I ended up getting my knickers in a right old twist last night. You see, I was reading a How To write book, not something I’ve never really done much of, and certainly not something I do very often. The reason I don’t read books like that is, mostly, because I end up disagreeing with them and getting my knickers in a twist.
You see, I honestly believe it’s impossible to teach someone how to be a writer. Writers are born, they aren’t made. And while it’s perfectly possible to teach people how to write better, or become better at being a writer, if someone doesn’t have it in them to begin with, I honestly don’t think (and have certainly seen no examples) of writers being created in a classroom or while hunched over a book. For me, writing is more than just a craft; it’s an art. Crafts, you can learn (well, the basics, the mechanics) – but you can only be great at them if it’s inside you (I know I’d make a shit carpenter or potter, et al). It isn’t difficult to teach someone to write well, to be able to construct decent sentences, to punctuate properly, etc etc, but that is a completely different thing to being a writer. Being a writer is about ideas. It’s about turning those ideas into stories that are well told.
Anyway. So I read this book, and to begin with I was impressed. There was stuff in there that I agreed with and some stuff I hadn’t thought of before. But what quickly struck me, as tends to happen whenever I read this kind of thing, is that no matter how good the book is, it isn’t showing you how to become a writer. What it’s actually doing it telling you to write like the person who wrote it.
And in a lot of cases, that’s no bad thing at all. It’s interesting to see how other people work and what works for them. I guess it’s the same thing, in a way, as being on a Creative Writing course, or workshop, or MA – that exposure to Other Things, that added discipline, that extra information and guidance can be crucial and can speed up your development. But that’s the key thing: what works for one person might not (and probably won’t) work for the next.
So, here’s my thing. I’m not criticising How To books. I’m not criticising Creative Writing courses, workshops, MAs, or ANYTHING like that. They work for an awful lot of people (and let’s not forget, either, that I teach writing too!).
What I’m saying is this. The most important thing anyone can do to become a (better) writer, is to figure out what works the best for them. It might be, writing every day. It might be reading your work aloud. It might be enrolling on a course. It might be reading loads of How To books (if it is, I’d suggest this one, because I think it’s brilliant). It might even be (as was suggested in the book) accepting that your words and stories come straight from God (I am dubious about that one). But equally, it might be none of those things.
So, folks, my advice would be to make sure you don’t get bogged down in doing something a certain way because it works great for someone else. Please, give yourself the credit you deserve and figure out what works best for you. Don’t be afraid of things, and equally don’t dismiss things. Go ahead, try them. It’s ALL about learning, this game.
But your goal shouldn’t be to emulate someone else. They’re the best people qualified to write what they write and they’ve figured out what works best for them. Don’t forget that YOU are the best qualified person to write what YOU write. It’s down to you to find your way. You owe it to yourself, and to your stories.
(And I’ll add – the fact that you’re reading something like this post of mine means that you’re a writer. You wouldn’t be reading it if you weren’t. So don’t you worry about that.)
So there you go!
ADDED: 17:19 – Wonderful screen writer John August talks about something very similar over on his latest podcast. He knows more than I do. Go listen.