Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Can Anyone Be a Good Writer?

It's Wednesday of my New York adventure/whirlwind and wow is it great to be here. New York! Must you be so awesome and tempt me back every time I visit you?

Meanwhile, this topic has been percolating in some of the recent posts and we addressed a variation of it in the past, but I thought I'd raise it here.

Can anyone with enough practice be a good writer? What about a great writer? Is there a part of writing that is innate or can it be learned by anyone?






225 comments:

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Kiersten White said...

Honestly, you, Natalie Whipple, and me are on the same blog-thinking-circuit. It's getting creepy.

My answer is yes. With a lot of work and sacrifice.

Nathan Bransford said...

kiersten-

Whoa, really? I'm behind on my blog reading on account of the NYC craziness, but maybe Natalie has finally mastered ninja mind control.

Kiersten White said...

If I could pick anyone to control my brain, it'd probably be her. At least we're in good hands.

Laura said...

I don't think anyone is a great writer, if that was the case, we wouldn't need Agents or editors. But I definitely think it can be learned.

There also has to be the absolute want to be a writer. Not everyone wants to be a writer.

onelowerlight said...

I think that whether or not you have innate writing talent, it generally gives you such a small head start that without practicing for the proverbial 10,000 hours (or 1,000,000 words of crap), you're not going to achieve true excellence at your craft.

Whether or not certain people simply cannot write...I suppose that may be true, but those are probably the people who don't feel the urge or the calling to write. I want to believe that if you do feel a calling to write, no matter how bad you are when you start, you can eventually achieve excellence at it. I don't know that that's true, but I tend to believe it.

Ines said...

With a lot of practice, everybody can be a bétter writer. I honestly do not believe that everybody can be a good writer. It's like swimming: everybody can learn not to drown. Not everybody can be a champion.

Anonymous said...

Barring a severe learning/processing disability, everyone can learn to communicate competently, in my experience. I taught Freshman Comp and saw that happen semester after semester. But the original voices with talent and inspiration? Only a handful over the years.

Natalie Whipple said...

HA, I'm am starting to wonder about my psychic abilities. Creepy.

Ulysses said...

I think anyone can be a good writer with practice and study. I think those with talent certainly start ahead of the curve.

But this boils down to the question of whether writing is an art or a craft, and I doubt there will be a resolution to that debate any time soon.

Ryan Ashley Scott said...

Gawd, I hope so.

The only thing we know for sure is that talent, alone, does not cut it. Years of hard work are much more precious, and often come at a higher cost. Can anyone do it? I don't really know. Those who have, though, get kudos in my book.

joelle said...

Interesting question. I'm teaching some writing workshops for Grade 7 and the first one is on voice. I was thinking last night that you can teach someone to write technically, but they're going to have to find their voice on their own if they want to be a great writer (hopefully, I can give them clues on how to find their voice). So, yeah...I think if you're willing to work hard and do some self-discovery, and put in the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell talks about, you could learn to write.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

Nobody's a good or bad writer. Taste is subjective.

But it does take practice. and I think a writer's talent can only be tested if they can stretch themselves out of their comfort zone and write in a genre or style that's totally different from theirs.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

and a writer should challenge herself or himself by writing all sorts of varied writing activities:

-write a poem
-write a stage play
-write a comic book
-write a screenplay
-write a free verse or freestyle rap
-write lyrics to a song

etc...

Ali said...

I don't think so. During my first fiction class back in undergrad my professor said to me, "Well, you can write a well crafted sentence which is good because I can't teach you that."

You can become a better writer with lots of hard work, but to be great, you need to start off with something to work with. I know for sure that as hard as I try, I will never be a painter. I think it's an insult to painters to presume that anyone can do it with enough hard work. Same with being a writer.

Elisabeth Black said...

I used to think that anyone could do anything if they were willing to give up enough, with the caveat that someone with talent would always do better, after the identical amount of work.

Now I'm not so sure. I have children, and watching them develop from grubs to independent creative people I see how much of talent really is nature not nurture.

I think this: usually innate ability drives desire. Someone with no talent would probably not care enough to try hard to get good, much less great. What a tragedy if they did, only to fail.

Annette Lyon said...

No. I really don't think so. I've tried teaching some people who are willing learners and who come to conferences--and who immerse themselves in the whole writing thing and they JUST DON'T GET IT. No matter how many times you try to explain something as simple as show don't tell or a POV issue or whatever, they just give you a blank stare.

Some people can learn it if they're willing to put forth the effort. I've seen writers blossom and grow, and it's amazing to watch.

But others, I'm sorry--they can't do it, and it's a lost cause, no matter how much they want it.

It's just like some people cannot be dancers because they just don't have they body or they can't feel the rhythm, or some people will never be able to be great singers because they just don't have the pipes for it, or (substitute any art). It doesn't matter how bad you want it.

There are some things that cannot be taught if a kernel of skill isn't already in there somewhere.

Ink said...

Well, not everyone. If you have an IQ of 40 you're probably not going to be Shakespeare. Sorry. But I think most people can be good writers if they work hard enough. And what hard enough is might be key. If you write, seriously, three hours a day for ten years (and that means applied practice, attempting to learn and get better and critique and develop, etc.) most people will get quite good.

But I think talent is self-selecting. Talent plus hard work will equal results. If someone with little natural talent spends three hours a day for a year and doesn't get too far... it's very unlikely they're going to get to ten thousand hours of practice. They'll be discouraged, they'll be drawn by other interests and other talents. Someone with lots of natural talent, however, will be greatly rewarded by that first year of applied practice, and those results will naturally spur them on, push them to continue their practice... or even increase it.

But I think most people, if they kept with it, would get pretty good. But talent will always influence the writer, both in how much they work and in what that work produces. The more talent you have, the better a yield you'll reap from your efforts. But if you work hard enough I think you'll certainly get something.

The question, I guess, is this: will people want to put in a monstrous 10,000 hours of work to be good... but not good enough. This is the zone where talent influences action. I think writers, pretty early on, will see how much they improve, how much they reap from their efforts. And this will help delineate the future course. Those with a lot of talent will likely see that the goal is reachable and will continue on. Those without as much might see that it would be difficult indeed... and thus either stop writing or ratchet things down to the point where they can enjoy writing as a pleasure without that need for publication, mastery, etc.

It takes a pretty serious commitment to be a great writer, and it's a commitment without much of a guarantee. You have to be willing to throw the dice. Though I'm guessing a lot of writers here might be the sort who there's no way not to throw those dice. Those little dice might just be tumbling through every vein, talent or no talent.

Ann-Kat (Today, I Wrote...) said...

Where there's passion, there's hope.

It's like playing an instrument. You can learn the fingering, you can learn to read the notes, and you can learn to put them all together. But what separates a good musician from a truly great one is the passion--that bit of magic added in the rendering of the score.

I believe it's the same with writing. Someone may have exceptional technical abilities, but without that passion, his writing will be lifeless.

Ello said...

Some famous writer who's name escapes me once said that they graduated from their MFA program with many talented writers who later on turned away from their talents to do other things. The famous writer said that the difference is not who is more talented because anyone, with time and practice and learning, can be a good writer. The difference was who had more perseverance.

Sam said...

I think with enough work, anyone can become a good writer. But as a number of people have commented, I think it takes that something extra to be great.

That something extra is innate, and it allows you to put your own stamp on writing. You can learn proper sentence construction, and what makes an effective metaphor, and how to create sympathetic characters, but to be great -- you need that sense of artistic style, that vision of something as wholly your own, not an amalgam of learned abilities.

Maryann Miller said...

I think there is a vast difference between a great story teller and a good writer. Good writers can master the craft and spin a decent yarn, and they do get better and better at the craft over the years. But great story tellers take the whole process up several notches. Not anybody can do that. It is a gift.

CommonSenseWriter said...

No.

I wish people would quit thinking about writing as something that everybody is good at or can be good at. It's just not the case. With practice anyone can turn out serviceable prose. Whether it will always be good, I'm not so sure.

There is also significant difference between a good writer and an amazing one.

I know that I'm going to get eviscerated for these comments. I don't care. I've seen too much bad writing over the years to take a Pollyanna view of the craft.

Jenni Bailey said...

Honestly, I don't think so. I think that you can get better. I think that you can learn to imitate certain styles. I think you can learn the mechanics of composition and the ins and outs of the publishing industry. But that doesn't guarantee that you'll ever be a truly good writer. If it doesn't come from a sincere place, if that grain of truth isn't planted in there somewhere you're at a disadvantage. And I think that, if you did manage to squeak through and get published, readers would sense something missing.

It's like anything else. You can go to 12+ years of medical school and graduate and start a practice and so on and so on. But that doesn't mean you'll be a great doctor. That doesn't mean you'll have the instinct and intuition and patience of a great doctor. But, sure, anyone can put in their time and give themselves the title.

J.J. Bennett said...

I think so. Just like ridding a bike, learning to sing, or anything you do in life. If you practice you will become better. You must have the desire to work hard and believe you'll make something of it to really become a good writer. Desire mixed with effort is the key...

Terri said...

Can anyone with enough practice be a good writer? What about a great writer? Is there a part of writing that is innate or can it be learned by anyone?

As one who spent five years learning the craft before attempting to write a novel, I say yes, with enough practice you can become a good or even great writer. Although, I don't think it really matters in the whole scheme of things because all your hard work and studying doesn't necessarily mean you'll get published. (been there, done that) ;-P

One of the writing forums I belong to has been having a discussion about talent vs luck...actually it's been more of a debate with both sides passionately weighing in. I chose to stay out of it, but I'm more of a devil's advocate with both arguements. I believe everyone--regardless of education or background-- has the ability to write a good book, afterall it only takes an active imagination and a love of story telling which we're all born with and learn to use as children (imaginary friends, anyone?).

