Friday, September 21, 2007

Can Writing Be Taught?

I recently attended a conference where a number of the faculty was wont to proclaim that writing couldn’t be taught.

Which made me want to stop and ask them what then were they doing there, not teaching us?

Frankly, I think that is poppycock. Good craft can absolutely be taught. I know because I’ve had some amazing teachers who’ve managed to drum craft concepts into my rather thick head.

While writing is an art form, it is also a craft. In fact, this is true of most creative endeavors. Most people have to labor lovingly at their craft for years and years before producing art. The key word being “lovingly” because the truth is, when done lovingly, it doesn’t much feel like labor at all.

Once craft has been mastered, it’s a matter of tweaking and experimenting to find which type of stories coaxes your voice to life on the page. Which magical combination of plot and character, setting and theme will make your craft spark and turn into art.

Can someone teach you how to jump start that sparking to life on the page? No. However, they can teach you the differences in point of view, what you gain and lose by choosing each one, what the restrictions and benefits of each choice is. They can show you different ways to plot, from highly structured plots to organic plots and how to build those from the deepest level of your character. You also be taught how to analyze your language use, look for your own rhythm, pace and flow, how to use metaphor and simile to best advantage, techniques for showing rather than telling.

In short all the tools you need to write can be taught. Just as grammar and spelling and punctuation were taught to you in elementary school.

And many, many writers started off with no spark of inherent talent. But by learning and practicing their craft, they planted a little seed, from which their talent later grew.

But as with all truly important things, you are the one that has to do the heavy lifting. Yes, others can teach you the craft and how to discipline yourself and the inner workings of publishing, but you’re the one who has to plant your butt in the chair regularly and practice, take that emotional leap and put yourself, your ideas, your fears, and your hopes for humanity on the page.

So while writing can be taught, the passion and persistence you need to pursue that dream cannot. You have to find that on your own.

2 comments:

Glee said...

Robin, I think the craft can be taught. And perhaps that may include structures that work, something about form, etc. What is much harder is helping one discover what the story is. I appreciate those of you who can find that -- I am a good expository writer but lack the sort of imagination that would make it possible for me to write fiction. I expect there are others like me. The key for people teaching fiction writing would be to discover the story tellers and free them to tell their stories.

/g

Robin L said...

Glee, you make an excellent point! And it's one I tend to forget because I have so many stories crowding my head I forget that some people have the drive to write but are lacking story ideas or are having a hard time discovering their story ideas. I'll keep that in mind for my next workshop!