Have spent the last two days (okay, not all of them!) in a discussion with Matt Curran on the benefits of mentoring for writers, I thought I had better save at least some of my pearls of wisdom for my own blog, especially as I could feel the conversation coming around to that old chestnut ‘Can writing be taught?’ – a question guaranteed to turn any discussion into an argument! Then, while driving home from work, I had one of those eureka moments and decided I could lay this controversy to rest (at least to my own satisfaction!) once and for all – so listen up!
What I decided is that the question is the wrong one. No, this is not a cop out. But think of it this way. Can writing be learned? The answer to this must be ‘yes’. Even the most intuitive and creative of writers serves an apprenticeship of some kind, whether in terms of a personal journey or in some more formal learning process, and as time progresses his/her work will grow and develop as a result. Having accepted this, the way in which a writer learns will be subject to all kinds of variation, based on personality, motivation, and of course, the educationalists’ latest buzz-word ‘personal learning styles,’ i.e. some writers will respond to formal teaching, others will flourish in a group feedback scenario or embark on ‘self-directed learning’ using books, magazines or websites. Nor should we forget, as Matt reminds us, the importance of simply digesting and analysing the work of other writers (i.e. reading!)
So writing can be taught, but doesn’t have to be. I was lucky enough to find the right teacher at the right time: for others, like Matt, this might not happen, and they will learn their craft in different ways. What really matters is that a writer wants to learn and is prepared to put in the hours of practice! I do think there are aspects of writing that are innate, but I suspect that the desire to write is what counts. If that desire isn’t there or doesn’t survive the inevitable set-backs, learning won’t happen, and teaching won’t work.
This can be easily illustrated elsewhere. I would love to be able to skate, but the minute I’m on the ice, I realise it ain’t gonna happen. I’m too nervous, too cold, and have no agility! Conversely, I may never be a great golfer, but I have enough co-ordination to give the ball a good wallop and I get an inordinate amount of satisfaction when I pull off a good shot. And so I play on, in search of that golden moment of greatness. I’d like to think my writing has a better chance than my golf, but who knows!
So, if you want to write, give it a try. When you’re ready, join a class or a writing group or find a mentor, because you need to find out if your work stands up to criticism. If it doesn’t, work at it, then work some more. If in the end you decide to give up, don’t worry. There are plenty of more of us out there ready to carry on!