Can You Teach Someone To Write?

You know, write. Not as in ‘form letters’ – you can definitely teach that!

Amongst writers, it’s always a bit of a debate – and there are lots of quotes from writing tutors claiming, somewhat paradoxically, that you can’t teach someone to write. It’s the old ‘is it a gift or a skill’? controversy. This article is a discussion with three authors on learning to write and teaching writing, whilst this list of tips from the Scottish Booktrust on getting ideas flowing is useful if you teach writing. They’re designed with a school class in mind but they’d work equally well in any creative writing class.

So what do I think?  Well I think it’s like carpentry.

Carpenters working on wooden drawers


No, bear with me. My point is that you can teach carpentry to a group of people and they may all become reasonably competent at joinery and construct perfectly serviceable, well-made cabinets. But will all of them want – or be able – to craft something beautiful? Something that requires inspiration and imagination; that’s off pattern? Or work that has a quality that in some way raises it above the rest?

The answer is – think – no. And I believe writing is much the same. You can teach most people to string together a grammatically correct, understandable sentence. You can teach them the theory of fluency and flow; about metaphor and simile. But will those ideas come into their head when it comes to imagining a story, and will they be able to translate their ideas into the written word in a way that does them justice? And will they have the staying power to persist until every sentence is polished, or will their work always remain a rough diamond? I’m not convinced they all will.

So what do you think? Can good writing be caught or are some people just gifted?



What Do The National Lottery & Diabetes Have in Common?

I’m not keen on November. It doesn’t tend to be a great month for me generally – no idea why! – and all the darkness and dampness don’t help either. But it was nice to go to a firework display without freezing to death, so score a point for that one Nov 2014.

I didn’t write about fireworks for November though; I wrote about diabetes and the National Lottery (not in the same article).  These weren’t random choices. It so happened that the 14th was World Diabetes Day and the 20th birthday of the National Lottery.

I can’t find any handy online clippings of the National Lottery article, but it was a short collection of quirky facts. Did you know, for instance, that  strictly speaking the first National Lottery was held in 1567? It was organised to fund Elizabeth I’s shipbuilding programme and offered a first prize of £5000, but the winner only received part of the prize in money; the rest was in ‘plate’. However much you hope to win in our modern lottery, you might want to avoid picking number 20, as it has made the fewest appearances in the draw.


My article on diabetes appeared in Yes Mag, Potters Bar Eye, The Villager and Town Life (Henlow edition), The Local Directory (Apsley & Beaconsfield editions), Malmesbury Connections, The Bournville Pages, Now (various editions),  In and Around magazine (various editions), the Bearsden & Milngavie Directory and the Berrylands Companion.


Looking forward to December because I’ve already seen some great clippings! 🙂