d say it’s a hard maybe..?

    1. What a beautiful sentence, “Writing provides me clarity and an entry point to my day, from which I find it easier to navigate the landscape of my own mind and the world around me.” Well, wherever it comes from for you, David, I love the picture you painted! And I agree, once I’ve sorted out my thoughts, it does become easier to navigate the world around! Thanks for the great comment!

  8. Great question, Wynne. For some I think writing is inherited. Although neither of my parents were writers, they developed a love of books and literature for me from an early age. My dad would always read to me at bedtime and my mam would take me to the local library, weekly, to get new books. Without that nurturing I don’t know if I would be in the same place in terms of my writing. It would be an interesting research project to see when and how writers established their writing habits, and where their motivations came from.

  9. Nope. The biological family I knew had about as much imagination as a decomposing fence post, and ragged on me for wasting time every time they caught me doing anything remotely creative. My passion for writing came from reading the works of men and women I never met other than through their words. If writing is inherited, then I was adopted!

  10. My brilliant grandfather and equally brilliant cousin, my daughter, a granddaughter and I all write—some professionally, some for fun, some for business, or some because we get suckered into it, but I’m not sure that any of us got it from “book learnin”. So yes, maybe there is a tendency toward an inherited trait, who’s to say? All’s I know is that the grandfather and cousin got the serious brains in the family. The rest of us just sort of lob along happy to make do with what’s left.

    1. Ha, ha, ha – I love how your writing is always peppered with your wit and wisdom! It seems like family can be one place we pick it up – at least by seeing others who successfully do it, if we have people like that in our families. Whatever it is, you are a serious source of inspiration for sure, Julia!

  11. The way you have described it, i.e., lover of language, user of metaphors, and searching for meaning, would indicate a/my predisposition toward writing. But it can also indicate a predisposition toward speaking and being a people-person in general. I, like you, see people in my life that helped influence those traits, such as my grandfather. I was, for a time, a Baptist preacher and attended seminary. What I found fascinating was not necessarily writing sermons, but talking to people, relating to them and hearing their stories. I think that may be an additional trait of being a writer: telling stories. Great post and thought-provoking, Wynne.

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