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Teaching Writers How to Write, Can it Be Done?
Many times I have been asked if you can teach writers. So do my writer friends, especially those who teach writing. Quite a few people get down one way or another from this question. Yes, you can teach people to write. No, you cannot teach people to write. Sometimes people come down in the middle. I think you can, but with reservations.
First, let’s look at ten benefits.
1. Writing is both a profession and a skill. There are techniques, trends, methods, basics. Everyone can be taught.
2. Writing is not a mysterious, muse art, it is work, slog, tedious and requires determination.
3. Writing must confirm to conventions, especially if the writer hopes to publish or earn income.
4. There are basics like grammar and construction. Rules – which can be broken, but only if you know what they are in the first place.
5. Just because you learned in elementary school the accomplishment of putting letters on a page to form words and sentences, or learned to type them into a computer, does not mean that you are now a writer.
6. Often, you have to unlearn things you had to do in school to pass.
7. You will be challenged and guided into writing that you would otherwise not attempt yet could turn out to be your niche.
8. The suggestions and creativity of your peers and teachers will fuel your own creativity.
9. You are not in a vacuum, you can discover how others deal with similar problems, ask questions, get answers.
10. It is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to expose your writing to others, read it aloud to an audience, and hear what they have to say; why they like or don’t like something; how they think it could work better.
Now, let’s look at ten disadvantages.
1. You will need to focus on more than your own writing.
2. What you write may be unfairly criticized and even fair criticism is hard to take.
3. There will be exposure to bad writing and you will have to find a way to criticize it, not just say it stinks (even if it does).
4. You want to write short stories but you need to learn how to write novels.
5. There is a qualifier at the end, but what does that matter to a fiction writer?
6. It is a waste of time, money and energy that could be put into writing my great novel that will make me rich and famous.
7. I know how to write. I don’t want to be led down false paths.
8. I have a good imagination and I can spell. What more is there to know?
9. The teacher will make me read and write things I’m just not interested in.
10. I always got As in my English essays, so I’m already a writer.
Of course, there are more pros and cons to learning to write than I’ve included here, but overall, depending on what you want out of the experience, I believe there’s a lot to learn from learning how to write, one of which is discipline. . . It takes discipline to achieve writing.
Many writers want to write for children or write romance because they see it as easy and profitable. Both are much harder than you might think.
Let’s take a closer look at writing for children. First, you need to decide the age of child you are writing for. It’s vastly different targeting from 2-year-olds to 10-year-olds. Are you aiming for stories in girls, boys or both? What is appropriate language according to their developmental stage? What are they interested in? Should you include morals? How do you avoid talking down to them? Could your story overwhelm – or undermine them? Does your book include pictures? If so, what pictures,? Cartoons, paintings, photos? Who will make them? How much royalty do you have to share with a book illustrator? Every book for children is written, how do you make your book the one they want? Or that the adult wants to buy for them?
With romance, do you write to the Mills & Boon format? If so, what is the Mills & Boon format? How do you arrive at a proper story that meets the word count, the page requirements, the chapter numbers, the narrative imperatives? If you get the structure right, how do you avoid robbing the story of interest? Develop the characters? Make sure the plot and style and voice all meet the publisher’s requirements as well as what do you want to write? Do you know that you have to write under a pseudonym that belongs to the company? If you leave, someone else can write under your pseudonym. Do you believe in romance? Many who want to write it do not.
I have met student writers who came into courses with only these intentions, believing that both would be easy and profitable. Neither is true. It is more difficult to write for children than for adults. For example, you need to understand what a child probably knows or doesn’t know, whereas with an adult, there are many givens in what they know or will understand. It’s also very easy to talk down to kids, patronize them, or just fool yourself by trying to use their language when you don’t really know it.
One final point in favor of learning to write is dialogue. Whether it’s a children’s, romance, or adult novel, dialogue should reflect the character even when you don’t put attribution. When a character opens their mouth, the reader needs to know who is speaking as much by what they say and how they say it as by you when she/he said. How do you do that without getting laughed at? Especially with dialect. How do you accomplish broken syntax, the way people speak, while still getting across what (you) the character wants/needs to say? How do you make sure all your characters don’t sound the same?
There are many, many aspects, tricks, techniques, tried and true methods of writing that can be taught.
However, a final word for the negative. If you are not creative on some level, prepared for the fact that writing is hard work, and understand that all writing must be worked on and reworked before it is ready, then you are not meant to be a writer and no writing teacher. can teach you or turn you into the next favorite novelist. Writing can be taught, but if you are not destined for fame, you are not destined for fame.
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