Why you can't teach writing

I have decided that this year I will make a concerted effort to learn more (as well as many other resolutions that I've already forgotten). I've also decided to ignore the fact that my hunger for knowledge has suddenly become vehemently apparent as soon as I leave university.
On beginning my quest, I decided that the first port of call would be to devour the work of a writer whom I have shamefully overlooked in my sheltered life so far: George Orwell. The first essay of his to catch my attention, 'Why I Write', sent my mind whirring to such an extent that it stands to be his only writing I have finished so far - as it led me to start writing this blog post.
 In the essay he explains his journey to becoming a writer and the reasons behind it, which I'd hope, for your own sake, you figured out from the title.
Reading the essay strongly conjured up the memory of the many blogs and websites I have recently come across that offer 'writing tips'. One blog, for example, says that in order to be a good writer, you need a good grasp of language, space, time, characters and plot. In fact, the majority of these types of blogs and websites would tell you something similar.
I don't want to make a sweeping statement - I know that there are many successful courses in existence that educate people about writing. However, these bullet-point, technical pieces of advice seem to quash the qualities that I believe writers to possess. When it comes to teaching somehow to write, you can throw technical jargon at them, but you cannot tell someone how to perceive the world around them in new and thought-provoking ways, which is the fundemental quality behind being a writer.
In another essay, 'Politics and the English Language', Orwell gives five tips to being a good writer - however these tips are the kind that would just improve someone who already posses the writing gene - such as never use an existing metaphor.
I am certain that the writers I admire the most were not taught to write the way that they do. It's obvious upon reading anything from a good writer that their words are tiny droplets from a life-time of questioning, wondering and observing. Whereas, these 'how to be a writer' checklists make it sound like being a writer is as straightforward as baking a cake.
I recently read a beautiful peice of writing at the beginning of Sebastian Faulks' 'Birdsong'. He explains his process behind coming up with the ideas for the novel, his questions and fears behind it and his process of thinking it through. No once does he say 'I firstly wrote a plan, then made up some characters following some online guidelines and then made sure I had space and time'.
Surely writing, as well as other creative outputs, is a product of the compelling desire to understand the world we've been born into? You either accept the millions of questions of your existence, learn to ignore them, or translate the confusion and wonder into something creative.
Initially focusing on a structure, character and plot, which most of these 'how to' websites give prominence to, won't get you very far. You can teach someone how to write until you're blue in the face, but you can't teach someone how to perceive the world through a writer's eyes. Writing feeds people's imaginations and provides new perspectives and insight - it's oxymoronic to assume that this can be taught.
I recently came across a blog post today which had a mere three blog posts in total. This post in particular offered bullet points on how to become a writer. It didn't help that the post was riddled with typos, although this did provide consistency with the misspelled blog title. To conclude, beautiful writers are there to aspire to, not to reduce to a list of 'how to's. Lastly, before your eyes go to the big red ‘x’ and you dismiss me as pretentious, be aware that another of my new year’s resolutions was to start brushing my hair.

1 comment:

  1. The web has only encouraged wannabees to think of themselves as writers ... anyone can do it with the help of a couple of handy tips, right? No wonder the work of the pros has become so devalued ...