Given that my sure fire writer’s block breaker is tied up with family stuff today, I decided to blog again in lieu of staring at my WIP for unreasonable amounts of unproductive time today. I recently got into a discussion with another writer friend about the different type of writer’s blogs out there. Some folks are very into blogging about the craft itself (and we often wonder if this is to the exclusion of actual writing). I read several of these industry blogs and can often learn something. But I am unlikely to do much blogging on craft myself. Why? Well, to put it nicely, I don’t think it can be taught. You can teach grammar. You can teach vocabulary. You can teach the technical concepts of a story or character arc. But though you can learn all of these things and more, there is one thing that cannot be taught, without which I don’t think you’ll be a successful writer: a sense of narrative and storytelling–by which I mean an innate sense of how to tell a story, how the characters interact and events unfold, how to pace the narrative to maintain interest. As people can be tone deaf to music, so they can be deaf to narrative.
Now according to the field of narrative psychology, human beings are hard-wired to think in stories. Our lives are constructed as stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Our dealings with other people are often related in story form. Our journals and blogs tell stories every day about what happened to us at work, or the fight we had with our spouse or the funny thing our kids did last weekend. But there is a huge difference between reporting what happened and making it a story. THIS is the sense that you’re either born with or you’re not. This is that essential component without which all the blood, sweat, tears and revisions will be for naught. I’m not saying that if you have this ability you will automatically be a great writer–you won’t. Good writing is a product of lots of hard work and refining of craft–learning all those things that can be taught and figuring out how to tighten your prose and clarify. There’s a lot of sweat that goes into good writing.
But this is why I don’t believe in “creative writing” classes. You can do exercises and writer’s prompts and they won’t make you a better writer. I took an honors creative writing class in college and learned nothing because the professor was interested only in narratives containing sex, violence, or perversion–not exactly my cup of tea. He taught only what he liked, and for others who are interested in the same, that was fine. But it wasn’t applicable to all writing. Nothing we did in that class helped me refine my craft. I’d have been better of spending the semester practicing my craft and writing in that period of time than wasting it listening to someone else’s ideas. That’s the kicker. It all comes down to practice, practice, practice. You will not get better if you don’t practice. Personally, I think it’s arrogant to tell anyone how to write. I think at most you can say what works for you and if someone else tries it and it works for them, GREAT. I mean you can certainly say “you need a comma before blah” or “you misspelled x” or other grammar nazi type issues. But in terms of “this is how you do it”…nope, not so much.
I’m sure I will manage to offend someone with this post. Please don’t think I’m trying to discourage anyone out there who wants to write. If writing is what you love, then by all means do it! This is just my personal opinion on the subject.