Can Writing be Taught?

I probably spend more time on writing blogs than running blogs which is just as well since I'm a better writer than runner. Over at the Killzone Blog yesterday, James Scott Bell posted a partial response to Porter Anderson,  who had a thought-provoking article over at Writers Unboxed.

The question posed was "can writing be taught" and examples offered yea and nay. Much like the argument that only a certain amount of running can be taught, and so many other disagreements over talent and hard work, this one brought out some interesting perspectives.

One of mine, directed at Porter, is below. Both Jim Bell and Porter Anderson are the sorts of fellows you'd enjoy a beer with, and who'd have your back if necessary. Very classy. 


Thanks for swinging in and stating your case. I appreciate folks that hold up mirrors. We are in a transitory period and all the rules – and assumptions – for both sides are open to debate. If it’s not the best time to be a writer, it certainly might be the most interesting.

You raised a point about calling out a charlatan. In my comment above, I offered an example of an instructor, who despite publishing success, was a poor fit for me. It was would be easy to state that he or she was a fake, a fraud, but that would be unfair. It also would needlessly stir animosity when none is warranted.

I’m new to writing, probably newer that most of the writers here. One lesson that I learned running my other businesses is that I can’t please everyone – and not everyone will meet my needs or expectations. When that happens, I lose money and learn. The lesson seems to stick better with a skinned knee or a pocket lightened.

Your concern, of the minor frauds (which exist) of the various training programs, pales in next to the behaviors seen at the more rarified reaches. Where major fraud does exist – at Author Solutions, for example, which is warming the bed for the several large publishers – it seems to get swept under the coverlet. Author Solutions operates the same way a con man does, by finding a mark that wants to believe and will do anything to prove that belief.

You offered a bit of your wisdom in the form of a creed. Let me do the same.

I believe . . . that the digital dynamic has unleashed a stunning diversity of ability, of all levels, for all tastes.

I believe you’re right – Jim is not a charlatan, but I’m open to the premeditated coffee thunking, if only for dramatic effect.

I believe that humans share the same weaknesses the world over. . .

I believe that marks look for their con men, wanting to believe . . .

I believe that the publishing industry has, for decades, acted on the this very nature of men and women.

I believe that I have the right to go to hell my own way. I may have an audience cheering me along, or the lonely silence that writers fear the most, the quiet that comes when people just don’t care, but it is the path that I forge, as an aspirational adult. I don’t need looking after, as though I were a child too simple to comprehend the gap between myself and a dream, that my tender feelings should be assuaged. Bah! If writing can’t be taught, I will learn that, but I won’t be told it. I’ll need proof and years of my labor to convince me. Along the way, I’ll kiss a frog or two and find a toad. I’ll expect I’ll survive.

Because I also believe that you can’t grasp what you don’t try first to reach.

And . . .

I believe that the ultimate failure would be not to try.

That is at the heart of the digital dynamic. Most of us will lose, but so many at least will get a shot.

Now, it being evening, I’ll lift a glass in your direction and toast your health and fortune. I ask you not to worry for us.