Teaching Writing

I’ve noticed on Facebook recently some postings from at least one (possibly more) famous author(s) that are essentially advertisements for writing programs that purport to help the person who responds to the ad learn to write novels like the famous author.  Some even say “I’ll teach you to write like me.”  I’m a little concerned that this may lead people who read the ad into thinking that once they take the course they’ll end up being able to write novels that will sell millions of copies and make them as famous as the originator of the writing course.  I hope most people already realize that isn’t going to happen.

Taking a writing course, whether taught by a world-famous author known for selling books, or by a much less well-known author who resides comfortably on a publisher’s midlist, isn’t guaranteed to endow the student with the ability to write spectacular, prize-winning, top-selling novels.  Those programs are designed to teach the student the basics of writing, and even some of the more advanced concepts.  It’s up to the student to produce a novel of his/her own design.  It’s my opinion that regardless of what the famous author says, writing a novel that sells millions can’t be taught.  All you can do is learn the basics, and then it’s up to you.

That famous author, indeed all famous authors, are famous for their style, their flair, their innate ability to string just the right words together into sentences and paragraphs and chapters that condense into novels that are a reflection of themselves.  Contrast Faulkner with Hemingway, for example.  That’s what a novel is; it’s a reflection of an individual.  It’s as individual as a reflection in a mirror.  J. K. Rowling can’t teach you to write like her even if you did learn how to “show” and not “tell,” and what the difference is between first and third person POV.  If you learned music from Beethoven, you wouldn’t necessarily compose great symphonies even though you might be able to put notes on treble and bass clefs that produced lovely, lilting, ethereal music.  Learning art from van Gogh wouldn’t teach you how to paint great masterpieces, even though you could apply paint to a canvas in a beautiful and expressive manner.  There’s more to writing than the basics; more than putting one word after another.  If you want to take the course from the famous author, by all means go ahead.  I have no doubt the course(s) is/are legitimate.  You may learn a lot.  But you aren’t likely to write a best seller with your first novel, and you sure as hell won’t write just like the famous author.

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