Can you really teach someone to write? That’s the question that has been debated since the first aspiring writer asked a successful author to show them how to tell a good story. Indeed, teaching and writing often go hand in hand. Many famous authors have supported themselves by teaching the craft of writing until they break out onto the bestseller lists. We’re talking Joyce Carol Oates, Zadie Smith, Jamaica Kincaid, Jhumpa Lahiri, Neil Gaiman, and many, many more.
Surely, we could all learn something from the likes of these authors. I’m just saying. Full disclosure: I teach writing myself and have published three books on writing. I believe that the craft can be taught, the storytelling impulse and an affinity for language not so much. But taking writing classes and reading books on writing and interviews with writers has helped me on my writer’s journey. And I’m still learning and listening. But that’s just me.
So, can you teach someone to write? And if you’re teaching writing, does that help or hinder your own creative process? That all depends on who you ask….
“People always say, ‘Can writing be taught?’ I always think, I can teach you how to write a better sentence, how to do dialogue, how to do character, but I can’t teach you how to be a decent person, and I can’t teach you how to have something to say.” ~ Ann Patchett
“If success in selling is my primary interest, I am not primarily a writer, but a salesperson. If I teach success in selling as the writer’s primary objective, I am not teaching writing; I’m teaching, or pretending to teach, the production and marketing of a commodity.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
“Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.” ~ Paul Desmond
“Teaching writing over the years intrudes on your own writing in important ways, taking away some of the excitement of poetry.” ~ Robert Morgan
“I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort.” ~ Toni Morrison
“When I teach writing, I always tell my students you should assume that the audience you’re writing for is smarter than you. You can’t write if you don’t think they’re on your side, because then you start to yell at them or preach down to them.” ~ Tony Kushner
“Many writers can’t make a living. So to be able to teach how to write is valuable to them. But I don’t really know about its value to the student. I don’t mean it’s useless. But I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to teach me how to write.” ~ Chinua Achebe
“Teaching writing puts you on the point of a pin in terms of what you want your own writing to be.” ~ Jane Alison
“Teaching writing is a hustle.” ~ Cormac McCarthy
“Maybe writing can’t be taught, but editing can be taught – prayer, fasting and self-mutilation.” ~ Donald Barthelme
“In teaching writing, I’m learning new things about writing.” ~ David B. Coe
“Writing teaches writing. Your writing will teach you how to write if you work hard enough and have enough faith.” — Bonnie Friedman
“I think technique can be taught but I think the only way to learn to write is to read, and I see writing and reading as completely related. One almost couldn’t exist without the other.” ~ John McGahern
“In general, teaching writing makes me a far better reader because there’s so many ways to write a good sentence or a good story, and as a teacher I’m obliged to consider them all, rather than staying in the safety of my own tendencies.” ~ Leni Zumas
“Writing, in any sense that matters, cannot be taught. It can only be learned by each separate one of us in his own way, by the use of his own powers of imagination and perception, the ability to learn the lessons he has set for himself.” ~ Katherine Anne Porter
“No one can teach writing, but classes may stimulate the urge to write. If you are born a writer, you will inevitably and helplessly write. A born writer has self-knowledge. Read, read, read. And if you are a fiction writer, don’t confine yourself to reading fiction. Every writer is first a wide reader.” ~ Cynthia Ozick
“You can only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.” ~ Doris Lessing
“I’m sure that writing isn’t a craft, that is, something for which you learn the skills and go on turning out. It must come from some deep impulse, deep inspiration. That can’t be taught, it can’t be what you use in teaching.” ~ Robert Lowell
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ~ Picasso
This post originally appeared at Career Authors.