Learning more about the craft of writing can turn a good story into something great but again, it doesn't necessarily mean the book will get published. For that you need perseverance, determination and yeah, a little bit of luck.

;-)

lotusgirl said...

I wouldn't say anyone, but I think a lot of people could be good with enough direction and practice. Great is another story. I think that takes a bit extra inside.

I would say that no one could be a good or great writer without practice though. The more the better.

jjdebenedictis said...

Something to note is that hard work and perseverance can make up for a shortfall of talent.

Talent is only potential. You can be talented and not ever finish your novel, or not query it, or not write fast enough to sustain a career.

Talent is important, but it's not enough.

Heather Lane said...

I think that it is more than general writing ability--I think must have great ideas as well. I don't care how accomplished your writing is if all you have in your head are boring thoughts. Maybe this was implied with your question, Nathan, but for me, writing is just the vehicle to express creative ideas.

Aimee States said...

I sure as heck hope anyone can do it. I consider myself an anyone.

Jason said...

No.

I really want to say yes, but I have to say no because you'd have to assume that every person is humble enough to learn from their mistakes and grow as a writer. As much as I'd like to believe that's the case, it's just not true.

I do believe that anyone who sees writing as a journey and looks to learn something from every success or failure can become a good or even a great writer, though the time it takes would vary from person to person.

But not everyone has the humility to crawl before they fly.

ajcastle said...

Hmmm...I want to say yes, I really do. But, I think the honest answer is no. I DO think that anyone can learn the mechanics of writing, but the true test is whether or not they can actually spin a good story. To me, that seems like the harder part -- making people care enough to want -- no need -- to read on. In my humble opinion, that's what makes someone a good writer, not necessarily the mechanics of it all. If you can make me laugh, cry, or get spitting mad -- well, IMO you're a good writer.

Scott said...

"Can anyone be a good writer?

It depends on what kind of writing you're talking about. Most people can be taught to write a decent business letter and other types of correspondences.

I worked in the newspaper business for a long time. I saw a lot of different writing styles and levels of talent. Ability varies greatly. It was all some could do to gain competency in writing an article. For others, it was cake.

Fiction is a different bird, IMO. You can write competently, perhaps even well, and still not be a good novelist. To be a good fiction writer, you have to be able to breathe life into your characters. I'm not sure how much that can be taught or even how much repetition helps. That's what separates good fiction from the rest.

Jenni Bailey said...

Also, as someone else pointed out, a lot of people lack the ability to take criticism. And that is something that a truly great writer must be able to do. You must be willing to be absolutely ruthless with yourself. You may have to kill off your favorite character or delete a personally meaningful scene if it isn't working. You have to be able to step out of your own head and SEE those things. And I don't think a lot of people are able or willing to be that objective about their own work. And that will always hold them back.

(word ver: torade - what one drinks to stay hydrated during The Running of the Bulls)

Josin L. McQuein said...

Good can be learned.

For writing, it's why there are workshops and classes and community publications. For music it's why there are piano recitals and dance recitals. For sports, it's why there are local teams and little league.

Great can't.

That's why there are professional writers and musicians at Carnegie Hall and ballet at the Met and the world series.

Everyone can get better, but not everyone can achieve great.

Vincenzo said...

There are a lot of competent writers, but to be a good writer, you have to be a good storyteller too.

To be great involves more than just writing a good story well. Great writers are good writers who touch readers in ways that transcend generations. Their stories are ageless. But that's also why some writers aren't considered great until long after they're gone. It takes time for their greatness to be appreciated.

Can a bad writer work hard and become good? I don't think truly bad writers can ever become good, no matter how much time and effort they dedicate. I think there has to be some latent talent there to nurture, and honestly, some people just don't have it.

Gemma said...

Speaking from a musician's point of view, I think anyone can learn to be a decent writer but being a great writer involves a multitude of other factors including but not limited to education, discipline, practice, some degree of innate ability, luck, inspiration, persistence, the right connections, etc. From personal experience, I play the violin and have a degree in music, but a Joshua Bell I shall never be. Same with writing, I think.

Martin said...

Anyone? No. And I'm talking craft here, not artistic genius (that's a whole other kettle of fish). The same way some people can learn carpentry and others simply make messes and hurt themselves, the craft of writing can be known but that doesn't mean it can be applied by anyone. Even with considerable practice, some people just will never get the steps down.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think really great writers possess a need to dig deep into the human psyche and moreover, their own. You can learn to be technically good, but without the drive and willingness to explore the human condition and our world (and experience the pain and confusion that go along with that), you'll never be great.

Falen said...

i always agreed with Stephen king, that you can move up one level. So if you start out as a mediocre writer, with enough practice you can become a good one. And if you start out good, you can become great.
Something like that anyway.
I think the be great you have to have some innate talent

Larry Muse said...

When I was a boy I read tons of comic books. On the back page there were always advertisements for ICS. The advertisement had a little man with an egg shaped head seated on first base as another man ran past him. The implication was that no amount of genius, without effort, would bring success.

On the other hand will any amount of proficiency in punctuating, spelling, or ability to break down a sentence produce the wonderful twisted mind of an Edger Allen Poe or for that matter a Steven King?

Perhaps most of us can with effort become proficient enough to produce a readable product. I believe that writing is an art form and to make art requires talent beyond the ordinary.

L. T. Host said...

I think it has a lot to do with background and practice and drive, as with any passion. It's interesting, because a lot of people like ice skating, and yet are realistic that they will never be Olympic ice skaters. Yet, a lot of people also like writing, and most of them think they will be published someday.

I know this is a flawed analogy, simply because far more people publish books each year than skate in the Olympics every four, but-- my point is the same. If you haven't practiced and prepared for it, it's not going to happen, at least not at the level you hope. If you put in the work, who's to say you won't reach your goal? But just tying on some skates and jumping around the ice is bound to hurt you more than help you, especially if you've never skated before. You have to start at your foundation, and work up from there.

Anyway, my long-winded point is that if you have the right track early on, and (cheesy, I know) pay attention in school to learn how to put words together properly, you are in a much better place to hone the craft later on than a kid who didn't care to start with.

TERI REES WANG said...

Really, how would we know?

Unless some wise old popular writer rises up from the other side, and actually wants to admit that they were not an instant genius straight out of the gate.

Scott said...

Depends on what you consider "writing" or "good" maybe. In general, I don't think so. I think you have to have a select group of innate abilities to write, say, a novel or a screenplay such as an ear for dialogue and rhythm, an understanding of story structure and character, etc. Maybe not to the same extent if you're writing a novelty item of some kind (which still requires creativity) but unless we're talking a piece of "written art", I think there needs to be an assortment of specifically developed DNA.

Question: is there such a thing as "tone deaf" or "tin ear" in writing?

Anita Saxena said...

Good... Great....
These are all subjective terms. How does one ever really know?
He he...I'm in a very abstract mood today.

Laurel said...

Nope.

Enough hard work and study won't make anyone a good:

singer
dancer
painter
sculptor
guitarist
professional basketball player
etc.

It will make talented people better, average people proficient, and won't help some at all, just like writing.

In the spirit of egalitarianism, though, just because someone might not ever be a good writer certainly doesn't mean they won't be good at something else.

Robert Young said...

I think anyone can learn and practice to be a good technical writer, in that they have proper grammar skills and are able to string sentences together to form a story.

But I also think that some people have got that certain something (as Simon Cowell would say, the X Factor!) that they were born with--a certain something that cannot be taught.

Jonathan Stephens said...

You can teach anyone to write, but you cannot teach anyone to have something to say.

T. Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

I think certain recent bestsellers are evidence that anyone can be a published writer, but I think it takes a little something extra to be a good one. You can teach anyone techniques and technical skills, but talent is something that has to be cultivated, not instructed.

Matilda McCloud said...

Part of being a writer is being an observer. Can you really become a good writer if you're aren't highly-tuned to everything around you? I believe people can improve their writing with practice and persistence. But they also need to hone their powers of observation, too.

Marsha Sigman said...

You cannot be a good writer without that talent to build upon. It takes both hard work and the ability to tell a story to be truly good.

reader said...

Well, every time I buy a book and end up hating it/not finishing it/ picking out huge plot holes/believing the hype of an over-inflated book a marketing campaign that told me I must read this book, only to be disappointed, then yes, I do think ANYONE can write.

A GOOD writer? Not so much. But, it depends on your definition of good, then, doesn't it?

I like a book that lends itself to a theme or at least an overall scope. Lots of genre fiction doesn't, and neither does a lot of the YA I read. There are so many opportunities (by just adding a sentence of two here and there) for a book to *mean* something larger, and yet that extra effort isn't put in, it seems.

Julia said...

I think it is possible.
With enough drive and determination, with enough effort and plenty of practice... However, not only one has to write a lot, purging pages and pages that come out simply not good enough, but also read, read and read. Everything and anything, including the books they do not like, the books they hate and the books they find brilliant. Then they can become good writers.

Greatness (at least in writing) is a very subjective concept. At least if by greatness you mean being famous and distinguished by some literary awards etc.
The great writer is simply one who elicit most response from his audience, striking the right cords in souls of his readers. He might not look as great a decade afterward and in a hundred years his thoughts might even seem silly.

T. Anne said...

Gosh I hope so. I sure do practice. Nathan, go have a marshmallow shake at a place called, The Stand. Enjoy New York! Find an agent for me, will ya?

anotheranon said...

Lots of responses saying, "No, not just anyone can be a good writer."

I'd like to ask what makes you think YOU can?

I think I'm more persistant. But I'd be curious to hear why others think they are the exception and not the rule. (?)

Anonymous said...

John Gardner doesn't think so, and I agree with him. I will never be a mathematician, good or great. I will never be a an NFL player. I will never be a Spanish Bullfighter. It takes aptitude and hard work to achieve any of these things. Without the aptitude, you can't be great. Without the hard work, you can't even be good.

Rowenna said...

