Sunday, March 7, 2010

Can Writing Be Taught?

Over the past few years, I've read quite a few books on writing -- all of which I have found helpful. But in the back of my mind, I've wondered: can someone learn to become a writer? Or is it something that's innate inside you?

I've gone back and forth on this. I believe writing is a craft, and like any craft you can hone your skills and uncover more about its nuances. But there's also a lot of creativity irequire to develop stories and character, and I'm not sure that's something you can learn.

What do you think? Can writing be taught?


Ellen B said...

I think writing can be taught, but largely through reading.

I'm wrestling with one of the two timelines in my WIP at the moment, and I had two false starts before it began to work. I only realised they were false starts because I read a lot and, in spite of myself, I came to realise that my plan was just not going to work. It wasn't compelling, it wasn't readable.

I think the refinement of the craft of writing can definitely be taught, and I think reading teaches the rest. Maybe there is something innate, but I think enough reading can compensate for a lot!

Theresa Milstein said...

I think writing is something you need talent to do (In other words, not everyone can tell a good story). That said, without instruction about craft and conventions, it makes it that much harder. Since I only took one creative writing course in high school and one in college, I was woefully unprepared when I began writing seriously four years ago. Now that I've found sites and blogs that teach the craft of writing, along with reading books, my pieces have much improved.

Any book suggestions?

Rosalind Adam said...

I was at a writing conference yesterday where Graham Joyce gave the key note speech. He made a comment that was relevant to your blog. He said that he disagreed with those people who say that creative writing cannot be taught. He suggested that we replaced the words 'creative writing' with the word 'music' to see how nonsensical it is. You wouldn't scoff at someone going for piano lessons. Not all pianists will reach concert level but they certainly need to receive tuition. It's the same with creative writing. I've just blogged about his key note speech.

Elle said...

Personally, I think it's something that you are born with. It can be taught to an extent (in my opinion, anyway) - after all, good writing comes after years of practice. You can't pick up a pen one day and jot down a masterpiece. And you do learn a lot from reading. But writing talent is something that comes naturally.

It's the same with art - people who are amazing at art are usually naturally good, and practise and tuition just makes them even better. I'm lucky enough to be fab at art, and I was able to wow teachers and other pupils at school with a simple rough sketch. It's because I can naturally do it. I know people who have studied art and even though they are quite good and get better with the more they learn and practice, they'll just never have 'it.'

Same goes for those who excel at maths and other such subjects. Even though you can spend those learning, many people just have the talent to begin with.

So yes, I think it can be taught - but only to a certain extent. If you have talent, you have that talent anyway, and you need to hone that talent.

Maybe I'm wrong, but that's just the way I see it! :)

Susan Fields said...

I think writing requires some talent (as well as passion) that just can't be learned, but that's not enough, it requires learning and practice as well. The competition is so fierce (at least to be a published author) that just talent or learning alone is not my opinion, anyway. Interesting discussion!

Marsha Moore said...

Thanks, everyone, for your very insightful comments. It was a pleasure to read them! I'm not sure there will ever be a consensus, but I loved with Rosalind said about music. No-one takes musicians to task for having to take lessons. So why should people look down on writers who do something similar?

Thanks again!

Theresa, your question on books has inspired my post today!

Terresa said...

Yes, like any thing in life, I think it can be taught. Some people are just more gifted at it than others. Like playing the piano or tennis or singing.

Good thoughts here!

Deniz Bevan said...

I definitely think that craft can be thought. But if there's no story then all the craft in the world won't save it; how do you give someone an imagination? Of all writing advice, Diana Gabaldon's is the easiest to pass on: 1. Read. 2. Write. 3. Don't stop.

Marsha Moore said...

Terresa and Deniz, thanks so much for adding your thoughts. Love the discussion here!

Yunaleska said...

It can't be taught be se, not all of it.

There are some aspects which I believe are instinctive. Voice for one.

Some things are self-taught over time, through trial & error, many critiques etc.

So my full answer is probably a mish-mash, some things can be taught, some things can be learnt, but what these things are - well, that varies from person to person.