Why I NEVER insist on writers learning technique first.

Hey all! I’m finally back. Would have posted sooner, but the power was out all day.

Incidentally: Not the best thing ever to happen during a heat wave.

So anyway… remember what I said about me blogging about topics that leap out at me? Well, this is one of them.

I’d like to know from you, two things:

1) Did you decide to learn writing skills before starting to write?
2) Have you actually finished a book yet? (Even if it’s a first draft.)

And now, on to the actual post:

On of my website meanderings, a new writer asked if it’s cliche to alternate points of view with every new chapter.

I said something along the lines of it not being a question of cliche, but of flow, and that if she thought the flow worked, she needed to have the guts to follow through with it.

Which led to someone insisting that a writer HAS to learn the skills and technique first instead of guts. And me being me, I tried to be nice and admitted that yes, skills and technique were necessary to a writer. But that one needed guts to actively write first before learning them.

Comment from her: 

No.  You need technical skill before you can develop your voice and style.  Dancers don’t start off with as choreographers; musicians don’t start of as conductors.

Me: 

But writing is neither dancing nor music. And as a person who does all three, I know that approaching all three activities the same way would be pretty dang stupid. 

Point is that writers who focus on learning “all the technical skills” before they actually start writing, almost never finish their projects. 

Because the one thing writing, dancing and music have in common is that learning skills is a never-ending process. So if you don’t start writing first and learning as you go, it basically comes down to an interesting form of procrastination.


That said, I don’t particularly believe in insisting there’s only one way of getting this writing thing done. So more power to anyone who does learn writing the other way around. I just haven’t seen it happen among any of my writing acquaintances. 

(Which is where my questions came from. I haven’t seen this happen, but it could have and I missed it. And me being me, I’d really like to know if I’m wrong, and by how much.)

Her

Wow.  Sorry you feel so defensive about it.

Me: 

I’m not defensive per se. But as I said, I’ve had contact with over a thousand writers since 2010, and none that I could think of actually finished a book after “learning the trade” first. 

I actually think it’s because there’s so much knowledge, some of it contradicting, that writers lose their inherent style and voice because they have too many people “telling” them what to do and how. 

And as I said, one never stops learning in any of the arts. So a writer who’s postponing writing until sufficient knowledge and skill is gained, almost never actually gets to the writing bit. 

So truly, I’m not so defensive in the sense that I think my way is the only way. But I try very hard to foster an enjoyment of writing within new writers. And that’s hard when people (no matter how well-meaning) insist on “rules” and “methods” and “skills” that – if taken too far – will actually set a writer back rather than help him/her. 

What I mean by this is that I’ve been writing for almost thirteen years now. I had the fortune of starting before I had access to the internet and all of its information. I say this because it meant I could find my own voice, style etc first, and adapt the rules, technique etc to suit what I wanted to do, instead of vice versa. 

With the shoe on the other foot, (people who wanted to learn the technique) I’ve seen person on person, new writer after new writer postpone their (often excellent) projects because they felt their technique lacking, or because their books broke too many rules. And you know what? They almost never start again.  

It’s a pity, really. A great one. And it’s the reason why I might come across as defensive. Because I’m defending a new writer’s right to enjoy writing, even if their writing SUCKS! I’m defending their right to explore, to make mistakes and to learn for themselves. So that they can see in the end why techniques work, and which rules can stand bending. 

And if I can be very naughty, I’m going to use your previous analogy. 

Dancers don’t become dancers to become choreographers. They dance because they love it. They become choreographers because they love dance first. 

Same with musicians and composers. The love and passion for music comes first. 

Writers need to have that love and passion fostered within them. And if that means me being a seeming anarchist to say: “Go on!!! Try it! No one will kill you!” I’ll do it every time. 

Because in the end, the most amazing things in art come from people who had the guts to try something.

That said, I do believe skill and technique has its time and place. Namely: Revisions and edits. If you don’t at least understand rules and why they exist, and if you don’t know writing craft, improving on what has been written (an incredibly important aspect to producing a readable novel) would be impossible.

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