I think anyone can improve--in fact, I'd be willing to say I know anyone can improve. I tutored writing for years and even the most convuluted, confused writing improved with time and practice. I was most proud of those students--the ones whose writing was initially imcomprehensible and moved to cogent and even enjoyable to read. Were any of those kids going to be the next Hemingway or Faulkner? Definitely not. Anyone can be a proficient writer, but I think that great writing is art, not proficiency.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Can anyone learn to be a good baseball player? There is some hand / eye coordination that has to be present in order for the average person to become a good player.

I think there is some innate felicity with language that has to be present for it to happen, but yeah - practice hard enough, learn enough and anyone can be a good writer.

Can anyone be a published writer? With enough work, luck or money.

Can anyone be a successful writer? Now we're into a totally different realm. And my answer is No.

Just as some good ball players may never make it to the majors, some good writers may never become successful.

Karla said...

I'd say no. Some people just aren't "word people".
They don't usually enjoy reading, either... which always boggles my mind.

AB said...

I'd disagree that "anyone" can be a serviceable writer who can draft an email or business letter. There are folks who are simply not oriented toward language, sometimes very smart people. Now, granted, they don't generally aspire to be writers; but still, there's a tone-deafness that can happen with language, as with anything else.

In order to be a competent writer, you have to know to wince at a poorly constructed sentence. You have to empathize with your audience - enough to provide them clues as to what you're talking about without babying them. You have to be observant of your environment. You have to be emotionally able write honest conflict and not pull your punches or distract yourself.

As to "great" writing, that becomes so personal (and often, contextual to time and culture) I'll leave it as an open question.

But if a writer has the ability to see where they fail compared with others, and therefore learn, I think the writer can:
*learn to use sentences effectively
*structure 3 act rising action
*create or record characters that aren't from central casting
*create real human conflict
*create setting that is explored through more than one sense
*and use language that is not cliche.

None of that is rocket science.

Will it be a good story? Maybe. Maybe it'll be the next Transformers movie. But people with related aptitude should be able to come up with serviceable adherence to the standard popular formula.

Rick Daley said...

I don't think so. There are certain elements to creative thought that stem from life experience and genetics.

The thoughts and concepts that drive the written word are a very important characteristic to the quality of writing. Knowing the rules of grammar and building an impressive vocabulary are attainable skills for a great many people, but that doesn't ensure those people will know what to write about.

There's also the motivation factor. Without motivation, a lesser writer lacking in natural ability will not advance to good (or great). I don't think that everyone can be motivated to become a good writer.

Perhaps my viewpoint is somewhat self-serving, as this reduces my potential competition and is therefore comforting.

SammyStewart said...

Yes...with a caveat. Not only do you need to learn to communicate well in writing, but you have to BE someone. If you have no voice or character of your own, what life can you breathe into a blank page? If you are someone who is perpetually bored/uninterested, you're not going to write anything interesting. Some people sound like a yapping television or e-mail forward cliche every time they speak...that has to be overcome first, I think.

stephanie said...

I second Ines. Well said.

Only oral language is hardwired into humans. So, perhaps we all have the capacity to be good storytellers. Written language must be learned in a larger and more concrete sense than oral communication. So, I have to say no, although I appreciate with all my heart the perseverance in everyone who keeps on practicing to get better.

color said...

CAN they? Sure. WILL they? Very, very few people who are currently bad writers are ever going to put in enough work to get good.

Word ver: color. Might be the first time I ever got an actual word.

AM said...

No.

pjd said...

I still maintain that talent + effort = result.

Yes, anyone can write something good. For people with natural talent, a good result comes easily and a great result comes with great effort. For people with less or no natural talent, a good result comes with significant effort, and a great result is unattainable.

Matty Byloos said...

My answer is a resounding ABSOLUTELY NOT! So much of writing, especially fiction, has to do with one's unique vision of the world, and there is something mercurial that happens with how a writer sees things and then translates that into words, then ideas, then larger works. So can anyone craft a well-written sentence? Sure! I used to teach college; I saw it all the time. But were any of those great sentence-writers destined to be amazing writers of fiction? That's another story entirely....

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think anyone can, with enough patience, practice, and study, learn to write well. They can be technically proficient. But does that make them a good writer? I think at least part of the storytelling aspect needed for a good book is innate. I don't think creativity can be taught. You can give a proficient writer a list of prompts, but unless one of them sparks something inside the individual, the story won't have any heart, and I think it would translate flat on the page.

So yes, you can make a good writer in the technical sense. What I am not sure of is whether you can make a good storyteller.

Marilyn Peake said...

I think, for all of the arts including writing, basic talent leads to a drive to work hard to perfect the craft in those who decide to pursue it. In my opinion, not everyone can be a good writer nor does everyone want to be a writer.

Gordon Jerome said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan at Stony River said...

In the context of language usage, I do think anyone can learn to write well; certainly they can learn to write better.

Experience with writers' circles and classes tells me that in the context of publication and/or fiction, the answer's a great big no.

Laurel said...

anotheranon:

Most people don't know how good they are or aren't and in the comment thread I don't see anyone claiming greatness.

The pervasive opinion among the "no" crowd doesn't seem to be that good writing, learned or otherwise, is necessarily the exception but rather that not everyone can be a good writer. Lots of people can, just not everyone.

Not everybody can be good at whatever they choose. If they could, I would be a brilliant singer.

Gordon Jerome said...

"Good" is impossible to judge. There is no standard that constitutes good writing beyond the standard use of English and the basic principles of grammar.

If someone wants to write, and practices writing (fiction, I assume we mean here), they will become adequate at the skill of writing such that they can communicate the themes that are branded on them as well as their unique moral take on those themes.

People who can never be good do not persist in practicing writing.

It's like this one guy over in Kristin Nelson's blog, which I've been banned from recently, presumably, said I needed critiquing. I have no idea what this self-confessed mental patient's issue is, or what he read of mine, or anything like that. He just wants me to trust him that I need some amorphous critiquing. But I'm like, f... you. I mean really: you're going to eat the whole Big Mac, belch, pick your teeth, and then come back to the counter claiming it wasn't good enough? I don't think so.

No one can ever tell me I'm not a good writer, because I don't give a damn. I write stories, and I work on them every day. It's what I am; it's what I do.

You know, I don't think it's healthy for a writer to seek opinions about whether or not they're any good. The vanity required of a serious literary artist necessarily nullifies external opinions.

riay_night said...

Nathan,

I'm honestly going to say no.

I think writing--more specifically, creative writing--is an innate talent that you either have, or you don't. I think that it can be polished and honed and improved, but if you don't have it, you don't have it.

Think about all the wonderful ideas and metaphors that writers come up with. Do I think that anyone, with enough practice, can do that? No. You're born with it, plain and simple.

It's like acting. Yes, the talent can be polished, but really good actors are born with an innate talent that you can't buy, no matter how much you spend on classes.

Becca said...

I think that there are definitely people who have a natural talent but there is no way that a person can be a good writer without actually working at it. Even the most talented people have to work at writing. I think that the more a person writes the better that they will be at it and I guess it's the same way with everything. You could naturally be a very fast runner but you'd never compete in the Olympics if you didn't get out there and practice every day.

David Kubicek said...

Yes, anyone can become a good writer with practice. The thing is, one needs lots of practice. Anyone with a desire to write will stick with it long enough to get the practice. The folks who were not meant to be writers probably will lose interest and quit long before they acquire the skills.

To become a great writer may be a little different. Writing is a craft, and a craft can be learned. But that extra spark necessary to make a great writer, I think you must be born with it or acquire it from your environment as you grow up (if you had a lousy childhood, for example).

karen wester newton said...

I feel that anyone with a basic level of intelligence and a grasp of the rules of whatever language they're writing in can learn to be a passable writer. I define someone being passable as it doesn't make people cringe to read what they wrote. I also think that you can't learn to be a great writer without some inborn talent for the craft. It's a lot like sports. If you go out on the basketball court every single day and practice free throws, dribbling, and passing, you can become a decent basketball player. But you're not going to sign with NBA unless all that practice goes on top of some real athletic talent, and almost certainly, some height, too.

Cloudia said...

One may learn to be a serviceable writer, but the "magic" the "something extra" is a gift that can be ignored, or cajoled, but it is a mystery, I think.


Aloha, Friends!


Comfort Spiral

joewordsmith said...

If a person puts in the work, he can improve as a writer. And many talented people don't find their talent or voice immediately. I have on occasion been surprised by the improvement I've seen in some writers.

However, while most intelligent people can become competent writers, in terms of expressing themselves clearly, many lack the talent to express themselves creatively.

Watery Tart said...

I think almost everyone can become competent at writing well if they care enough to practice, but I think in the realm of fiction there are different powers that come into play.

The power of observation to make people behave plausibly--some people just don't have that.

The ability to come up with an original story (or notice things in real life that can be tweaked)--some people just aren't wired that way.

Some people have fabulous imaginations and can create worlds from scratch--that isn't me and I know it, so I stick to 'plausible in real life' stories.

One of the things we do as writers is identify our strengths and use those, but there are people whose strengths just don't overlap with fictional content very well--a great many of the SUPER SMART in hard science domains for instance (though there are also many who DO write great tales)

Stephen Prosapio said...

Nathan, what's the next topic on? Religion? Politics? Something less controversial perhaps?
LOL

I love what Ines said...
"It's like swimming: everybody can learn not to drown. Not everybody can be a champion."

In "On Writing" Stephen King concludes that bad writers can become mediocre, good writers can get better, but "Great Writers" have something innate.

That said, even Hemmingway took time and studied and practiced his craft, as did other "great" writers.

I guess a lot goes back to the definitions of a "Good Writer" and a "Great Writer." Anyone can learn how to put words together on a page/screen appropriately. Not everyone can spin a complex yarn that captivates readers.

Kate said...

