A to Z Challenge 2013

Friday, April 17, 2009

Trained Writer Or Merely Inspired Muse?

One question that pops into my brain from time to time is regarding training versus inspiration. I am an untrained writer. What I mean by that is this: I have never taken any classes in writing (creative or otherwise) beyond the usual classes I was forced to slog through in high school. Well, I was forced to take an English composition class in college as well, but lets face it - it wasn't really that difficult nor was it truly useful in the general sense.

I've seen other bloggers talk about writer's conferences and seminars where we can learn more about our craft, hone it to a razor sharp edge. There are also many aspiring and published authors who have an extensive educational background in English composition or creative writing. Credentials are tossed around like Jolly Ranchers in a parade. To be quite honest, there are moments when I find myself admiring these people who have "known" for the majority of their lives that they wanted to write. They have the bug, and they've had it for a very long time.

So the question I pose is a one of pure opinion (since I'm sure examples can be shown either way). Does good writing come from the voice within you, irrespective of your training? Assuming a basic understanding of sentence structure, grammar, and word choice, does an author need to have a Master's degree in order to create truly good writing? Or can good writing come from someone among the "uneducated" masses? And how much emphasis should be placed on education beyond a general English class?


Michelle H. said...

I wish I could answer those questions. I'm one of the "uneducated." My writing skills come from my high school days. Yet, I still remember all the encouragement I received from every English teacher in the halls. In retrospect, I wish I had started at that young age to "get the credentials". I also wonder if not having the plaques to hang on the walls will hold too many publishing doors closed.

I know some well-established authors (I believe Tom Clancy might be one) whose highest writing education was the general English classes in high school. It makes me wonder.

Rebecca said...

I am a firm believer that anyone can be trained to do something, even creative things like drawing, singing, playing the piano and yes even writing. There are methods of learning all of it BUT there is on the other hand natural ability. You know the kind of people that seem to just have a song pour from their mouths instead of merely sining it.

There is a magical spark to having that ability as opposed to a formal education. Be glad that you have this because it is far easier to go take some classes than have a living breathing part of you be your muse!

Now if you can merge the two worlds all the better. I'd love to be able to do that because I too have no writing education aside from high school and a class in college but I'd never trade the burning passion for writing that I've found within for a masters degree. That much I know!

Great post...

Jeannie Campbell said...

interesting post, eric. i think good writing can come from within, regardless of training. but that said, "good writing" is so subjective. look at the twilight series. i don't think she was formally trained, and a lot of writers have given her flack about her style of writing (not being very good, they say - i read the books and couldn't put them down. but her writing was apparently good enough to make the NYT#1. so go figure...it's a relative business. :)

WindyA said...

I agree with Rebecca. Anyone can be trained, but sometimes people just have a natural ability.

That's not to say that training couldn't hone the skills of those with natural ability, and help make that natural talent even stronger.

Personally, I think a person can have all the training in the world, but if they do not have some degree of natural ability, it becomes clear pretty quickly.

Definitely something to think about. Thanks for throwing the topic out there.

Lost Wanderer said...

No one can teach you to be a writer, but I believe they can teach you the craft.

Either you have the imagination or you don't. Either you work to be disciplined to write or you don't. Those things come from the person.

But say your language skills aren't up to publication standards, or you don't know the rules of current publishing standards (like not using cliches, not dumping information in one place etc.), these things can be taught in a class.

That is not to say that everyone needs it. That's a matter of choice. Everything they teach you in a class, you can learn by yourself using the Internet.

In some instance, Masters Degree or technical classes might even hinder the process because you get so used to dissecting the books that writing one would be a nightmare.

So in conclusion to my ramblings - as long as you have some natural ability and will to write, how you achieve it is pretty much up to individual preference.

Davin Malasarn said...

It makes me sad to think that someone COULDN'T become a good writer even if they weren't born with natural talent. I think a few people are good writers naturally and most everybody else has to work at it. How you get better is up to you. It takes practice, which you can do on your own. But, maybe some people practice more when they are being told to do so by teachers and other students. I also think some people are better at learning on their own while others do better in school. It depends on your learning style.

As for a Master's degree, that can really help if you end up teaching writing. Most colleges, whether you want to be an adjunct at a community college or a faculty member at Harvard, require some sort of professional degree. If you want to make money through writing, becoming a teacher is probably the easiest method, and that's why a lot of people go into it. That's why a lot of low-resident programs are cropping up now. People who decide they want to become a writer late in life can now get that degree without sacrificing the life they've already built for themselves. If that's what you want to do.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I think as long as you have Diet Coke, you're all good.

In all seriousness, the first thing my college advisor said when I told him I wanted to do the creative writing focus for my English degree was that an education doesn't get you published.

I learned a lot from my creative writing classes and workshops, but "formal" training is certainly not where I learn the most. I learned the most from studying, inside and out of school, by reading other writers, and by, well, writing. I felt like after I finished my first manuscript in 2003ish, it taught me the most about writing. Corny as it sounds, it taught me that I could do - I could write a story from my brain to paper.

Also, I don't think you ever stop learning as a writer. See, just today I learned that I use more words than I need.

Cliche, cliche, but for most of us, I think pratice is what makes the closest thing to perfect.

ElanaJ said...

Eric, what a great question. I happen to believe that anyone who is dedicated enough, smart enough and persistent enough can do anything they want to do. Basically, if you're willing to put in the work to achieve something, you'll be able to achieve it.