Storytelling: A Genetic Code or An Environmental Influence?

It's the chicken or the egg conundrum. Which came first?

Writers are storytellers. We dig inside our noggins like magicians about to pull a rabbit out of his hat. From words, we create people and fantastical worlds. It is magic.

I get it. We were the kids who played with imaginary friends. The ones with the faraway look in their eyes. We are those who sit in a library corner surrounded by books, unmindful of time and people passing us by.

My question is this: Is storytelling part of our genetic makeup, or were we influenced by our environment--our upbringing, lifestyle, our introduction to the world of books? I'm assuming here that most writers are readers. We deign to write because we have enjoyed reading, and we wish to tell the story we want to hear the most. Am I not too far from the truth?

My daughter is an exceptional character. She is smart, well-behaved, and very, very sweet. She's also an artist (which is a talent that runs in the family--my Dad is an amazing artist. So are my siblings.) When she started preschool at the age of 4, she learned how to read and took off with it before I can say Ay caramba! (That's my contribution to Cinco de Mayo. Ha!) Now she's a first grader and has a reading level equivalent of a third grader (her teacher tells me she has trouble finding my kid a reading group at school).

Lately she's been saying she wants to be an Author and an Illustrator when she grows up--along with being a ballerina dancer, an artist/painter, and an actress. *grins* She is fond of writing down stories (I've kept the ones she made when she was only five--they were mostly about mermaids and princesses.) For a school project, she made a story about Bronson, a little mouse guy. Check out her cover art:

I am excited to read the story, but I can't see it til the end of the school year. Her teacher is typing up the story and turning it into a book.

So I ask you again: Genetics or Environmental? Or both?

What do you think?


Scott Niven said...

I've got a 10 year old son, and I'll never get over the thrill I feel when he shows me some of his artwork or writing. Not sure if there's anything that can compare to that. I've got his artwork all over my office, so if I'm having an especially bad or stressful day, I can look at his art and go to my happy place!

Bethany C. said...

Bronson the spectacled mouse. That's a book right there!

I contend it's both. We're born with the inclination, but if it's not nurtured--it hibernates until someone wrangles it out of us later in life.

Anonymous said...

I have at least one writer in my family, on my dad's side. But I have also love books and stories since I was small, taught myself to read at 4 years old (with help from my mom of course), and knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of 14. Did it come from genetics, or from a stay at home mom who read to me every day until I learned to read to myself? Probably both. I think everything is a mixture of nature and nurture.

cherie said...

I thank you for your great comments. I do agree that it's both--I certainly believe my daughter's love of reading came from within, and I only helped her along the way by stoking her fire, so to speak. My boy on the other hand, is a different story. I read to them every night--the girl sits and listens quietly while the boy bounces off the walls. And I am most certain writing is not a career choice for my son. To date, he's told us he wants to be a: (1) monster, (2) a zombie, (3) an astronaut, (4) a fireman so he could blow off candles, (5) a skeleton (he is obsessed with human anatomy books; don't ask me why), and (6) the very latest is to be Darth Maul from Star Wars.


T.S. Welti said...

It's probably a little bit of nature and a lot of nurture. My parents were both big readers and my father was a bit of a poet. I grew up surrounded by books at home and by teachers (mainly one teacher) who really encouraged my love of reading and writing.

Your daughter has a creative spirit that I'm sure you will nurture, as you should. I think the more advanced our society becomes, the earlier each generation of children gets a head start on discovering who they are. It's beautiful that your daughter has artistic inclinations (my daughter gravitated toward music), and it's even more beautiful that you accept and encourage those inclinations.

cherie said...

When I was growing up there wasn't a library nearby. I devoured my textbooks way before the school year started, and ended up reading the encyclopedias and science books my mom used to sell. There were hardly any age-appropriate fiction books for me to peruse. So the ones that we did have at our house, I would read them repeatedly until I knew them by heart.

It wasn't until I went to high school that I discovered the classics: Homer, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Eco Umberto, Dumas, etc. I read and borrowed books until my library card was full and I had to get a new one. In one year I had 3 filled library cards.

I didn't know I was capable of writing a novel until 3-4 years ago. I wasn't always a writer. It's why I've been pleasantly surprised to find that my daughter has an inclination towards writing. Just an hour ago when we were doing a spelling test, one of the words was writing and I said I loved that word. She looked up from her paper and said, "Me too."

Myk said...

I think she fares better than me at writing. She even has a cover art already. This article has inspired me to push through with the story I've been currently working on (it's the first time too). Thank you.

Caitlin Vincent said...

I think it's a combination of both. All my siblings and I grew up with books. We devoured them (and still do, though to a lesser degree because our local library is really quite pathetic). We have our own "library" in our house - it's a whole room filled, floor to ceiling, with books. Out of the nine of us kids though, I'm the only one with any interest in writing. Two of my siblings (Robin and James) are artists, but the rest of them have no interest in the arts beyond enjoying them.

Your daugther is so CUTE! How great is it that you share a love of words?

Ashley Nixon said...

I do think both are influential. My mom wrote poetry a lot when she was younger, and my my brother and sister draw, as do I. I'm not sure where that came from...I think our grandparents drew. lol. I remember while I was growing up, I read a lot, and I was always looking for something to write. I would pull out paper and just sit there with an urge to write and not knowing what I wanted to write about. After I read the Lord of the Rings I think I found my niche (because up until then I read YA Horror haha). Very interesting to think about though!

I think it's wonderful that our daughter wants to be a writer! :) It's also great when parents support creativeness. In college, I have met tons of people who are incredibly artistically talented, but their science majors because their parents don't like it. :/ I've had friends who have been disowned by their parents (pretty much) because of it. Not cool.

Also, I have you a blog award!! :))

cherie said...

@Caitlin: Hi girl! Thanks for stopping by today. I envy your floor to ceiling library. That is so cool!

@The lovely Ashley Nixon: THANK YOU for the award! It looks yummy. I love strawberries so I'm so excited you thought of me for this one ;) I'll feature you on my Monday's post.

Re: Parents who don't support their artistic kids. >>Yes, I've heard of such things happening. For the parents, it's all about practicality. They're concerned for their kid's future and they think a career in the arts is hardly a lucrative enterprise. And in some occasions, they are right. On others, not so much. It's a matter of control--as a parent, how much control are you willing to let go? Let your kids be who they want to be. And if they fail, as long as you're there to catch them and help them get back on their feet again, it'll be alright.


Joyce Alton said...

Cherie--you've typed up another stellar post. I love your daughter's cover art. I agree with the others that it can be both inherent and developed by environment. I don't dare analyze because I grew up in a family of writers (immediate and extended) so I definitely had a lot of environment going on. I do sometimes wonder if I hadn't had all that if the inherent side of it would have kicked in as early as it did.

I guess at the bottom of it all, being a writer needs to be something you love to do no matter what brought you to it. I think you'll have an up on bonding with your little girl since you can help nurtur her interests and hone her talents.

cherie said...

Hi Joyce! Thanks for chiming in. Wow, must be fun to grow up in a family of writers. I remember my older sister writing down stories. I looked up to her so I made one too. Pure drivel of course, but we thought we were so grown up. Lol! She's a doctor now. I have two other siblings who are RNs, and one going to law school. My youngest brother is going to college this year and he's taking up Psychology. We're a family brought up in the Sciences--mostly. None of us had ever pursued an education or career in the Arts--whether Literary or Visual. Until now, I guess. ;)

I'm happy my daughter likes to write. Every once in a while she checks up on me and asks how ny story is going. I have an unfinished MG I wrote and I used to tell her the story for bedtime. It is truly a bonding experience.

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