It depends on how you define good writing. There are a lot of different elements that go into writing, and not all people have them all. I am dyslexic, and know that I will never be a good speller - ever. But I do think that I'm good at making up stories. Other people might have fabulous spelling and grammar but lack the imagination required to write fiction. So it all depends on how you define good writing.

Suzyhayze said...

HI Nathan,


I think I've read all the comments and am noticing no one (I may have missed it, so sorry!) mentioned that Stephen King devotes some time to this in his book "On Writing" which I was given as a gift and didn't open (BAH, who needed it, right ;)) until I wrote my second novel. Then I devoured it and all the other books on writing I could get my academic hands on.

So: Yes. Bad writers can learn to be better writers. Good even. I'm no ball player, but I could learn to pitch a descent ball if I gave it enough practice and opened up my mind to critique.

BUT: Great writers? Great writers just... have it. And we know it when we read it. And some of us know it... when we write it.

New York misses you too, surfer guy.

Christa said...

I think writing. like anything else, has tiers of success. I think there are people with some talent who work diligently and become good writers. However, I think great writers reach that status because they have a gift, not simply because they practiced.

Since this is Nathan's blog, I'll compare it to basketball. How many kids grow up playing basketball to varying degrees of success? Of those, how many go on to get scholarships to college? Of those, how many go on to the Pros? Lastly, of those professionals, how many can make the sport look like an art form?

Very, very few.

You can see the same thing in singing, acting, ballet, etc. I think everyone can do just about anything with some practice. To reach the level of greatness, though, requires something more than talent. It requires a gift that's inherent in the individual and is not something that can be learned.

M.B. Sandefur said...

I think that a person can become efficient with a lot of time and practice. But, ultimately, a good or even great writer depends on their style. How they get their stories to the reader is most important. Anyone can write a story. Only a great writer can make it seem like you're in the story, apart of the characters' lives.

Ben said...

I think anyone who works hard enough and is willing to learn can become a good writer.

But I think natural talent is a factor, making it easier for some to become good and also to achieve greatness.

Basically, there is no substitute for hard work, but it will not take you as far as a gifted hard-worker can go.

Rebekkah said...

Writing is all about seeing something in a way no one else has ever seen it before, and communicating that vision uniquely. Communication can be learned, but you can't be taught how to see. The difference between the good writer and the great writer is the unteachable.

Thermocline said...

Anyone can get better. Focus and determination will make a difference. How much, though, may be determined by talent.

I could practice the hell out of a drum set, but my white boy lack of rhythm would keep me from being great.

Anonymous said...

At this time, I would say no.

I have read too many writers that just don't have that magic.

I know too, that in many instances, it would be upsetting for them to hear this. And, of course, I could be wrong.

What concerns me more are all the writers (I am probably one of them myself) who have that magic and yet aren't quite in the dance yet. i.e., their work still needs to develop more or get tighter OR they haven't found how they fit in the world (wrote a bad query letter, developed a Harry Potter kind of idea when the market was saturated, finished their novel on the doomsday of publishing as we know it, etc., etc.)
One way or another, sometimes both.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Almost anyone. But, I also think there is such a thing as a writer's personality. These are people who enjoy obsessing over details and are fairly emotional, sensitive creatures. We tend to do a lot of observing. It's not just the act of writing that makes a writer (thought that is 90 percent of it), but in the life that is lived, and how it is lived. As Natalie Goldberg wrote in "Writing Down the Bones," writers live twice -- once in experiencing life, and another time in the recording of that experience. I do think there is a certain type of person that seems more inclined toward the writing life and doing it well. But I suppose almost anyone, if they wanted to pursue it enough, could develop some of these traits. I don't think everyone is cut out for it, though. It's too brutal a process.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Can anyone be a good writer?

Yes...

Can anyone be a good storyteller?

No...

Haste yee back ;-)

DCS said...

A good writer is one who communicates effectively with the written word. A great writer is a good writer who is also able to entertain, move, excite, inspire, [add verb of your choice]others. The first skill is not hard to acquire with basic intelligence, training and practice. As for the second, well, that is the question, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I believe Aristotle addressed this topic on a broader scale, reference the nature of good.

Me, I think anyone can be a "good ___." The great ones are the ones we remember. The greatest ones, we study.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone be a good electrical engineer?

...piano player?

...wrestler?

...pastry chef?

...surgeon?

~Anonysaurus

Natalie said...

Yes.

Other Lisa said...

OT but thought this was interesting:

Simon & Schuster Unveils Internal E-galley System.

Digital, DRM protected ARCs for review, etc.

Read about it here.

Nathan, when NY tempts you, just think about the weather. And do does NY have Napa/Sonoma/redwoods? Beaches? No, it does not!

And the Knicks for the Kings...I mean, not much of a trade-up.

Anonymous said...

This post really asks the question, "Knowing that the human brain is a multi-capable instrument to be molded by each individual, can one sufficiently direct the evolution of their own thinking to sharpen a particular artistic, scientific or industrial skill to the point of commercial and/or critical scuccess?"

The human mind itself has given us many things: race cars, computers, cell-phones, prostitution, cigars, mystery novels, scary movies, water pollution, crime, economics, warfare, heart surgery...Obviously no one person can ever master all of these disciplines (or can they?!)

So it comes down to focusing effort in one direction over a significantly long timeframe in order to develop and matriculate a "talent."


~Anonypussy

Anonymous said...

Yes, anyone can be a good writer IF they have "[focused their] effort in one direction over a significantly long timeframe in order to develop and matriculate [their writing]."

That's basically it. Sp ask yourself 1 question: have you put in your time relative to what's out there? because it's unlikely that the casual pursuit will hit paydirt. it can happen, but so does winning the lottery.

Edward W. Robertson said...

There are very few great writers out there. Meanwhile, there are legions of people trying to become great and failing even to be good, despite years of hard work. It seems self-evident not everyone can practice their way to greatness.

If "good" means "publishable novelist," I don't think that's true, either, for basically the same reasons. Much easier to become good than great through practice, but that hardly makes it universally attainable.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, and also note that the reason the concept of money or currency was invented is to allow those who have not devleoped their brains in certain ways to be able to harness the power of those who have.

I may not know how to build a house in accordance with zoning laws and building codes, but I can pay someone who does. Someone who has focused their energies in that direction, whiile I, presumably, have done so in some other direction.

It's all coming together now.

Anonymous said...

Me thinketh Anons have too much coffee!

Andrew said...

If anything about writing was innate, babies would be able to do it.

Najela said...

Personally, I think that writing or anything for that matter is a combination of 3 things; talent, experience, and passion. Experience and passion can be cultivated. Talent and Experience might cause your writing to be good, but lack passion. Passion and Talent can get you far, but there's a certain point in time where you need the experience to write. To be a great writer, you need to broaden your horizons by experiencing new things, cultivate a passion for something that you're good at, but talent is something innate. Some people are good at singing, others are good at other things. Just because you don't have the talent doesn't mean it can't be done but you have to work harder at it than someone who it comes to naturally.

I think passion is the most important though.

Jess Haines said...

With enough time, dedication, and hard work, I would say, yes, anyone can be a good writer.

A great writer? I'll have to think on that one.

JDuncan said...

My immediate response to this is no. I thought I might change my mind after thinking about this for a moment, that maybe with enough drive and practice that anyone could do it, but there are so many factors that go into someone being a good, much less a great writer.

I believe it requires a certain amount of innate creative talent to write a good story. Some folks just don't have it, no matter how hard they may try. Their brains just aren't wired up that way. This isn't a slam on them. People are good a great variety of things and have natural talents in certain areas more than others. For better or worse, some people can't/won't be good writers no matter how much they try and/or practice.

It's such an intangible combination of things that puts passion, talent, and technique together to create a good story. There's no way to place a definitie statement upon it. And going from the level of good to great is even more difficult to pin down. Most good writers will not be great. Much like most musicians won't be virtuosos or any other artist will become a master. It's far beyond just being taught and spending endless hours at the craft. It takes something special to be a good writer and something far rarer to be great, all subjectivity aside.

L. T. Host said...

Wow, you can tell we're all writers, here. Look at all the analogies... music, sports, etc., haha.

Bane of Anubis said...

What defines good? Yesterday's good might not be today's and vice-versa... So, if you practice long enough, you might be good enough for yesterday, but might not be laughed at today (e.g., underhand free-throw)

Ink said...

Bane,

"So, if you practice long enough, you might be good enough for yesterday, but might be laughed at today" = Lakers.

:)

Jabez said...

No. Most can become servicable, some can become good, and a precious few can become truly great. Talent not only affects where on the spectrum you start and how fast you improve, but also how high you can get.

And I think there's a pernicious element to the myth that anyone can become good at writing (or anything else) with enough work. It's the implicit idea that if someone ISN'T good, it's because they just didn't want it badly enough or didn't work at it hard enough. As if their failure were a personal failing. While there is certainly a lot of squandered potential on this planet, and that includes writing potential, not all failures are from wasted potential. Some are from lack of potential.

Jess Anastasi said...

It seems many people think the answer to this question is a 'yes' with an added 'if you have the passion and are willing to work.'
I think this is pretty black and white, really. Not everyone can draw. Not everyone can read sheet music and play and instrument. Not everyone can take a computer apart and put it back together or make new programs.
So, no. Not everyone can write. We all have different talents and strengths. Maybe someone might want to be a writer, but whether or not they can do it is a different matter. For myself, I love singing, but I can barely hold a note. I would have loved nothing more than to be able to sing like Kelly Clarkson, but I wasn't gifted with that ability.
I think we need to be able to face the reality of our talents and if maybe we're unable to do something we might otherwise love, we just have to accept it as truth.

Amber said...

