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.
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 – I 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?