Nature Or Nurture? (Maybe Both)
Of course it is always difficult to separate nature from nurture (was an artist born that way or did the events of her life transform her into the artist she now is).
My knock-down, number one favorite book of all time (Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost - amazon link) on teaching writing starts out with the following:
What Would Proof Look Like?
- Have you ever read something that you know is written well?
- Have you ever read something that you know is written very poorly?
That means you (even if you're an amateur) can differentiate between good writing and bad writing.
Isn't That Just Subjective?
Only to a degree. Take an exaggeration to discover the truth of this.
The person went down to the place and decided they going to do a
That sentence is vague and contains a grammatical error.
Most readers will have difficulty with it and if that type of thing continues for a few sentences most readers will decide to stop reading.
What If Most Readers Liked Your Writing?
Is that the final determination of whether you are a great writer like Hemingway?
Even that is a bit subjective, because I loathe the book, The Sun Also Rises, but Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is one of my favorite books of all.
Better? Maybe You Learned, So Maybe It's Possible
Here's a sentence that is better (grammatically and less vague) than the previous one.
At 1:32am, John Amberson scanned the parking lot from where he huddled
in the bushes. All clear, he thought, then jumped up and scurried to
the back door of the donut shop. He pressed himself against the door
and began working on the lock with his pick tool.
There Is A Difference
If you've noticed any difference between the two examples, you've probably just proven to yourself that writing can be taught.
There Are A Few Reasons Writers Believe Writing Can't Be Taught
- People who do not actually want to write much, try it, are not good and then think, "you can't learn this stuff".
- Great writers themselves don't necessarily know what they do that is good.
- Literary types believe only certain writing is "good".
Are There Objective Things You Can Learn?
The point is there are objective things you can learn in order to become a better writer:
- Grammar -- write grammatically correct in order to write clearly (don't be a grammar snob)
- Dialogue -- learn to write great snappy dialogue which doesn't repeat what you said in your narratvie
- Description -- learn to write description that comes alive and isn't just static explanations of the "sunny day" instead maybe "the sun baked on Giles head, increasing his frustration"
- Character -- much to learn to create and describe characters who are interesting
- Plotting / Story-telling -- Learn to write in scenes which add up to an entire story
There is much to learn and all of those topics are covered in Make Your Words Work.