I'm not going to give the black and white 'yes, with hard work...' Not everyone is born with an innate desire to write and work hard to become a great writer. I think the biggest part of being a writer, the biggest part of a writer's talent, is having simple passion. The people who often give up writing believe they are giving it up because they lack the skills for it, but they're really giving it up because they suddenly lost passion over a few (and in some cases, a lot) of rejections. But there are plenty of writers out there who find they cannot get their first book a home, but they still go onto write another book. And it's usually that second book that lands them something. It does take talent, to a certain degree, but this rest is hard work, and not everyone is willing to do that hard work. Like Jess said, not everyone can write. I know to hell I cannot sing, and I never will. If a person naively believes that hard work will make me a great singer, that person is dead wrong. You have to be born with a voice to hone. My voice is, for lack of a better word, "un-honable." There are some things you cannot be taught, some things you have to learn on your own. And writing is one of them. You just have to have the talent and skill to learn them on your own.

Anonymous said...

My view is an unqualified maybe. The part of writing that can be learned can be good enough to be a great writer. The part of writing that comes from talent is inherent in social beings. But bringing out that talent in a way that appeals to a large audience requires insight, inspiration, and perspiration, or fortunate chance happenstance.

An example by way of the previous topic, Vampires and other revenant characters have evolved in literature but still have the same foundational bases, that they're metaphors for the social anxieties of an era. At one time vampires, perhaps Braham Stoker's Dracula, were a metaphor for the life's blood sucking leeches of European society, the ne'er do well of the elite gentry who did little for the greater good, instead just thrived on the larger society's productiveness. Living dead parasitically living off the living. Zombies as the indifferent mob.

Yet those analagous symbolisms with which readers intuitively or consciously identify don't seem purposeful in the also ran stories that don't rise to the top. The ones that do, well, they seem to be written by authors who are conscious or intuitively aware of the metahpors, motifs, tropes, themes, sympbolisms of revenant literature.

Nick said...

Can anyone be a good writer? Yes. Like with anything else, with a lot of hard work and dedication. I can be a good midfielder if I work my arse off and practice, practice, practice, but I will never approach the skill of Stevie G (pardon the footy references; only sport I follow closely). To be a great writer, or a great anything really, one has to both work hard and have an innate talent for the craft.

Of course that's just my haypenny.

JM Prescott said...

Najela said... "...writing or anything for that matter is a combination of 3 things; talent, experience, and passion." I agree. A great writer has all three. If a passionate writer works hard they can easily outshine a talented writer who never challenges herself. But no matter how hard the untalented work and care, they can never surpass the skill of someone who has all three.

Fawn Neun said...

GOOD writer? Yes.
GREAT writer? No.

CKHB said...

No, it's not just about practice, it's about attitude.

People who watch So You Think You Can Dance will remember a man who called himself Sexx (yes, really) who auditions every year. He thinks he is brilliant. He is wrong. He is, in fact, awful. But I'm sure he practices every day... according to HIS rules and HIS standards and HIS style. And every year, he disagrees with the judges and tells them they're just not appreciating him. One year his MOTHER showed up to scold the judges with him. It is all so very sad, and he will NEVER learn because ultimately I think he doesn't WANT to learn. He doesn't have the right attitude.

I think some people are born with the ability to be great, and this quality may well be innate. But not everyone need be the literary equivalent of Baryshnikov in order to be a happy and successful writer. Those with good attitudes can become GOOD ENOUGH -- and the amount of innate talent you start out with just changes how much work you have to do to get from start to finish.

Gretchen said...

Absolutely. If I didn't believe that, I would probably have to quit right now. Also, as a teacher, I have seen so many writers improve so much through hard work...it just makes sense to me.

lette said...

I'm so glad you're in NYC Mr. Bransford. I live here and I'm in the process of querying you any day now.

Personally, I feel that anyone can write, but "good" writing, that is to say, writing that keeps you turning the pages, is innate. People can be great at writing, but it cannot be learned UNLESS it is first loved. Technical writing can be learned, but not creative writing.

Reesha said...

It's like asking if anyone can live well.
Part of being a good writer means they have to be in touch with life and people around them in a way that no one else is. So can you live well?

There also is a difference between asking "Can anyone be a good writer?" and "Can anyone be a successful writer?"

Cameron said...

I suppose I could be a *good* sushi chef if I went to Japanese culinary school and trained with the finest in Tokyo; I could also be a good plumber if I trained, received my license and put in endless effort to be the best. Therefore, with the right amount of acumen, experience and exposure to successful writers, perhaps *anyone* can be a good writer. The best writers, however, may be those who live and breathe it, who love it, nuture it, and are nurtured by the craft.

Lydia Sharp said...

That's funny...I thought your link would take me here, or here, or maybe even here. *shrugs* Guess I'm not a mind-reading ninja like Natalie.

J. Bookman said...

I believe anyone can theoretically become a good writer, but I warn anyone hoping to refute this, that the post turned out to be more of a discussion/exploration of the idea than an authoritative statement.

I will skip the mechanics of writing part of being a good writer, since it seems self-evident to me that anyone can learn the mechanics of a language as well as he or she can learn the mechanics of a car or riding a bicycle.

I think of writing and art as noticing and sharing what you notice. A lot of times, art puts that which we see every day and may or may not notice in a new light, renewing and revitalizing our experiences of life. Whether it is noticing the space between branches, or noticing that one spends an awful lot of time doing X Y and Z to project a self image, artists (and subsequently writers) are noticers. I am certain not _everyone_ can learn this, but I would argue that anyone with an average intelligence/psychological competence -- the standard equipment -- can refine this fundamental ability. One way we refine this ability is through reading and appreciating artwork.

Some interesting writers write primarily in a second language, and it forces them to notice things differently, and express them in new ways for which native of speakers have ready-made language (cliches and things like that), that is stale and lifeless. Similarly, great scientists sometimes have poor verbal skills, especially at a young age, and thus are less influenced by conventional wisdom. Their ability to notice results in scientific breakthroughs.

Bane of Anubis said...

Bryan, it's starting to look that way... got to scrap into OT to scrape by OKC... not good. Well, hopefully Boston'll flame out early and LA and CLE will hit their stride 6 months from now :)

Grimmster24 said...

My "short" answer, Nathan, is yes, "good writing" can certainly be achieved. I'd say it depends on whether or not a writer's goal is to simply write, or write to get published. For someone who isn't being published, it's (of course) in the eye of the writer and reader. For someone trying to get published, it seems mainly up to the editor, and, after a writer becomes very well known, readers. I'd say the same for the "great" writers. Either one DOES take practice, persistence, a thick skin, and a willingness to adapt and compromise.

Enjoy NYC!

Victoria said...

There's a fine line between this question and last week's, 'You Tell me,' about talent vs hard work.

The answer by almost everyone last week seemed to be that talent wasn't necessarily required. Then this week, the consensus seems to be (thus far) that anyone can be a good writer, but not everyone can be a great writer.

So, if I'm reading opinions correctly, does this mean generally anyone can make the mid-list with a bit of hard work, but you need talent to be read by millions?

Just throwing that thought out there...

For me, I don't think anyone can write. I do think talent is required, whether it is for a magazine, a blog or a novel. First you need talent, then commitment, then the ability to keep trudging forward against the odds. To me, the ability to keep working and honing the craft is more important than talent.

So, providing you have the base magic to work with, then I think you can be a good writer or even a great writer depending on how much work you put in.

Jen C said...

I don't agree with the theory that everyone can be talented at everything with enough practice. Where would be the fun in that? The beauty of the human race is that everyone has different skills and different talents.

So no, I don't think anyone could be a good writer. Just like I don't think everyone could compose symphonies and anyone could invent the nuclear bomb.

Judy Copek said...

My creative writing teacher told the class, "I cannot teach you to write well, but I can teach you to write not badly."

Anna L. Walls said...

I certainly hope so.

P.A.Brown said...

I think with lots of practice -- years to my mind -- a person can become a decent writer. I'm not sure everyone can become a great writer. I think that's like anyone can learn to sing, and a few can become professional singers, but only a tiny amount of singers become great. It's two parts hard work and practice and one part an unknown and unknowable magic or gift that some have.

Kimmily said...

I think the profession of writing is similar to acting or cooking. Can you learn to act or cook or write better? Of course. A few people in these professions have a special quality that is innate and cannot be learned. Most are good and a few are on bay watch, or flipping burgers, but still get paid.

Tabitha said...

I would have to say no, not just anyone can be a good writer. And even less can be great writers. But not because of a lack of innate talent.

I am a firm believer that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. You just have to have the insane desire to work hard, as hard as it takes, in order to succeed.

To be a good writer, you have to make a serious commitment to learn the craft. To be a great writer, that commitment is beyond insane.

So, no, not everyone can be good (not even those with natural talent) because not everyone is willing to put in the necessary effort. But those who have that gut-wrenching, masochistic, bang-your-head-against-the-wall desire, these are the people who will be good. Perhaps even great.

thoughtful1 said...

Go, Jabez! What a thought that anyone can be a good writer. It's like singing or playing an instrument: you can train and be skilled, but only some are inspired. Well, maybe that is Great Writing. Good writing may be like a trained vocalist. Pleasant to experience, but not necessarily a memorable experience.

Go Phils! Had to say that since you are maybe at the game tonight? That is my heart speaking not my head.

thoughtful1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn B said...

Not just "anyone". Working in a public library I see people everyday who can't string two sentences together verbally, let alone write a coherent paragraph. But if the question is can anyone with an average amount of intelligence and a huge amount of determination and persistence become a good writer, I would have to say yes. It's like my friend, who took lessons for years, still practices every day, and plays the piano at church every Sunday is a good piano player. There are other pianists who are better. Some who are great. But she is good, because she works at it every day, and enjoys doing it.

Can a good writer become a great writer someday, if she keeps trying? Maybe. But not unless she enjoys the practice and rejoices in each brief Sunday morning success.

Kaitlyne said...

I think anyone (well, I could make a caveat there, but I'm generalizing) could potentially become a very good and potentially great writer.

