Can writing be taught?
Yes, but there's a price.
Here's how F. Scott Fitzgerald put it:
You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.Of course that's not to suggest we don't need to study to become better writers, or that we don't need to write, write, write and practice the craft.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile. (F. Scott Fitzgerald on the Secret of Great Writing)
For instance, no one is born with a writing 'voice'; that takes time to develop.
Lately I've written about the goal of writing: to evoke emotion in our readers, and about how we can do that, techniques we can use. And I think things like that are helpful. At least, they help me!
One of the reasons we need to read is because we need to see how others have done what we want to do, how they achieved a certain effect within us; or how they failed to do so.
Writing Can Be Taught
Recently Chuck Wendig wrote in defense of the idea that writing can be taught, and I agree. Just as math, and cooking, and skill at sports can be taught, writing can be taught. Chuck sums it up:
Writing and storytelling can be taught. If you want it bad enough, you can learn it.And I think that's the key: if you want it bad enough.
Certain things can't be taught, they must simply be done. (As Yoda might say, "Do or do not, there is no try.") But anyone can do them--writers aren't foreordained--it's just a matter of whether we will.
There is a certain kind of brutal, searing, honesty great writers have; the ability to relentlessly tunnel down within themselves to the truth--their nakedness, their pain--and wrench it up into the daylight exposing it on the page for all to see.
No wonder many artists are basket cases!
But I'm not suggesting that if this emotional exhibitionism isn't present in your work then you're not now, nor will you ever be, a great writer. Far from it.
As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to Frances Turnbull, there is a price of admission.
You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner.It's up to each of us, every time we sit down to write, to decide whether we're going to pay the price.
If you haven't read F. Scott Fitzgerald's letter to Frances Turnbull, I highly recommend it. Also, Chuck Wendig's short rant on the "You can't teach writing meme," is well worth the read.
What do you think? Can writing be taught?
Other articles you might like:- Using Public Domain Characters In Your Stories
- Link Mashup: The Million Follower Fallacy, Showing Not Telling, Goals Not Dreams
- Connect With Readers' Emotions: How To Make People Cry
Photo credit: "Alone" by Bhumika.B under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.