Nature or Nurture?

Is it really necessary to take writing classes in order to write a good book?

No, but you don’t have to study law to represent yourself in court either.

The general perception society has about the writing profession fascinates me.  Who knows?  Perhaps I shouldn’t dispel the myths.  Maybe it’s better if society continues to regard writing as a mysterious obsession of the eccentric few, or something The Average Joe does during retirement.  Yes, we have our eccentrics (doesn’t every profession?) and yes lots of people pen amazing stories once they finish their “real jobs” (Frank McCourt and James Herriot for example).

Here’s the rub: the publishing industry is not what it once was; it’s in a state of flux.  Even publishing executives aren’t sure what the landscape will look like once the dust of e-books has settled.  It’s getting harder to make money in this industry – and it is about making money.  Creativity is wonderful stuff and notwithstanding what I said above, inspiration – or the muse if you will – is mysterious.  Unfortunately it only shows up after countless hours of toil, sweat and sometimes tears.  My hat is truly off to those who begin a book with no clue where the seed of a story idea will take them, or those who want to examine their deepest emotions through words.  They are valid reasons to write.  But does anyone, besides the author, want to read it?

I’m having an absolute blast writing my book.  If I were doing this purely to entertain myself, then I’d probably have a very different opinion on this issue.  However, my goal is to get published and earn a living as an author.  Given the style of book I’m writing and the age of my audience, I’ll be competing against J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin for market share.  That means I’d better know everything they know about the business of writing.  As a minimum, I read everything I can get my hands on, and I practice my craft by writing everyday.  To give me an edge, I read piles of books about the art of storytelling and the publishing industry, I study “the competition,” and I take classes.

I started this book two and a half years ago as part of an 8-week novel writing course being given by a well-known author here in Newfoundland … I’ll call him “Ed” since he provides editorial comments on each chapter draft. My story idea hasn’t changed – I still believe it’s unlike anything currently on the market, but at the time I wasn’t a good enough writer to do it justice.  I knew those first few chapters weren’t working, I just didn’t know why.

When I started doing workshops with Ed, he’d say things like “you’re slipping into narrative summary” or “why would your character do this?”  In the first passage I gave him, my protagonist came across a girl in the woods, during a lightning storm at night (lots of wind and rain – the whole nine yards).  I proceeded to describe the girl in great detail, eye and hair colour, clothing etc.  Ed said “it’s very well written, but you can’t see colour in the dark.”

I laugh about it now, but an agent and/or publisher would have picked up on that right away.  I only get one chance to make a good first impression, so I’m determined to make sure I send my best work.

Are writers born or made?  I think good writers are born.  Great writers on the other hand, take the talents they were born with, and turn them into something extraordinary through years of practice and study.  Writing classes, given by reputable instructors and institutions, are one way to study the craft.

About the author 

Valerie Francis

Valerie Francis is a bestselling author, literary editor, and podcaster with a passion for stories by, for and about women.

Each month, Valerie recommends books from literature’s best female authors. Selections come from every genre because women write, and read, in every genre. The Women’s Fiction category offers up some terrific novels, but these days there’s a strong female presence in thriller, horror, crime, and other genres traditionally dominated by male writers. No matter what the publishing companies may think, in the 21st Century, Women’s Fiction is whatever we want it to be.

stories for women, by women, and about women