Can good writing be taught?


Can good writing be taught? I think so.

Two ingredients go into a piece of writing: idea generation and technical ability. Everyone can benefit from tuition in thinking and in written expression.

Generating ideas

I’m sure there’s no limit to the range of tuition that  improves a writer’s ability to generate ideas.

At the moment I am taking a course in non-fiction nature writing. Nature writing is built on sensory observation and factual knowledge.

To improve my factual knowledge I could study botany or volunteer in a zoo. I could teach children about nature or go for walks with an identification guide.

To improve my observational ability I could write poetry about experiences such as swimming and eating. I could meditate outside every day, and learn to be fully present in my surroundings.

None of these activities look like writing lessons, but they are! Whatever we do to grow our minds is a writing lesson.

A good general education also helps writers to develop as thinkers. A few years ago I took lessons in journalistic reporting. Last year I did a course in travel writing.

Both times I learnt to introduce readers to a place by focusing on a single topic such as food or music. Learning how journalism works is not the same as studying writing, but it will help you learn how to present a story.

Look for free journalism courses on Coursera and EdX.


Improving technical ability

From literacy and dyslexia tutors through to poetry teachers and newspaper editors, there are writing teachers and mentors everywhere. We all benefit from spending time with educators and experienced colleagues.

If you hire a professional editor to polish your manuscript, ask them to leave comments explaining why they made the changes. You will learn from working with them.

If your secretary has a magical ability to translate your chaotic words into well written correspondence, ask them to explain how they did it.

Read writing style guides. I’ve listed a few in the writing guides section on my website. Take a MOOC in writing. I love this Wesleyan University one on Coursera.

You could even join a writers group online or at your local library.

Learning opportunities are everywhere

Good writing can be taught. You’ve probably had lessons without knowing it.

Looking back at my life I see I’ve had so many formative experiences; including the year I spent addicted to HBO drama.

I’d love to hear about your formative experiences. Feel free to leave a comment and say hello.

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