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Writing Can't Be Taught
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Recently I haven't said much about writing. I tend to write about writing only when it's the main thing on my mind, when I'm spending a lot of time working on a project. When I stop to think about it, what I think is that there's far too much written about how to write. You can either write or you can't. If you can, you already know how to and if you can't no amount of instruction will help.

In his blog today Tod Goldberg asks whether writing can be taught:

...I'm here to tell you, after all my years of teaching, the definitive answer: No.

Oh, sure, you can teach someone how to write correctly -- how to format dialog, where to place a comma, how to avoid using adverbs in dialog tags, he noted furiously, how to present plot in a cogent fashion, what the 7 basic conflict plots are, all that academic stuff -- but you can't teach someone how to be creative or compelling in their fiction. What I've always believed is that I can, as a teacher, foster those with talent toward success. I don't mean this in the sense that every talented student I've ever had has gone on to sell their novels and stories, merely that sometimes talent lacks a rudder. But if a person comes to a classroom with no ability to create with words a dramatic world, it doesn't matter how much instruction you give them, without talent they might as well be trying out for the NFL.

If that person were trying out for the NFL and couldn't make the grade they would probably accept the fact that they simply lacked the talent and would be better advised to spend their time on one of many other things they doubtless had the ability to do.

After all, none of us have a talent for everything. I am uncoordinated and weigh 115 pounds. I might be able to memorize the proper footwork and blocking techniques, but put me in the defensive line of an NFL team and I'd be about as effective as a seam in the astroturf.

People have a hard time admitting they lack writing ability. Perhaps it's because our ideas are, essentially, us. Of course we love our own imaginings, our own familiar thought processes. Each of us is our own perfect audience.

And if editors, agents, or instructors disagree it is easy to dismiss mere opinions...prejudices...unfairness...persecution of true artists...

Put me back in an NFL line with delusions of football grandeur and I'd have something more concrete than opinions to convince me of my error. Something concrete as in concrete truck meets possum.

For whatever reason, beyond my control, sheer luck, I have just a bit of creative imagination. I know it because a few editors and readers have told me so. I also know I don't have much because if I did a lot more editors and readers would have told me so.

I also know it because occasionally I read (or reread) a book like Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone. I suppose it's the aspiring writer's equivalent of being run over by a 320 pound lineman, except that the experience is also enjoyable. I can only wish I had such incredible powers of invention.

Amazing worlds and compelling characters are not going to suddenly emerge from my words because I remove surplus adverbs. Why would they? It seems obvious when you think about it, yet so few would-be writers do.

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