Archive for November, 2016

Learning To Write By The Big Guys

Have you seen the ads, on Facebook but elsewhere too, where some of the best known names in writing say they will teach you to write?  In some cases they even say they will teach you to write like them?  Most of those “lessons” or “studies” are probably real.  In most cases these are not bogus or scams, and I suspect they are legitimate, and in all probability they really will teach you how to write, but you should think twice before you sign up.  There’s a fallacy in that advertising.

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but I believe it bears repeating.  A big-name author who’s sold lots of books can certainly teach you how to write.  Of that there’s no doubt.  The real problem with these courses that promise that you will be able to write like the famous author, is that no one, not even the most famous author in the world, can teach you to write exactly like him or her.

These ads always remind me of an episode of “Seinfeld,” where Jerry, who has to take a lie detector test, asks his friend George, an extremely duplicitous person whose life revolves around something like twenty different lies, to teach him how to lie.  “I can’t do it, Jerry,” George says.  “It would be like asking Pavarotti to teach you how to sing like him.”

Oddly enough, the dissembling George has a good point.  No matter how well you can sing, neither Pavarotti nor any other music teacher will be able to teach you to sing as well as he does.  The amount of talent you have is unimportant.  Pavarotti is Pavarotti, and you are you.  (Considering that Pavarotti passed away in 2007, before that episode of Seinfeld was made, he won’t be teaching you anything anyway.)

Writing is the same.  Or similar anyway.  A big name in literary circles can teach you the basics, and can even teach you many of his/her “tricks of the trade.”  And you might be able to take away from his/her course a wealth of knowledge about writing, and even eventually write best-sellers and win prizes galore.  But you will never write “like him/her.”  You are you, and don’t you forget it.  The placing of words on a piece of paper or a computer screen is a highly personal and unique matter.  It is that sequence of words that individualizes a writer.  You will never put down the same sequence of words that a famous writer would do under the same circumstances.  It makes the difference between, say, Hemingway and Proust.

Even if you wanted to, you shouldn’t write like someone else.  Nor should you even try.  Stick with your own style.  Do your own thing.  Learn the basics and even learn the advanced stuff in writing, but keep to yourself.  You’ll be doing yourself and us a favor.

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