On the study of writing


One day recently, I was innocently scrolling through my Facebook feed (possibly procrastinating but we don't need to dwell on that) and ran across a post in a writer's group I'm in.

The post was a slightly ranty diatribe decrying a lack of arduously acquired writing skill through writing courses amongst a group of "so-called" writers the poster had been conversing with.

By the time I saw this post, there were 375 comments. The person who made the original commentary about writers who lack formal training being a scourge upon the craft was expressing a decidedly controversial point of view. (He might have used different words to describe his thoughts.)

I didn't read the comments; I don't really need to. The post ignited an old and tired debate about what makes a writer a true writer. Personally, I like how Steven Pressfield put it:

If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
— Stephen Pressfield

Actually, I'm not sure whether self-confidence is an entirely reliable measure of who is counterfeit, but I get why he makes that assertion. (I was sort of tempted to go find that post and just put this quote in as my comment, but that's probably more effort than the conversation is worth.) 

There are talented writers with zero formal training beyond the required years of writing through school. There are talented writers that make study and practice of the craft a priority akin to eating and drinking through formal instruction. 

What right does anyone have to say that the first group isn't studying, though? Perhaps they read a variety of content from blogs, to literary classics, to scholarly articles. Maybe they immerse themselves with the style they want to focus on and hone. (I'm not a big fan of this method, but to each his own. For me, variety is the spice of life...and words.)

I have personally read books on writing from time to time and they certainly have their value. But I analyze writing everywhere. 

The study of writing isn't a one size fits all journey. There are as many ways to go about learning as there are different styles, mediums, and methods of writing. 

It took me a long time to figure out how much I love to write and the change I made this year in leaving the business I started with Lara has led me to focus more on writing. (Just saying that sets off mental cartwheels - I'm loving it!) 

Later this month...cue me getting really giddy with the mental cartwheels and all...I'm flying down to Chicago to attend the Chicago Writers Conference. All in one place, I am going to have the opportunity to meet other writers, learn more about freelance work, and I'm going to hit some fiction (and maybe non-fiction) sessions too. Because, yes, I totally want to write books as well. I've already started one. 

Do I need to go to this conference to do all the things I want to do? Probably not. Am I going to learn a ton that will help me move forward more quickly? I sincerely hope so. That's why I'm going. (That, and it's in Chicago, and I can visit Gini...yay!)

Is a writer who doesn't ever attend any sort of formal learning event less of a writer? That's not for me or anyone else to decide.

There's good writing and bad writing (trained or not), and there always will be. Bad writing doesn't necessarily mean someone isn't a writer anymore than good writing means they are. I tend to think writers are people who have a passion for the written word and are compelled to contribute their own to the annals of history. 

I don't think the definition of a writer needs to be any more complex than that.