Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Bookish by degree

Were you formally trained as a writer? i.e., an MFA or college curriculum? Can you teach writing? Does it matter if you went to school for it?

by Dietrich

Outside of secondary school, I don’t have any formal training as a writer so I can’t speak about something I haven’t participated in.

Writing’s a creative process, and what works for one, may not work for another. For me, learning to write meant trying different approaches until I found what worked best. At the beginning I knew I wanted to tell a story, and from there I had to develop the tools to be able to do it well enough. Aside from brushing up on grammar skills, I played around with genres and styles.

It’s interesting to look at the paths of some famous authors. Kurt Vonnegut majored in chemistry and engineering. Michael Crichton studied medicine and anthropology. JK Rowlings studied French, Norman Mailer majored in aeronautical engineering, John Grisham majored in accounting, and Zane Grey studied dentistry. Jack Kerouac made it to Columbia University on an athletic scholarship. Truman Capote went to military school, and Mark Twain, Jack London and William Faulkner dropped out of school, while Ray Bradbury barely finished it. H.G. Wells had no formal education at all, nor did Charles Dickens.

“Education is an admirable thing. But it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”  — Oscar Wilde

“You must never let schooling interfere with education.”  — Mark Twain 

I’ve had a love for books since I was a kid. I always have a book or two on the go, with several more waiting in a stack. Not just crime fiction and thrillers, I read biographies, humor, westerns, fantasy, science fiction. There’s nothing more inspiring than reading a good one. 

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. — Ray Bradbury

There are a couple of books on the subject that I found helpful. One was Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and the other was Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. I mean if you’re going to get some advise, why not go straight to the top.

Maybe the best advise is not to give any. Can you teach it? Well, when I’m asked for advise, I usually preface the answer by saying, “Here’s what works for me …”

It’s nice to think that it’s more about talent than something that’s been taught, yet there are aspects that can be learned, things that are considered rules, principles and techniques. Of course, these can, and probably should be bent, broken and adapted.


Paul D. Marks said...

All good points, Dieter. I especially like the Twain and Wilde quotes.

Brenda Chapman said...

I agree, Dietrich that reading widely is key to becoming a good writer. Very interesting list of authors without formal training in creative writing who've been so successful.

Dana King said...

My writing "training" is nt dissimilar to yours and you hit the key elements on the head. For a writer, what they have to say ad how they express it most directly to the reader is more important than the tools used to do it. We should have at least some well-formed awareness of them, but any fiction writer who's pondering whether this is the proper way to handle a subordinate clause is focusing his attention in the wrong direction.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks for your comments Paul and Brenda. And I'm with you, Dana. It's good to know the rules, but …

Susan C Shea said...

I am always a little uncomfortable when giving writing advice. Students take notes assiduously, as I did when I began, but sometimes miss the larger point, which is think about all of this as advice but not as rules. And, as we all say, read, read, read!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well put, Susan. Thinking of it as advice allows for flexibility. And reading can be inspiring.

Terry said...

I begged my dad to teach me to read when I was about four. He took the time to do it. What time was that? He was in college full time, had two children, and worked a full time job. He was wrung out and still had time to teach me to read. It's the most valuable lesson I ever learned--not the reading only, but the part about taking the time to teach me to read.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Terry. I wanted to learn to read early as well. I loved diving into stories as a kid. For me, it was my mom teaching me to read early on.