For the longest time, I've been meaning to write a guide for
better writing but never got around to doing so until now. Some of
the tips are original ideas. But most of them are borrowed from other
writers whom I admire.
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and writing coach, Don Murray, says that you can learn a lot by teaching (in fact, he even wrote a book about it called – you guessed it – Learning by Teaching).
Usually, when you're good at something, you don't bother to analyze or think about the mechanics of the technique. You just do it (either because it comes naturally to you or because you've been doing it for so long that it's become ingrained in you).
In judo, whenever someone asks me to teach a specific technique, I'm forced to think about it. Then, I break the technique down into distinct steps to make it easier for the student to understand how it's executed. If a student has particular difficulty picking up that technique, I have to figure out why. And in doing so, I always learn something new. In other words, teaching further enriches my understanding of my technique – and I actually become better at it.
Now, are good writers born or taught? This imponderable is probably asked in all professions, especially ones involving artistic endeavors. It's that old nature versus nurture debate. How much of what you are as a person is a result of your genes and how much is influenced by your environment? No one really knows for sure.
But trying to figure this out is not just an academic exercise. As an editor and writing coach I want to know what produces great writing. Is the ability to write well something latent in someone – who, perhaps, was born with the right mix of intelligence, language capabilities and imagination? Or is good writing something that anyone, with the right amount of determination and training, is capable of producing?
Personally, I tilt a little bit towards the nature side of things. I believe that you can teach someone to be a capable writer but the really good ones are born with that special blend of creativity that allows them to rise above the rest.
So, if you're not a natural born writer, does that mean you can't produce good articles? No. Good writing is something that can be observed, learned and repeated.
There is one quality that must be inherent, though, and that is the love of writing. Only with genuine desire will you have the perseverance and discipline to do all the things you need to do to improve.
At its most fundamental, you'll have to read a whole lot more than the average person. And write whenever you have the chance. Write, write, write!
It may be true that great writers are born that way but with hard work and a steady devotion to the craft, anyone can be made – if not a great writer – at least a good one.