Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Teaching the Craft of Writing

My creative writing professor has brought to my attention this New Yorker article.  I haven't read it yet, but the gist is the argument of whether or not creative writing can be taught.  

Obviously, I have to believe at some level, writing can be taught, otherwise I wouldn't be taking a class on it.  I have to admit, however, a big reason why I took this class was to force myself onto a schedule and to receive feedback from a professor.  Call me arrogant, but I didn't think an intro level class had a ton to teach me.  I've been writing for pretty much as long as I've known how to put words on paper, and through trial and error, I've at least gotten the basics down (This is not, of course, to say I didn't want to be taught; I love picking up new things about writing).  I know how to plot; I know how to characterize; I know how to write a story.  What remains to be seen is whether I can do those things at an industry-acceptable level.  

Here's what I think.  I think you can learn.  I think you can learn enough ground rules to get a story onto a page.  It might not be a work of genius, but it will be readable.  And you can practice. Everyone can practice.  You can definitely practice enough to make your work progressively better. But I also think some people are innately better storytellers than others.  And some people are better at using language effectively.  This does not all add up to being a naturally good writer, but some people are gifted in one aspect or another of writing.  I think some people start out with an advantage.  They are just better.  Genetically, whatever you want to call it.  But I think anyone can work hard enough to get published (key word: work).  It only depends on how long you want to work at it.  I believe Stephenie Meyer does not have to work as hard as me.  She's got a gift for storytelling, and I don't.  I can learn it, but it will take time.

I believe in natural talent, but I also believe in learning writing as a craft.  Imagine writers running a marathon.  Some people start out closer to the finish line.  Some people start way behind the starting line.  We can all finish the race.  It's only easier for some people because they have a head start.

That being said, I still don't know where I stand.  I guess I won't know until I cross the finish line. What's your stance on this "to teach or not to teach" debate?


I thought about this some more, and it occurs to me the people who are "naturally talented" often possess not an actual from-birth-ability to write.  Instead, they share a compulsion to write. People who are "good" at writing without training are usually good because they happen to write a lot.  And if you write a lot, you're probably better than the average joe who decides to pick up a pen one day and barf out a novel.  So maybe we should actually measure "talent" as whether a person has the drive to write.  Some people just do.  I think all of us who blog about our writing have this drive.  So maybe we are all naturally talented.  :-)


  1. Interesting. I think some have a natural inclination, while others have to work at it more. But the key there is the working part. I don't know that creativity can be taught, but I think people can learn to see outside of the box with practice.

  2. I'm with Danyelle on this one. I think writing classes can be good. I haven't really taken any. I've learnt the most by critiquing other people, and having my own work critiqued. And reading as though books are the air that I breathe. Those 3 things have taught me more than any class.

  3. Great post. I tend to agree with your thoughts on this. As with any industry or profession, while you can learn the "rules" of the road, it doesn't mean you have what it takes to be exceptional in that field. Some fields (and writing is definitely one of these) take that certain flair, talent, whatever you want to call it that puts them above and beyond everyone else. Just my two cents, but there you go.

  4. I think you can learn. I mean, I read what I wrote a year and a half ago...and yeah, you can learn. I do think there is an element of natural talent to everything. My husband plays the piano beautifully. He has a natural inclination to music. He practices the piano as much as I practice writing. I'm a better writer. He's a better piano player. We just have natural talents that we build on.

    My son has horrible handwriting. HORRIBLE. He could practice and practice and still have C- handwriting. He can learn and get better, but he's never going to be a great handwriter. He just doesn't have that "talent".

    So we can learn. We can realize our weaknesses. We can work on them. As a teacher, I firmly believe that everyone can learn to improve what they're not naturally good at.

    Great post!

  5. Yes, I certainly hope we can all learn! Or else we'd all be stuck at the level we're at now, and that wouldn't be very awesome.