Is it possible to become an Ernest Hemingway?

Sure, someone can learn to spell, put punctuation in the right places, and keep his sentences down to twenty words. That doesn’t make you Earnest Hemingway, though.

Being good at writing appears to be an inherent quality because not everyone who knows the rules can do it. Think of it this way:

(1) If writing well were teachable, then anyone could become a good writer.

(2) Not anyone can become a good writer.

(3) Hence, writing well isn't teachable.

So writing well must be an inherent quality because there are good writers, and we know writing well isn't teachable. They had to have been born with such potential.

What do you guys think? Should people who follow the rules and yet still write poorly just quit? I'd like to know your thoughts.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Monica Cellio May 31 '16 at 21:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • This is pretty broad and opinion-based. Stack Exchange isn't a good platform for discussions; it's really oriented toward answers to practical questions. I'm going to put this on hold; since it's got a bunch of answers already, if you have a more-focused question the best bet is probably to ask it separately. Thanks. – Monica Cellio May 31 '16 at 21:34
up vote 3 down vote accepted

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:

make your words work intro

What Would Proof Look Like?

Consider this:

  1. Have you ever read something that you know is written well?
  2. 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 specific thing.

That sentence is vague and contains a grammatical error.

Most Readers

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

  1. People who do not actually want to write much, try it, are not good and then think, "you can't learn this stuff".
  2. Great writers themselves don't necessarily know what they do that is good.
  3. 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:

  1. Grammar -- write grammatically correct in order to write clearly (don't be a grammar snob)
  2. Dialogue -- learn to write great snappy dialogue which doesn't repeat what you said in your narratvie
  3. 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"
  4. Character -- much to learn to create and describe characters who are interesting
  5. 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.

  • 1
    Thank you for this post. I mos def am planning on looking into this book you've mentioned. – London Jennings May 30 '16 at 23:12

I think everyone can become better at something. With a lot of practice, I can learn how to play the piano better that I can now, but either due to motivation or to some innate way my brain is wired, I consider it outrageously unlikely that I will become as good as some classically trained soloist.

Writing is the same.

  • Everyone can become better
  • Not everyone can become good

Again, however, it is imperative to realize how generic "good" is in this context. As it was mentioned more eloquently by those who answered before me, there is one definition for writing for a specific audience (marketability), another definition for writing for invoking emotions and thoughts (artistry), and yet another for feeling a sense of reward writing.

It depends on what your intent is when you write.

People write for pleasure, for money, for fame, for influence, for immortality, and etc.

Many of the best writers - the ones whose names you remember a hundred or five hundred years later achieved all those things, but for every Shakespeare there are hundreds of writers who had success if you measure success by their own standards.

If your object is to write for pleasure and you're still having fun even if everyone else hates your writing, then keep on writing!

If your object is for money and fame and everyone for the last 20 years has said your stuff sucks, then maybe it's time for a different hobby.

This is a question that I personally believe is a matter of perspective. There are people who consider some writers who are thought of as good/great writers to be terrible. This is a matter of finding your audience.

Thinking from that perspective, yes anyone can be a good writer. If you write, market and put your content in front of other people. Then there will always be someone willing to read your work and perhaps even become your fan.

From a more objective standpoint, if we are to take into the basics of writing into consideration. Let's use English as an example, people who are more familiar with the language and have a stronger grip on it have a better chance at being more successful as writers vs. those who are at a novice level.

BUT imagination plays a big role as well. Even if your English is great, but your imagination well is dry, then most likely it would be boring to read that person's work. Rich imagination + great grasp on the language they write for can make great writers.

You post show that “English student” attitude toward writing and the classics.

Most of the historicaly celebrated hack writers stink by modern standards. Earnest Hemingway would probably not be published today. People like him became famous in a dilettante field with very few competitors who produced mediocre works.

Like every art form there is natural talent, but that is nothing without being honed by education and training.

Nowadays millions try to write the great modern novel and a myriad talent abound. The average writer today is much better than any amateurish old codger who became a "classic" by default.

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