Friday, September 18, 2009

Rerun: Can Writing Be Taught

I think I may be suffering from just the teensiest bit of burn out, so today I'm going to post a rerun from the archives and wish you all a great weekend and with LOTS of writing time tucked in there somewhere!

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.


jaecy bells said...

WHOA. I got the link to your blog from Lexi's blog, Happy Happy. I read your post, and I'm not positive I agree. I think that some writers can just WRITE, and they feel like they just need to tell the stories. They have no choice. The stories need to get out, type thing.

Plus, then I saw the books at the side, and I have read them! Ha! That's sweet. I read "Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos". I'm not really a fantasty reader, but I loved that book! Egyptian stuff is really interesting!

Robin L said...

Welcome, jckandy! So glad you liked Theodosia!

And actually, we totally agree on that: some people can just write. Absolutely. I was talking more about people who aren't born that way--I do truly believe they can learn over time.

What is harder to learn or acquire is that burning passion to tell stories.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I keep forgetting that craft (at least) can absolutely be taught. So can some of the other less tangential things, like where to get ideas, how to keep going when the writing flags, what good writing actually is. . . And so much more.

Stella said...

Good post! Yes, of course you can teach a person how to craft a story. Some people also believe that you're either born with artistic talent or you aren't. Truth is, drawing and painting are also crafts, skills to be honed and practiced, like writing or cooking or skiing. Yes, some - a scant few - are born with innate talent that needs little coaching, but most of us need a good teacher to bring out our best.