Can You Really LEARN Writing?

Writerly Rant #57

confusedBy Hailey Foglio, Author. Doctoral Student.

Originally published on Hailey Foglio, Oct. 30th, 2014 ~

I was recently contacted by Bob Clary, the Community Manager for Webucator, Inc., a system of online and on-site instructor-led training courses. Webucator’s Teach Your Talent project is designed to foster communication between experts and apprentices. In honor of this project, I’ve attempted to tackle to age-old question: Can you really learn writing?

There seem to be two schools of thought on whether or not you can learn to write well.

School #1: Divine intervention.
This school of thought is predicated by the idea that writers either are or are not, that writing is a skill you are born with, and that you can either write or you can’t. Divine intervention-ites believe that no amount of education or practice can make you a good writer, and that if you already are a good writer, no amount of education or practice can make you a better writer. All good writers everywhere in the world have been touched by something divine, their writing fate decided for them.

School #2: Work it.
This school of thought is predicated by the idea that if you work at it hard enough, you’ll become a good writer. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never read a book and don’t know how to spell; if you work it, you’ll make it. Work it-ians believe that successful writers got that way because of their extensive academic history and thousands upon thousands of sentence diagrams. All good writers everywhere in the world have been educated into good writing, their fate decided based on the availability of ample writerly resources.

And then there’s this:

School #3: Reality.
The truth is that becoming a good writer is a combination of these first two schools.

Good writers need that special something, that small spark of talent that, if properly fanned, will grow into a writerly bonfire inside of you. It is the same with any profession, artistic or otherwise. If you don’t have it, if you don’t have that thing, odds are that you’re not going to be successful in that field. Hard but true fact. I think it’s possible to have more than one talent, but writing has to be the one that you want most. It is this little something that pushes writers into education.

When I say “education,” I don’t mean “academics.” There are thousands of ways you can educate yourself in the art of writing. Reading is the most important of these ways. Note: You cannot, under any circumstances, become a halfway decent writer if you’re not a good reader. The two are not mutually exclusive. A good writer is a good reader. Writing education has nothing to do with how far you got into the education system. It has nothing to do with if you got a Ph.D. or dropped out of high school. Granted, guidance of a professor or other mentor is absolutely indispensable, but it’s important to note that not everyone can afford higher education, and that many, many of history’s greatest writers didn’t go to school at all.

So to say that writers are either born into their craft or educated into it is simply untrue. You need to have that spark (divine intervention), but it must be combined with education (work it) to become someone who even vaguely resembles a good writer (reality).

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. There was never a time when I didn’t write or when I didn’t want to write in some capacity. Sure, there were a couple of moments when I contemplated doing other things, but those moments were few and fleeting. I knew who I was and what I had and what I wanted to be, so I educated myself. I’ve read countless books in a variety of genres, each of which helped me as a writer in some way, whether it was something I drew inspiration from or something I absolutely hated, inspiring me to never, ever write anything like that in my career. My educational path led me to grad school. Do I think you need an MFA to be a good writer? Absolutely not. Was it the right choice for me? Absolutely. Every writer’s path is different. It’s just a matter of finding one.

Current music: Mountain Goats, “Lovecraft in Brooklyn”

Hailey FoglioHailey Foglio hails from the nonexistent town of Salem, WI (though she’s currently attending grad school in WV). She is obsessed with pigs and John Green. Anything else you want to know you can find on her blog or through facebook.

Categories: Rants, Writerly Rants

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