Can Writing Be Taught?

by on August 7, 2012 in Must Sees with No Comments »

The title of this post poses what seems to be an impossible question. Yet it results in some very objective answers.

Many authors, including the award-winning novelist John Irving, seem to agree that no one person can explain to another person how to write a convincing piece of creativity, fiction or nonfiction (like a personal essay), but that a good teacher is perfectly capable of explaining how to create a storyboard, how to structure scenes, how to pace a story, how to create a dramatic climax, how to find a voice. Then again, such advice may lead you to write a novel that is seems perfect, except that it lacks something . . . more. Just ask John McPhee, legendary nonfiction writer for The New Yorker, who petitioned his advisers at Princeton to write a novel for his senior thesis, only to create a story that he acknowledged had “good structure and was technically fine . . . [but] had no life in it at all.”

So we return to the question, but in more specific terms, and from a slightly different angle: do people become good writers because they have talent that no one else has, or do they do so because of the sheer force of their will? Clearly, I would say, it’s a combination of both. But writing is a skill as much as an art form, and the way we sharpen our skills is through practice. Therefore, if you write enough—and listen to your teachers explain how to handle tricky obstacles like time, tense, style, voice, clarity, cogency, structure, and formatting—you can become the writer you want to become.

For instance, watch these two incredible videos of Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451 and many other science-fiction stories. The first is a short piece where he talks about the benefits of being a persistent writer. The second is a longer and more in-depth and endearing interview where he talks about his love for books, his love for reading, and more. After watching them, you may realize that writing isn’t just about innate talent and technical persistence. It’s about the desire to put aside everything else in life to get the paper or essay or story correct. And that is a desire that cannot be faked.


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