Can you Teach Someone how to Become a Writer?
Joseph Finder, a famous American writer, claims in an online post titled Just Write the Damned Book Already: “Writing is the only profession I can think of that requires no license, no certificate, no special training, and no special tools.” Although this statement may seem absurd, for we know how difficult it is to make writing a profession, Finder is not disconnected from reality. What he means by this, is that because almost anyone can write, the publishing industry knows how to dodge amateurs who can only waster their time. Therefore, only the most stubborn, risk-taking fellows can survive. A majority of people can write a book, indeed, but writing a book does not mean being a writer.
Being a writer is a completely different story, and whether you can teach someone how to become a writer has long been debated by established writers, as well as aspiring ones. It seems like there is no simple answer to it; writing is neither black nor white, which is possibly one of the reasons why people find writers so impressing. This profession, indeed, is a truly, undeniably odd one.
But the answer is actually not that hard. You can teach someone how to become a writer, but only to a certain extent. There are certain conditions.
Types of Writers
What makes the question so fascinating, yet so difficult to answer, is that it contains many different elements, which we need to separate to discuss properly. There are for instance many types of writers, each of them having different work methods, different aims, and different audiences; there is also a number of different types of writing, each of them having different requirements, different rules, and different establishments. Altogether, along with the person’s personality and social environment, these factors are the most determinant on a writing career.
While it is impossible to say that all writers become so the same way, it is possible to say that you can teach someone how to become a writer. The reason is, every aspiring writer is differently gifted, and he or she can learn what is missing in order to succeed. There are two things, however, that one cannot learn to become a writer, and that is, how to learn and how to persevere. These must be inherent to the aspiring writer because there is no way to teach them, and because they are essential; for one, the writer needs to reach readers, and for two he needs to teach them something through story-telling.
On a broad perspective, therefore, becoming a writer is a long process that involves both learning and having natural talent.
There is a fair number of literary genres for writers to play with, and choosing one—or many—has a considerable impact on what the writer needs to have as a natural talent or to learn.
Fiction and non-fiction, for instance, are probably the two genres that contrast the most; while the first requires, most prominently, creativity and efficiency, the latter involves, most importantly, critical thinking and clarity. From a dualist perspective, therefore, the fiction writer is more of an artist, whereas the non-fiction writer is closer to the intellectual type—of course, nothing says you cannot be both. Starting from the idea that anyone can be a writer, the question is: what does the aspiring writer need to learn? As we know, all people have different backgrounds and intellectual gifts—Howard Gardner lists nine of them. This is the basic toolkit to any aspiring writer, and in the eventuality one encounters success, it will become one’s trademark. Among these tools are the ease with writing, the knowledge, the personality as well as the understanding of life, just to name a few.
The two following hypothetical examples illustrate how one ability can complement another ability. Lucas is a fiction writer living in Los Angeles, and Corine a non-fiction writer based in Ottawa. Although their style and content broadly differ, they have a major common point: they both are successful writers because they were able to perceive what were their natural strengths, and what they needed to learn—in relationship to the genre they aimed.
The Fiction Writer
Lucas is the author of many New York Times best-sellers; he mostly writes psychological thrillers set around the Californian musical scene. When he was young, he got to travel a lot during summers with his dad, who was a touring musician. He learned about how the industry functions and how people who shape it interact with one another. As his mom was a variety show TV host, he inherited from her funny, charming personality. When he realized he was good at telling his Dad’s touring stories to his friends, in High School, he decided to write some of them. Then he made them read by his composition teacher. Lucas, the latter thought, had an interesting way of writing and developing ideas; however, he could not organize his thoughts clearly and made many grammar mistakes. He told him they could work to improve these things, so together they went over Lucas’ writing. The aspiring writer would then keep practicing and working to strengthen his style. When the time came to approach publishers it was a rather easy job; Lucas was knew from his parents how to market himself in a creative market. Indeed, his interpersonal intelligence served him well for that matter; in College, as he studied creative writing, he was highly appreciated by his peers, which allowed him to make many useful contacts among teachers, students and other professionals from the industry.
Today, people from all around the world read Lucas’s novels, and many of them are not familiar with the music industry. In fact, the writer uses his linguistic intelligence to describe the universe he best knows and to make it accessible to everyone. Lucas has a very special way to make his readers feel involved in the stories he tells because he plays around themes and situations with which people can relate. Also, that he exposes the hidden, evil sides of the musical industry makes his writing not only entertaining but also educative. Lucas’s readers, generally speaking, like how universal his stories are —plot-wise and character-wise—although the centers them around a very specific universe.
The Political Analyst
Corine is a journalist, essayist, and political commentator—one of the most prominent Canadian political writers. Born from working-class parents, in a small town, she was passionate about improving people’s lives when she was a kid. Thus she chose to study Political Science at Carleton University, Ottawa, aiming to become a politician. However, Corine realized during her undergraduate degree that it is not what she was meant to be. She did not have an outgoing personality, and she felt like she could never really fit the political scene and all the compromises attached to it. However, as she loved academic writing and was rather good at it, she decided to become a political analyst. Because of her intra-personal intelligence, she had lots of self-confidence and a strong writing voice, which would help her succeeding in her field. Her clear and concise prose, along with her critical sense and analytical mind, led her to write compelling papers. To go further, though, she had to learn from other people; for instance, she sought help to gain networking skills and attended a workshop on how to present her papers in colloquia. A friend also taught her how to benefit from social media and how to create a personal blog. After her undergraduate studies, Corine pursued to the graduate level to gain more specific knowledge about political science.
Corine is now one of the most renown political analysts in Ottawa. She writes papers for two prestigious newspapers, publishes a few books every year and maintains a personal blog. She is also invited, on a regular basis, to join in academic projects in various universities across Canada. She is known for criticizing the political system with a calm yet appealing writing style. With her existential intelligence, she gathers her working-class background and her education to understand the wheels of the political system from different angles. Corine’s simplicity and humility make her a writer to which it is easy to relate.
At the end of the day, Lucas and Corine both became celebrated writers because, despite their natural talent, they were not afraid to learn. They persevered and used wisely the resources available to them to finally succeed. Putting their ego aside and investing a good deal of time did pay out. What we should remember, nevertheless, is that Lucas and Corine are just like anyone else; they were born with strengths and weaknesses. There are only two things you cannot teach an aspiring writer: the positive attitude and the capacity to learn effectively. With this natural talent, which in fact is usually the result of a favorable social environment, one can then work to fill the gaps; that is to say, one can find a good work ethic, improve one’s writing and content, and market oneself.
What is natural and what requires hard work broadly differs from a person to another. This is basically why one would be predisposed to a certain type of writing more than another. Fiction and non-fiction, indeed, are two completely different worlds that have different requirements. While one’s ease may point out to one of them, it does not preclude taking a different path. If success is to happen, it will happen no matter what; it only requires the writer to adapt to his or her aims.
That is the beauty of being a writer—learning from everyone, everywhere, and giving it back to the people.
Finder, Joseph. “Just Write the Damned Book Already” The Official Site of Joseph Finder, 2009. http://www.josephfinder.com/writers/tips/just-write-the-damned-book-already/
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