The part that most people lack is not so much talent, imo, but love of writing, drive, willingness to learn, patience to work hard, and an ability to admit mistakes and learn from them.

Those are all traits that it takes to become great at almost any field, however. If you don't love writing, you won't have the motivation to continue. If you lack the drive and patience even if you're the most talented person in the world you probably won't get very far.

I think learning from mistakes and the willingness to seek out information to improve oneself is the most important aspect of this, and it's true of everyone. There isn't a single person out there in the entire course of history who wrote so perfectly that they couldn't have improved.

I actually think that for the vast majority of people (discounting the tiny sliver at the far right side of our bell curve) this is the *only* way to be a good writer.

I would also like to say, however, that a lot of this depends on having good teachers and good instruction in school. I used to work in a college writing lab and we had students who couldn't put together a coherent sentence. It wasn't because they weren't smart or because they didn't have great ideas. They just had no idea how to take those ideas and put them onto paper. I have seen many of those people improve with proper instruction and be able to write passable college essays and what not. The main failing? The poor teachers who had not taught them these very basic skills years before.

june said...

When I saw the title to this post, I had to look at it two or three times after blinking. I had just finished writing a post on my own blog along the same lines. I think this topic is on the wave length that it is because as I noted, so many people are attempting to get published.

Agent email inboxes are filled to the brim with submissions. Apparently, most of it is wildly inappropriate. I believe most people can be better writers than they are presently, given enough practice and training. Can anyone be a good writer? Probably not. Some people lack the propensity to express themselves well via the written word. It's nothing to be ashamed of. No one can do everything well. Just because someone can read, write and spell doesn't not mean they are cut out to be a published author. It may not be their area of strength.

The hardest part for the aspiring author is probably admitting that to him or herself and accepting that. Especially, if they have dreams of big money, fame and celebrity dancing in their heads.

Avida Novitatis said...

I think some people are doomed by the way their brains are structured to be not just not good writers, but bad writers. Even if they master written English by dint of hard work, what they write will be boring and off-putting to read. I think it's better for everyone concerned if such people focus on something they're actually good at instead of on trying to write, unless they just write for fun and have absolutely no expectations of getting anything more out of it.

Sorry if that's a bleak outlook, but that's what my observations have taught me, after having worked in a proofreading/editing/tutoring capacity in various jobs over the years.

Whirlochre said...

The answer is YES.

Anyone can learn to be a writer — just as anyone can learn to play the piano or learn to let a piano play them.

The question is — how long will it take?

If you figure you can get it done in 70 years, become a writer.

If not — hey, why not follow up this aptitude you have for fixing people's electrics or mobbing the local 'hood with your badass buddies?

Em-Musing said...

I never read my daughters books at night. I told them stories.
Anyone can read and perhaps write a story. But few have visions of other worlds that can transport a listener/reader to places and events that span time, the universe and the imagination.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I think if you have the urge to write, you probably have the innate talent. People who don't have the urge are busy pursuing other callings.

But whether everyone with talent is willing to go through the long process of developing it is another question.

Elle said...

Can anyone be good? No.

Can anyone be passable? Yes.

I played highly competitive soccer for 18 years and recently graduated from a collegiate national championship team. I played in the Olympic development youth programs at many levels and was recruited to play semi-pro out of school.

I also played on my high school's team, for fun, with a lot of girls who really wanted to play and tried very hard, but we still lost most every game, every season.

What I learned in the arena of talent, competition, hard work and defining who is good and great is this:

1. Talent is important.

In a culture that leans towards giving everyone a ribbon for trying, now, first place and talent has lost some of it's prominence, but none of its shine. Everyone might get a trophy, but people really only remember who won - because that person/team knew the mechanics, yes, but because they made it poetry.

2. Everyone can play, but only some get to do it in front of the big crowds.

Anyone can become passable at something with hard work and detrmination, but the higher you go, the better the competition, and the harder it is to stand out. One thing that was very apparent to me in sports was this: eveyone could find a team to play on. Some would make it on to really good teams with hard work. When it was time for college, to be picked from the masses - every person picked to be at that next level had talent. Some more than others, but it was absolutley requisite.

3. Hard work and determination are important. They help you reach some of your goals. They help talented people reach their potential in front of the biggest of audiences. People who don't have 'it' - talent - have more humble successes.

Anyone can learn to write, learn the mechanics, get that word count, and refine thier novel. Those who are passable will feel accomplished. Their friends and family will enjoy their work. They might even be the envy of their writing group (big fish in a small pond), but if they don't have that something, that tiny bit of magic, that talent, that's probably as far a they'll ever go.

Hard work + determination + perseverance + talent = the people who have a shot at being a big fish in a lake or ocean.

And no, talent alone won't do it. Those who are genius, but never do anything, never accomplish anything.

Elle

Etiquette Bitch said...

No, not everyone can be a good (or great!) writer.

But, seemingly, if you can move paper, any idiot can get published.

Laura Martone said...

As Anton Ego says in RATATOUILLE:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.

The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.

It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

Shelby said...

The answer is quite simply, no.

Next question? Yes, you - guy in the back with the glasses..

Laura Martone said...

Of course, ol' Anton was sacked shortly after the world discovered that the chef in question was a rat, but you get the idea...

Dave to You said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mandajuice said...

Nathan, I hope you'll tally up these responses and see if there's a consensus.

Having taught several foreign languages as well as English, I would say ABSOLUTELY NOT. Not everyone thinks in words. Those who don't would be disinclined to ever even TRY to become good writers, much less put in the time commitment to make it happen.

By analogy - I'll never be a great artist. I'm sure that given enough practice and instruction, I could rise above drawing stick figures, but the process would be torture for me. I'm sure there are plenty of people who feel that way about words.

Laura Martone said...

To quote Grady Tripp, one of my literary heroes:

Nobody teaches a writer anything. You tell them what you know. You tell them to find their voice and stick with it, because that's all you have in the end. You tell the ones who have it to keep at it and you tell the ones who don't to keep at it, too. Because that's the only way to get where you're going. Of course, it helps if you know where you want to go.

Anonymous said...

No, definitely not. Bad writers can get better, just like good writers, but good writers only very rarely become great writers. To become a great writer, you need talent, drive, discipline, etc, but you also need to have something important to say--and the ability to say it in a way that startles, amuses, and/or shakes people up.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

A fake word, whose meaning is the opposite of "aloha"

I'd like to say "ohhellno," but that's not very polite...though I feel that way...I like the description of the early Beatles in Hamburg, playing set after set after set...

"They were absolutely legless."

That's how a feel a great anything comes into being...you have to go through a legless phase...

Hannah Jenny said...

I don't think you can teach just anyone to be a good writer, although I hope that anyone could learn to communicate their ideas on paper with some degree of effectiveness.

My main reason for thinking that the "you can teach anyone to be a good writer" people are wrong is that those I have had closest contact with--i.e. people who wrote my high school grammar books--seemed to think that they knew what rules and procedures needed to be taught to make someone a good writer, and, well, these people couldn't write to save their lives!!

Anonymous said...

No, definitely not. Bad writers can get better, just like good writers, but good writers only very rarely become great writers. To become a great writer, you need talent, drive, discipline, etc, but you also need to have something important to say--and the ability to say it in a way that startles, amuses, and/or shakes people up.

Laura Martone said...

So, I guess from the quotes above, it's pretty clear that I feel anyone who wants to write well should at least try.

I agree with most of you that, while becoming a better writer is possible for most of us, becoming a truly amazing writer is more of a rarity. It takes innate talent, fierce passion and perseverance, incredible determination and fortitude in the face of rejection, and a little thing I like to call timing and/or luck.

So, no, not everyone is destined to be a great writer (whether published or not is an altogether different matter). But then again, who's a truly good enough critic to judge what will work for some and not for others? Or better yet, what stories will live on through the ages?

As for me, I'm not sure what I am yet... but I'm definitely not a quitter, and that's a start.

Meghan Ward said...

Stephen King said (I think it was in On Writing) that anyone can be a good writer, but not everyone can be a great writer. I think there's truth to that. A LOT can be learned by writing every day and studying the craft, but there's something innate about being a GREAT writer.

Marla Taviano said...

N-o-p-e.

Laurel said...

Laura: That is hilarious that you thought of Ratatouille, too! My first thought on the topic was that a good writer can come from anywhere...but that does not mean anyone can be a good writer.

I think we need to not take this personally, like the implication is that I am not a good writer even if I think I am, and no amount of hard work will make me so. Maybe I'm not. But the fact remains that if the aptitude is not there, it is not there. Those are just the breaks.

I'm not a good lot of things and I never will be no matter how much I would like to or work at it. Running is a great example. I'm slow but determined. I will never win a race. I wouldn't qualify for the Boston Marathon even if I maintain my current race pace for the next 40 years. I could hire a private coach, train eight hours a day, and I still won't win anything. I just enjoy it, and that's fine. Other people deserve to shine where they excel and not everyone can do the same things, that's all.

Polenth said...

I don't think you need awesome innate writing talent. You do need a reasonable level of intelligence, ability to learn and ability to evaluate your progress.

When this question gets asked, people avoid addressing the variety in mental abilities in the population. Some people can't learn a particular thing, no matter how hard they try. You don't have to have a recognised disability to be in this category (and having a recognised disability doesn't guarantee you'll be here). It's one of those ways people vary.

Saying that everyone can make it if they try hard enough is another way of saying those who don't are failures who just aren't trying hard enough... not very fair to the people who tried and tried and didn't improve.

Sherry said...

Sometimes I think writers are a different species all together. I get characters so strong in my head that if I don't give them the much needed attention they need I'll go crazy. I have to write, and I've always been this way. Recently I’ve written two manuscripts and honestly so far they haven't been very good, but I do believe that some people are born writers, but like me, most of us are perfectionist, and that can get in the way of the creative process. So to clearly answer the question, "can anyone be a good writer?" I would have to say no. Anyone can write, but not everyone can be good at it no matter how hard they work at it. Like someone else said on the post about artists, I’ll say about singers, you wouldn't say just because everyone can hold a tune, necessarily means they can sing.

