As you know, I finished my writing class recently. Some of my classmates wondered what they actually learned during the class. Some of them thought they learned nothing. They felt that they gained no new knowledge, that they were in the exact same place they started. (to be fair- people felt this after the first class as well.) Now, I felt I learned from both classes. Does this mean I was stupider than others in my class? (careful…) Or do I just view learning differently?
I think teaching/learning writing is difficult to quantify. Can you teach someone to write? I think you can be taught basics. I think you can learn how to structure a story, how to write dialogue, how to set a scene. But is that teaching someone how to write? Well, it depends on how open minded you are.
I went into each class with a very open mind. I listened very carefully to what the teacher had to say. After each class, I would think about the lesson as I read whatever fiction choice was on my ereader. I would look at how the author actually put into practice the lessons that we learned. If we learned about moving a story forward, I would pay attention to how an author actually moved the story forward- how they got from place to place, idea to idea. If we talked about description, I would look for how the author didn’t rely on adverbs and adjectives, how they looked for different ways to set a scene. Then, when I would sit down to write, I would try to incorporate what I learned. Because, I actually felt I learned something. And my writing got tighter.
I’m going to give you the two lessons I’ve never forgotten:
- Man v Man. Man v Nature. Man v Himself. That’s it. Every story boils down to one of these three elements. That’s it.
- Who, what, when, where, why, how. The old journalism prompts. Use them. That’s how you make one of the stories your own.
I think people want a cheat sheet, a checklist of what they are “supposed” to do. They think if they memorize this writing playlist, they will produce an amazing work. But writing is not like that: you can’t memorize “rules” and spit out a magnum opus. You have to write from the heart, you have to put the story that’s buried in your soul onto a page. Yes, there are guidelines, but they’re just that: guidelines. No one can teach you to actually be a good writer. Only you can teach yourself how to write.
Look at my lessons. Memorize them. Then write your story. Don’t expect someone else to “teach” you to write your story, because it’s your story. Your rules. Your words. Your story.