Where’d that Creativity Come From?


It’s not uncommon for parents to look at personality traits as they develop in their children and think, Oh, that’s just like me. So a joint study recently released by researchers from Yale and Moscow State University should not come as any great surprise: that creative parents tend to produce creative children.

Okay, it’s not a surprise. But it is a wonderful confirmation that the creativity writers pour into their work is a trait that we may have received from our parents, and will likely pass to our children.

My youngest wrote his first story at age four. He wasn’t old enough to type the words, but he dictated while I typed. Called “Forest Adventures,” this one page story was about a man who goes into the forest where all sorts of horrific things happen, including being attacked by bees, and also bears who crawl all over the man’s bus “including that part where the people go in.”

Okay, so it’s probably not going to win the Newbery, but as both a mother and an author, it gave me a slight bit of hope that maybe one day, there might be another writer in the family.

There are several examples of literary families: the Bronte sisters and the brothers Grimm are perhaps the most famous, but David Updike, the son of John Updike, is a children’s and short story author. The daughter of feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft is Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein.” Mary Higgins Clark co-wrote several books with her daughter, Carol, who has gone on to write books of her own.

The joint study analyzed the creative writing of 511 children between the ages of 8 and 17 and compared it to their parents’ writing. The themes for the writing were the same for each age group, such as “were I invisible” for children and “who lives and what happens on a planet called Priumliava” for adults. The stories were then rated for their originality, plot development and quality, and creative use of prior knowledge. Factors such as general intelligence and the way the family interacted with each other were accounted for.

The researchers concluded what most parents have long known, that there are inheritable traits that have nothing to do with hair and eye color. They stated, “It may be worth further studies to confirm that creative writers are indeed born, as well as made.”

So how does this affect us as writers? Well, for those who are also parents, this is a reminder that the work we do is not solely for the story, or for our readers. Exploring our own creative instincts becomes a role model for our children, who, research shows, may have those same instincts. Let your children see you create so that one day they will create for themselves. And what parent would not be thrilled about that?


Jennifer Nielsen
  1. Great post. It is true, we look for our kids to inherit athletic ability, but I have always assumed writing is more of a learned trait, but my husband and I both enjoy writing, and so do our children.

  2. What a fun post! I’m not surprised that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!

  3. Grandmothers can be role-models for our grandkids, too–it makes for fun going into yet another generation!

  4. Oh so true. I write for children. My daughter has released her first adult novel Girl Under Glass that is garnering four and five star reviews on Amazon. I knew she was a writer long before she did. I couldn’t be prouder.

    • @Judy Enderle. Thanks for the shameless plug, Mom! And I’m proud to say that your 6-year-old granddaughter writes and illustrates her own books, too. The writing force is strong with this family.

  5. I’m an author and both of my teenage daughters are writers as well. My 17-year-old was even considering participating in NaNoWriMo. Of course I’m not allowed to read anything they write, but I have to admit I’ve sneaked a peek. I’m proud to say, it’s pretty good. So, maybe there will be more authors in the family some day. The funny thing is my husband is a math brainiac and so is our son. They both hate to write. Kinda weird how genes work.

  6. My mom is a writer and so is her mom. And now I am! The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! 🙂