Laura Martone said...

I'm with you, Laurel. I enjoy singing and doing yoga, but I'm far from the best at either, and that's fine by me.

When it comes to writing, though, I must admit that it's something I long to be amazing at.

The real question is... are published novelists necessarily great writers? Likewise, are many great writers never going to be published? Great art and successful commerce do not always intersect, but they certainly can!

Jil said...

Writing what? I think it would be possible for most people to learn to write good (not brilliant) non fiction but for excellent fiction a great imagination is needed. Also sensitivity, the art of seeing into other's hearts and passion for the story. In possession of these attributes I think a person can then learn to be an excellent writer. He will have talent.
Whether he will have his work published is another story!
Anyone can take photographs but there are only a few great photographers.

Kimberly Loomis said...

I don't think everyone can be a good or a great writer. There is some talent, some innate skill for prose which seems to be there from the start. Same goes for voice.

Being successful, I think, has absolutely nothing to do with being a good or great writer. There are some authors whom are good storytellers but not good writers (language is all clunky and/or clichéd) and go on to have tremendous commercial success. There are also others with tremendous ability and talent who rarely have the stomach to persevere through the gamut of the publishing industry but are no less talented because of this limitation. (Same goes for those that do try to get published and don't.)

Language, oft times, is instinctual.

In music we can listen to someone who knows the notes, the time signature and will play with absolute precision but as an audience we'll be left wanting. That piece of wanting, I think, exists because that instinct, that heart, that "something" is missing. The great performers, even the good ones, will make our hearts yearn, soar and possibly weep with the tone they invoke, the phrasing they emphasize and the dynamics they use. (I think the great ones just accomplish it on a more regular basis than the good ones.) That is, ultimately, what I think a great writer does as well.

Ash said...

I have edited writers, who are considered good – very good – writers, whose hallmark is their absolute mangling of syntax. It hurts my head to do editing like this. Untangling is more like it. But they get the story and type it up and, therefore, they get paid. They do the work. It's like the old saying: a great actor is one who shows up and knows his lines. Everything else is gravy. I think I am a good writer. Actually, I know I am a great writer. But can I carve time in my five-children-forty-hours-a-week-desk-job life and focus on putting words on the page? And perhaps more importantly, can I get over my great writer self and make a plan to write something that a Nathan Bransford can sell the hell out of – a dozen times over?
Ash
Word verification: focker. Ha. Hm.

Dave to You said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aspiring Nurse and Writer said...

I think if you have the drive and desire to want to become a great writer then you can work towards improving your craft, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you will ever good enough to be published or produce something that others will want to read. I love to sing, but I am pretty sure that no amount of training will ever perfect my voice enough that people won't shudder when hearing me belt out lyrics. There is such a thing as talent and it can't be learned.

Simon C. Larter said...

The answer to the question kind of depends on what you mean by "writer," doesn't it? We have Mark Helprins and we have Dan Browns, Stephenie Meyers(s) and Madeleine L'Engles. Vastly different styles, but all wrote books people wanted to read.

Some people have writing chops and can edit a manuscript till it sparkles (like vampires!), but can't find a way to tell an interesting tale. And I've known people whose command of grammar and structure was shaky, at best, but whose stories grabbed you by the neck and shook you around some. I may be in the minority, but I think some people, whether it be nature or nurture, have stories to tell and the drive to tell them.

Grammar, structure, how to construct great sentences, how to plan a plot down to the last detail, those can be taught. Dreaming up great stories and having the grit to see them through to the end, though? I'm not sure where one would learn that.

And, to be clear, it remains to be seen whether I can do that, so I sho' ain't on a high horse or nuthin' (more like a Shetland pony with bad knees).

P.S. Stephen King's made his opinions clear on this issue, hasn't he?

Gemma said...

ELLE-what a lovely and eloquent response. Very well said. Why do you not have a blog?!? Is there any way I can reach you?

NickerNotes said...

Learning the craft of writing is kind of like learning to play the violin. Anyone can learn how to do it, but most people are not going to be Yoyo Ma.

BarbSmitherman said...

That could depends on the type of writing. I totally believe for non-fiction one has to learn the subject for which they write. Fiction on the other hand can be innate. Some people just seem to be born great story tellers. I know numerous children that can make up a story in no time flat. As far as the craft of putting it down on paper once again that must be learned.

Donna Hole said...

No. Practice and perserverance get you only so far. You have to have some amount of talent - skill if you prefer - to hone to perfection.

I don't say that to be mean. Just because someone has a dream to be something, doesn't mean they have the skill to achieve it. If that were true, how many of us would be able to fly, or turn invisible, or move objects across the room with only our mind.

Everyone wants to be a singing sensation, or famous artist, or the worlds best pianist (pick any musical instrument). Practice doesn't take the place of innate talent.

Maybe anyone can string a few words together and entertain their friends or family with short diddy's, but to actually WRITE a good story, I don't think just studying the craft makes you a writer.

I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that all I'll ever be able to write is entertaining stories for friends and family. I think I'm better than most people I meet on the street, claiming they could write a novel. But, I won't really know if I'm a really skilled writer until I've hit a certain number of rejection letters.

I don't know what that number is, but I have faith that I'll recognize it when it comes up.

..........dhole

J.J. Bennett said...

I can sing- Well actually... Does that mean I'm sucking it up as a writer? I hope not because after three kids Broadway will not have me. So, I think I'll take my chances...

Joshua Peacock said...

Anyone can learn to write well. Only some people are born with the talent for awesomeness. Only a few people are capable of really working magic with words.

D. G. Hudson said...

Good writing can be learned, but the ability to make the story come alive is an innate skill.

IMO, factual or nonfiction skills are more easily learned. How to thrill a reader, or make them feel the emotion of the character takes greater skill because so many variables come into play.

Great writers come from highly educated backgrounds, but they can also come from disadvantaged or poor backgrounds. What great writers do with their stories make us remember them long after we've put the book down.

The gift has to be there in the first place.

J.J. Bennett said...

I couldn't help myself Nathan you inspired my post tonight. ("So You Think You Can Write?")

Carolyn V. said...

Okay, maybe not the voice.

Anonymous said...

Gordon, dude, loosen that tie and relax those shoulders a bit. You look like you're willing and ready to take one in the chest for Art, but seriously, Art's scratching her fleas in the next meadow and nobody's aiming their guns at you. Chill. Jump in the lake with the rest of us. The water's fine.

britmandelo said...

I'm going to step out and say:

No.

Practice can teach you the craft of writing. You can become a decent nonfiction writer or ad-copy writer with enough practice.

The thing is, when you start getting into fiction and narrative nonfiction, it comes down to stories. Not everyone can tell a story. You can teach yourself to write competently well, but you can't teach yourself to have a unique voice, or to tell an engaging story that isn't a rehash, etc. Survey as many writer's blogs as you want: every single one I've read talks about the idea of INSPIRATION. Not that dramatic crap where you "only write when you feel inspired" but the ideas that come from the ether, unfinished or half finished or just a sliver. Then you write them, and the scenes at chapter 2 suddenly make sense in chapter 12 even though you hadn't planned it...

Yeah. That's not a learned skill. In my experience, it's innate.

You need both craft knowledge and that innate thing about the story to be a fiction writer.

Linnea said...

I don't think so. I've used the comparison before and I think it's much the same as a pianist. One can have all the training in the world and be technically correct but lack the connection to the music that marks a great pianist. I believe it's the same for writers or anyone in the arts. There is something inborn in the greats that the rest of us mortals simply can't reach no matter how hard we may try.

S. K. said...

The old saying, "Practice makes Perfect" holds true in this case. To some it may come naturally, to others only after sweating blood and losing all their hair. If you have the knowledge necessary and the right tools and most importantly (in my mind anyway) a great imagination, you can be a good writer.
It doesn't matter who you are, though. Not everyone will love you. What's classic and genius to some may be drivel to another. That's what makes writing so incredible.
To be a great writer is something else entirely. Some are born with an inherent gift for telling a story. I can only hope that once I practice enough, I'll find that I'm one of them!

tallycola said...

I don't think so. I think hard work and practice makes up 90% of it, but the other part is talent... and also having something to say. Not everybody who is a talented writer and who is willing to do the work necessarily has a new insight or something fresh to say - although that can be solved by life experience I guess. My answer is still no.

GEM said...

I have been teaching people, young and old, to draw and paint, make sculptures, prints - most media to do with the visual arts - for 40 years. Many have shown ability to learn methods and processes; very few have demonstrated an innate driving force which gives their work a distinctly unique character or impact. So, no, good writing can be taught and learned (technique) but the important variable which makes great writing (content) is an elusive one which resides in the unique experiences, influences, capabilities and obsessive need to give form to the leitmotifs which great art practitioners share and demonstrate in their practice. And man, does it rock one's world when coming across these individuals!
Me, I type and enjoy doing so, live and experience the output of the great ones. Often they are not the ones who have made huge best-sellers, but sometimes, they are. GEM

Mira said...

This was fun. I wasn't expecting a new Nathan post so soon, and here it was! Yay! So cool. Thanks for taking the time, Nathan! :) I read everyone's comments through the day, and really liked what people were saying.

For me, I agree with the people who said 'no.'

I think everyone has innate talents and creative abilities, but I think those talents vary. Not everyone expresses their talent through the written word. Not everyone can tell a good story (like me, I'm not a storyteller.) But then, not everyone can write good non-fiction, despite what some people on this fiction-dominated site might think! (Humph.)

In terms of great writing, I think writing consists of three parts:

a. mechanics of writing
b. facility of language
c. meaning of content

Good writing will be good in at least 2 of those areas. Great writing will be really, really good in at least 2 of those areas. Genius is wonderful at all three.

