Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Can One Be Taught to Write?

Teaching Writing

To sum up a note I recently received, I was asked whether writing is something that can be taught to anyone. The inquirer is a musician, who stated that he tries to imagine how he could teach music to another person. He mentioned that it feels like an intrinsic talent/passion to him, and wondered whether it's the same with writing. He said he's always loved to read, but he thinks that reading and writing are two completely different things.

My reply:


I ask you this: Are appreciating music and making it so different? Or do they feed off one another? That's how I look at writing. I've become acutely aware of this recently, as I haven't been reading as much as I usually do lately. I can tell it's taken a toll on my drive to write, my creativity, my self-discipline, and even my vocabulary/ability to express myself. So while reading and writing are completely different, I do believe one must have a love of reading to truly be a great writer. Otherwise, one just comes off as self-absorbed, boring, vapid, banal. In my ever-so-humble opinion, that is. ;)

To answer your question about whether one can be taught to write... well, I suppose I'd have to say both yes and no. There are techniques; styles; mechanics; grammar; spelling; and formulas that can be taught. There are masters and mistresses of the craft of the word who can help a person find her or his own voice.

But I think it's more a question of whether a person WANTS to write, and whether that is how one chooses to express herself or himself. Some people have a creative force, or perhaps an idea that can't properly be expressed in any other way aside from explicit use of words. If that person, who is a medium for that idea or that creative force, chooses to discipline and dedicate himself or herself to the craft of writing, and to seek knowledge about how to improve her or his craft, then, yes. One can be taught to write.

But if a person does not give a flying F about expressing the self or the idea through words, then, no. One cannot be taught to write.

But now I've gone on long enough. What do you think?

~ Heather

PS - I don't always speak in such an erudite manner. I promise, dude. ;)

What are your thoughts, Reader?


  1. This is just another way of saying what you said, but a very wise person - I don't remember who anymore - once told me that true "talent" for music simply equates to loving it enough that you do it all the time. If you love something, you practice it without reservation and therefore get better at it. I have seen this first hand when it comes to music, and I think this applies to all things. Anything can be taught.

  2. I like this. I teach college composition and was wondering why your blog was on my Google Reader page when I saw you follow my friend at dangerous compassions.

    I should like to link to this post for my students to read as I like to provide readings to build confidence in writing at the start of the semester (and I should really do this throughout).

  3. Noah: I like how you said that. I think "without reservation" is key. I want to be a fearless, feisty writer. I want to take risks. And that's what one does when one really loves.

    HTH: Please feel free to link to this blog. Thanks for letting me know. :) I'd love to hear what people have to say.

    A couple of other clarifications: Of course, writing passionless formulaic essays, legislation, or news columns is a teachable skill. When I say one can't be taught to write unless she or he wants to learn, I mean one cannot be forced to feel the passion or create the ideas one expresses through writing. That is intrinsic.

    And the reason a person would come off as vapid and self-absorbed is because obsessively writing only about one thing or one person's ideas is always boring. It's pure conceit to pretend that we don't all have influences.

    One more thought: It is precisely because proper form, grammar, spelling, mechanics, etc., can be taught that new writers shouldn't fear their pens, their notebooks, and their keyboards. Creative writing and proper format are inextricably linked, but they are not one and the same.