Is a successful writer a born writer? Are some people simply born to the task? Is your DNA to blame for your rejection letters? I don’t think so! A great writer is shaped by many environmental, educational and personal influences. The educational influences include all the English lessons throughout your school days, in which you wrote stories, played with language and ideas, and learned to express yourself in written form. Environmental influences include the books and stories read to you when you were young, your lifetime of reading, the books which form the background to your life, in libraries, on your own bookshelves and e-readers, and even in movies and television. And the personal influences include attitudes toward books and reading that you have absorbed from family and peers, all your life. All these have shaped your understanding of stories and storytelling, all these have given you a broad knowledge of how a story is formed, and what makes a story work. This is the great reservoir of inner knowledge that every new writer brings, usually unaware, to that first adult step into creative fiction writing.
That first step into creative fiction writing! The first creative writing class! I have been there. I can remember the glum feeling that I knew nothing, that I must be the dumbest in the group, that even the teacher would know, at a glance, how unprepared I was. How had I had the temerity to think I could write?
But over months and years of gradual development, encouraged by success, by peer feedback, by gentle guidance and tutoring, I discovered the joy in writing. And I learned to tap into that great reservoir of latent knowledge. Great teachers, good habits of regular reading and writing, peer support, and willingness to practise, practise, practise – these are the ingredients of success.
So can writing be taught? The short answer is YES. Consider every skill you have picked up throughout your life. First you became aware of the desired talent – playing a piano, driving a car, batting well in cricket, solving algebra problems, cooking a soufflé, speaking another language. You observed, imagined how you would do it, had a try, picked up pointers, took lessons, practised and practised, worked with other learners, maybe even coached those below you. Until eventually you discovered that you had developed an ability with the task, even a practised familiarity that gradually eased into competence, then expertise. At which point, others decided that you were ‘naturally gifted’ or ‘born to it’. Or you were declared to be lucky because ‘it is so easy for you’. This reminds me of the old saying ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’. Certainly writing, as any skill, will come more easily to some than to others. Such is the nature of our individuality. Many factors, including DNA, must play a role. But so do learning, effort, tenacity, and persistence.
I believe that writing skills, like so many other skills, can be successfully taught. Great writing is underpinned with techniques and practices, all of which can be identified, studied and learned. However, the application and effort that the learner brings to the challenge is what makes all the difference. Give a learner information, contacts, encouragement and ongoing resources, and the results will be gratifying. Every time. Adult learners bring a wealth of life experience, a lifetime of reading and observation, and willingness to share. Certainly, writing is essentially a solitary pursuit, but the learning, the development over time, the stimulation and creation of new works – these activities are all enriched by contact and exchange with other writers.
This contact and exchange takes two main forms:
- Reading. A good writer is necessarily a good reader. Never worry about your writing being influenced by your reading – the truth is that it will be influenced. And improved. It is not that you set out to imitate another writer, except in writing exercises. But if you bathe your senses in a wide variety of writing styles, and constantly expose your Muse to many influences, you will find your writing is greatly enriched by the experience.
- Other writers. Writing groups and organisations are beneficial for writers at every stage of development. Teachers, writing groups, and other writers will stimulate you to develop in new ways, will offer solid critiques on your work, will offer ideas and directions that would never have otherwise occurred to you. As a bonus, you will learn to read the work of others critically, to offer supportive feedback, to share your ideas and inspirations.
This practice of working with peers is particularly important. Peers offer mutual support at the same level of development. Can you imagine a lone sprinter who never has a chance to run against other sprinters? Or a pianist who only hears recordings of brilliant players, never plays with a group of similarly-skilled players? It would be very hard to maintain focus against such lonely odds. To complement our learning, we all need peer support, to give us a reality check, to give us a fair measure of our progress, and to inspire us to reach each incremental goal.
So, yes, writing can be taught. Writers are created, not born. And they are created by their experiences, by their environment, and by their willingness to learn from many teachers, many influences, and from their peers.
To develop as the best writer you can be, I recommend that you patiently learn all the techniques of the craft, practise many genres, keep your mind and options open. Study under a variety of teachers, try many ideas and approaches, learn to be aware of techniques even as you read for pleasure. Tap into peer support, remember that persistence is more successful than genius, and keep your sense of humour.
In time, you will need to learn the hard facts of publishing and e-publishing – it is not enough to be creatively talented; nowadays a successful writer is computer savvy, and has a good idea of markets and marketing – it is simply a part of the world of a writer.
I welcome you to this world, and I wish you great joy, great new friendships, and great success from your writing.