That's where practice comes in, to get better at mechanics and facility. But it's hard to practice meaning of content. That's something that is gained through experience, usually through deeply emotional experiences.

So, I think everyone can be a great writer, but it may take some time to develop that. And I actually mean time in terms of lifetimes. I believe in multiple lifetimes, where we grow and develop, and that includes talent, facility and connection to the muse.

So, no to everyone being able to write, and yes to everyone with writing talent being a great writer. Eventually. If they want to be.

Veronica Bartles said...

It looks like the difference of opinion here stems from the way that "good" and "great" and "writer" are all defined. Are you a "writer" if you write technical manuals or textbooks, or are you only a "writer" when you spin marvelous tales of mystery or romance or fantasy? And who determines the definition of a "good writer"?

In my personal opinion, anyone can, with practice and determination, be a good writer. The problem is that, without an innate talent for writing, it may take more time, effort and patience than the person is willing to invest in the project. One without talent would have to spend many, many hundreds of hours to learning, and as many of you have stated, that kind of commitment doesn't often come from someone without talent.

However, simple practice can't make a bad writer good. you can't learn to play a piano, no matter how much time you might devote to plunking the keys, unless you learn the notes and the music theory. To learn to play well, you must practice, but "practice" only works when you are willing to learn from and accept correction from a competent teacher. It is the same with writing. Anyone CAN learn to be a good writer with patience, determination, practice, a good teacher and a healthy dose of humility. We are all CAPABLE of that level.

Of course, that definitely does not mean that just anyone WILL be a good writer. Many, many, many folks simply don't care enough to take the time to improve. Many others are so self-assured that they are unwilling to accept any correction, even when they are stuck on the wrong road. And some simply don't have the faith in themselves to try.

To be a great writer, however, takes a little bit more. I believe that, in order to be truly "great" you have to start with a natural ability and hone it with the same kind of study and discipline that any "good" writer must do.

No one writes a perfect novel in their first draft. It takes countless hourse of revising and polishing to make a book readable. However, I truly believe that anyone, if they are willing to put in the effort required, can take that first draft and turn it into a passable story. The difference is that a great writer can put in that same time and effort to produce something that captivates and enthralls his readers.

So, yes, anyone CAN be a good writer. (Even though not everyone WILL be one.) Only those with that something extra will become "great."

Steve said...

I think anyine, except in the case of the severely disabled, can learn to write and write well. But this will be harder for some than for others, based on background, pre-existing verbal skills, etc. For some, it may be too difficult to be prectical.

A great wtiter? I'm not sure what that means. To be widely regarded as a great writer? First be a good writer. Then be in the right place, at the right time, with the right work. Say what people in that time and place need to hear, and say it well enough that it will continuwe to resonate through the ages.

You cannot seek greatness. It must find you.

-Steve

Diana said...

Anyone can learn to write a coherent sentence or paragraph. But, to be a good story teller, that, I think, takes some innate talent.

Thinking about the people in my life who tell me stories about something that happened to them or someone else. Some people just bore the socks off of me and others have me hanging on every word. I would say that it's the same with writing stories down. Some people will write blahblahblah rambling stories, while others will grab your attention and hold it.

Then again, some people like the rambling stories ...

knight_tour said...

I think looking at other intense fields, especially those with prodigies (chess, music, mathematics) can demonstrate that not everyone can become great. I have seen people train for decades in chess without ever becoming even decent, while watching 8 year old children become masters seemingly overnight. There truly is inborn talent, and there are indeed some people who will simply not be able to be great at everything they put their minds to.

Maya / מיה said...

I think everyone can be a good writer, but not the same kind of good writer. I probably couldn't write good sci-fi if I tried. On the other hand, my voice lends itself well to women's fiction.

Some of us have to work harder at learning the skills to write well, though... and I think we have to have creative minds.

Claude Forthomme said...

What IS a "good writer"? Who says he's good? You, me, somebody in the future? And what about the difference between "good" and "great". They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder...the same goes for "good" and "great" writers!

Sure, hard work makes one technically better: I agree with every other commentator here on that point. But greatness? Isn't that something that requires the test of time, and none of us have a crystal ball!

Anonymous said...

Can anyone be a good writer?
Can anyone be a good anything?
The answer is yes. It has to be!
Why? I will tell you why I think anyone can be a good writer...
Anyone can be good at writing if they truly want it. If you have passion, drive and motivation you can achieve anything. How? I hear you say it. I will tell you how! If you want to become a good writer, and you live and breathe it, then you will do absolutely anything and everything to achieve it. It all starts with a thought, a plan, a goal, a mission, a dream. For most people, it seems too big to tackle. They might try nibbling at their goal around the edges and find that they are biting more than they can chew and give up.
Anyone can be a good writer if they break up everything that makes a good writer into small pieces--one small goal at a time.
Most importantly, one doesn't want to just be a good writer. There is a reason why they want to be a good writer - to communicate, to share, to be published, to write the company marketing material etc. There needs to be an explicit need for it, in order for them to carry through on their wish.
You see, the bigger picture is all the more reason why anyone could be a good writer.
Lastly, I know there have been so many comments out there saying - "I am a good writer, I have done this and I have done that, but I still didn't get published." You don't need to stop there! You can publish your book yourself! Don't have the money? Well lookie what we have here...another part of your goal list. Make more money! How? Do I need to prove my point any further? Anyone can do anything if they try hard enough and you are only trying hard enough if you truly want it.

Janet said...

No.

Raw talent fuels the constant need to write and that leads to continually working on crafting that talent into really great storytelling.

Can a person just want to write and learn the craft? Yes, but there is formulaic feel to the work. Or perhaps just a feeling that the story is nice, but something is missing.

What's the difference between watching, say, Courtney Cox acting as opposed to Meryl Streep? They both studied craft, big difference in the end product.

Just my 2 cents....

Anonymous said...

I tried to find an answer to this in your FAQ's and just about everywhere else on your blog. So if I missed it, please accept my apologies in advance. I have read on various blogs and pages that a lot of (and I get the impression that it was closer to most) agents shy away when a new author queries with a proposal for a book series, and that they should write a stand-alone first. So after finishing my first book, I now realise that there is a very real potential for two more books. I have written the book as a stand-alone but have I also written an alternative ending (plus epilogue). The advice also suggests that I should not mention anything about follow-on books. Now, to my question: When I slave over my query letter, do I or do I not suggest this possibility. And should I be so lucky to have someone want to read my manuscript, do I send the stand-alone version, the carry-on version or both endings with an optional epilogue and explanation?

Matt Mc said...

I'm going to say no.

Having spent three years teaching high school English, I've seen that writing ability comes as naturally to some people as athletic ability comes to others. It's a gift, a talent. Now, if one is inclined toward writing and has some natural ability, they can refine their skills and get better, but not anyone can do it.

Anahita said...

Once I asked this question in a local writers’ meeting in our area. The speaker who was a university professor said, “Of course it can be learned! We have courses for that.” So, I guess it can be learned. But will that learning be easy, natural, and pleasurable for everyone? I think not. Marcus Buckingham said in one of his tweets, “Talent brings appetite, appetite brings practice, and practice brings performance.” So for people who have the talent for writing, I think the same amount of practice generates better results and since the practice itself feels so good, they practice even more.

Terry said...

A good storyteller bewitches the reader. I think that's a gift.

It certainly takes a fertile imagination, an understanding of the human condition, and the ability to weave words in such a way that the audience is riveted.

Most importantly, the best authors don't just engage the reader's mind, they evoke emotion, charm the reader.

StrugglingSerpent said...

Okay, so the short answer is, yes, I do think anyone can develop into a "good" writer with enough practice and guidance. Now, can just anyone become a great writer? Well, that may be another story. So much goes into the pot, and then there's that extra quality that catapults a writer into the literary stratosphere. A sharp and creative mind helps. That is the only innate part of writing I can think of. I'd like to say good instincts and taste factor in there, but my guess is that they can be developed as well.

Heidi Thornock said...

I think that natural talent and ability plays a strong role, but just like anything else, with some work and practice anyone can learn it.

A colleague of mine said something that really stuck with me: "I am a terribly writer, but I am a great re-writer." With some hard hard and dedication, I think anyone can learn to re-write well.

For beginners, a writing group/reviewers are crucial to helping see where the problems are because you can't fix something until you understand how it's broken.

Anonymous said...

Have you guys met Anyone? Because I have! He's a anti-social, foul-mouthed, sixth grade dropout that can't say a complete sentence - much less write one.

Maybe your Anyone ain't the same guy as my Anyone... but I'm just saying. Come ‘on, really, Anyone?

No way!

anniegirl1138 said...

I was an English teacher for twenty years. I never met a kid I couldn't teach to write a complete sentence, a decent paragraph or string enough of them together to write a page that made sense and wasn't painful to read.

I could not teach someone who who wasn't a storyteller to be a storyteller. Imagination varies from person to person and it doesn't seem to be "teachable".

Southpaw said...

I think anyone can be a good writer. I just don't think many people have the drive to be a good writer. Motivation and desire play a bit part.

As for a great writer, that takes a little something more. You have to think outside the box and a lot of people just can't do that.

Carolyn said...

Can anyone be a good writer? Sure!

Can anyone be a great writer? No.

Here's a thought about why that's so.

http://koreanish.com/2009/10/16/junot-diaz-in-o-magazine-on-becoming-a-writer/

Veronica said...

I think anyone can learn to be a good writer, but not everyone can learn to be a great writer. There are certain literary techniques people can learn, and of course anyone who really tries can learn how to put a sentence together properly.

However, creativity is not something that can be taught, but is necessary for writing a really great book. Also, to be a great writer, one also has to be able to relate to the readers. I suppose it's possible to learn that...but I kind of doubt it.

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