Can writing be taught?

 ‘No-one can teach a writer how to write or how to use imagination, only life and experience can teach that, but he or she can and should be taught technique.’ Rumer Godden.

While I agree with this statement in general I do feel that many people can taught the basics of how to write. I guess that is what is meant by ‘technique.’

My response comes from many years of classroom teaching, where I took essentially illiterate children from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’ in two intensive years, or less. You can read all about my experiences here: The Power of Journal Writing – a Story of Hope.

Even people with reasonably rudimentary writing skills are able to communicate their ideas in written form. With intensive help they can improve their skills to the point of competency or even better. I’ve proved that with many of my students over the years. Sometimes it is a hard slog, but eventually the skills are developed.  Again, I guess I am talking about technique. Almost anyone can, with some effort, be taught how to string words together to form sentences, and to combine sentences to form paragraphs and put these together to make a story or article or whatever. If the student is also a reader, or exposed to good writing, this assists in this process. By reading good writing the student is exposed to how language works.

But can you teach someone how to use the imagination?

This is much harder, but I believe it is possible with most people. If the person is an avid reader this is made much easier. In the process of reading, especially fiction, the student has to use the imagination to appreciate the story. In the mind the reader can imagine that boat hurtling down the rapids,  that fierce dog barking at the intruder or that gun pointing at the head of the hero.

To use the imagination in reading a text is one thing. To develop the imagination in the mind of a writer is entirely another thing. This was where I must admit that I struggled as a teacher of writing. Some people have naturally fertile and creative imaginations, especially young children. Somewhere in the process of becoming an adult, people lose that imaginative sparkle. Keeping that sparkle alive is what every writer needs. Again, an active reading life can help.

Getting the first idea

What I have most commonly encountered is people who just cannot come up with that new idea, that first spark that will lead to a story. That is why I have developed many short story starters on this blog. Use these ideas for writing to get those creative juices flowing. Use them to inspire you to write short stories – or even a novel or two. You are free to use them however you please. Already I’ve received feedback from writers who have used them effectively in their own writing. Sometimes all you need is a small spark to get your imagination’s engine firing.

Good Writing.




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